Reading on the job: the school’s library interns

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Reading on the job: the school’s library interns

Julia Goldberg and Hanna Hornfeld

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While the average student might spend a free period studying for a biology quiz or enjoying a panini in the cafeteria, a small group of students spends them ensuring that every book in the library is safe, sound, and easily found.
 
When Library Department Chair Caroline Bartels began working at the school 23 years ago, there was no protocol for returning books to shelves.
“I think it was expected of the librarians, but we were doing another million things,” she said. 

During Bartels’ first year, she pushed for students to work in the library, and those hours would count either for service learning hours or towards a paycheck. Thus, the library intern program was born. 

“When I started in this library, we circulated about 4,000 books a year, but we now circulate around 30,000,” Bartels said. The library would be piled over with unorganized stacks of books without the interns, said Head of Library Circulation Stiffany Aponte, who runs the interning program.

Currently, the library pays nine students minimum wage to assist with various tasks in the library. They’ve also hired two college students, Muhaiminul Ashraf ‘19  and Gabriel Hernandez ‘19, who come in for a full day a few days a week. On top of the already relatively large number of student interns this year, there are five more students on a waitlist to join the program, Bartels said.

Frequently, alumni who are college-students come back to work in the library when they are on break. As a result, the number of interns increases dramatically when colleges are on winter, spring, or summer break, but school or summer school is still in session. During these time periods, there can be up to 15 library interns at once, Bartels said.

One of the nine current interns, Mekhala Mantravadi (10), has worked in the library since November of last year, including over the summer. Mantravadi, like most of the interns, found out about the program through word of mouth.

“I wanted to have job experience early on and make my own money, and I really like books, so I thought the internship would be perfect for me,” she said. “There’s also a lot of books and resources that people don’t know about. Sometimes I just sit in the back and look at all the poetry we have.”

There is no application process or prior qualifications necessary for the job other than a minimum age requirement of 14. To become an intern, Mantravadi simply spoke to Bartels and explained why she wanted the job and started working shortly after, she said.

Before the interns begin, Aponte leads the students through a 45 minute orientation in which she walks them through the library and explains their tasks. Regardless, Mantravadi said she took about a month to learn and master all of her responsibilities at the library. These duties include shelving books, helping organize the archives, and occasionally babysitting faculty members’ children, Aponte said. 

“During days where faculty have meetings, we babysit their kids, and that’s my favorite,” Jolie Nelsen (11) said. “We make snacks, watch movies, and hang out in the library, but we also play games that I played in the Lower Division, which feels very full circle.”

Next summer the interns’ responsibilities will expand to encompass a new project. At the end of this school year, Bartels said, history, science, and language department chairs will bring the library their classroom sets of textbooks. The interns will then catalog each set and number and label each copy, so when the school starts back up in the fall, students can check out classroom copies of the textbooks on their ID cards.

“This will allow departments, and the library, to keep better track of where each book is, to charge for lost copies, and to see what needs to be re-ordered,” Bartels said. 

Over the summer, when they’re not busy organizing the textbooks, interns will dedicate themselves to conducting their longest-term project: taking inventory.

“The interns scan every book to ensure that they’re all actually in the library, so we know what we have,” Aponte said. Students typically start the inventory after school ends and finish in late July or early August.

“Inventory is an all hands on deck job,” said Maggie Brill ‘18, a former intern. “It was a much more extensive process than I think people understand.” While working as an intern, she focused on taking inventory, shelving books, and helping to catalog.
The interns all have to work for a minimum of two hours a week, Apponte said, so they must want and be able to make that time commitment before signing up for the job.

The balance between schoolwork and the job is indeed often a difficult one to calibrate.“I play sports for two seasons, and I’m in FRC robotics during the third, so I can never work after school,” Nelsen said. She only works during her frees.
Jaden Richards (11) expressed a similar sentiment to Nelson. Richards either starts his homework or works at the library during his frees, though that often forces him to stay up later, he said.

However, if interns can manage to truly dedicate their time to the job, their work as library assistants can open doors to other employment opportunities: one of which is to work as Bartels’ summer school assistant, Bartels said. When her summer school assistant, Linda Dowling, retired five years ago, Bartels decided she would hire a student she already knew and trusted instead of an adult as a replacement, she said.

For the past two years, Genesis Maldonado ‘16, who worked in the library throughout her four years of high school, has filled the position.

“She may work again this coming summer, but she’s in her junior year of college and she may want to do a more ‘real job,’” Bartels said. 

After graduating, many students who have worked at the library, such as Grace Hill ‘18 and Sinai Cruz ‘16, also ended up working at their colleges’ libraries because of their work experience at the school, Bartels said.

Brill was grateful to have the work experience to put on her resumé when applying for jobs in college, she said. “The job also taught me about what it means to have responsibilities and someone to report to, and about completing tasks that weren’t just school assignments.”

Looking toward the future, Bartels has many new tasks planned for the interns. “We’re currently working with the World Languages department to make our [book] collection more vibrant,” Bartels said. “We wanted to start by bringing the collection down from upstairs to sort through it. That’s all fine and good, but without interns here to help out, I would’ve had to wait until the summer to start.”

The librarians are too busy to start new projects without the interns’ help, she said.It’s hugely freeing to have student interns in the library, Bartels said. “To be able to find kids who I can trust, who know what they’re doing–who I can hand a project and say, ‘run with it’–that’s really important to me.”