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Library student workers embrace 'adopt a shelf' program

July 29, 2014
Student worker Tashir Hampton, SAS '14, shelf-reads his range in the Alexander Library.

Student worker Tashir Hampton, SAS '14, shelf-reads his range in the Alexander Library.

For the past year Alexander Library staff promoted a robust and well-received adoption program that involved no legal papers, babies, or puppies but did end up improving morale and greatly increasing staff efficiency.

One of the regular responsibilities, among others, of library collection management staff is to shelf read the books in the library’s high traffic stacks (also called ranges, these are eight pairs of shelving units, put together). The goal of shelf-reading is to monitor if the books are in order and in good condition, to replace missing shelf hooks, and to make sure the books are at the front of the shelves so they are easily accessible to library users. In a large academic library this unglamorous responsibility alone can take up hundreds of staff hours each year.

In fall 2013 the collection management staff in Alexander Library, led by collection management coordinator Rob Krack and access services staff member Irina Radeva, tried a new approach to these duties – an ‘adopt a shelf’ program. Staff assigned dozens of student workers specific high-traffic stacks and trained them on how to properly shelf read. The goal was to give student workers a specific stake in the library and a continuing large assignment that they could chip away at, an hour per each work shift, over the course of the semester.

Staff members found that students responded very well to the ‘adopt a shelf’ assignment and some even requested an additional range. The students were able to shelf-read an average of 24 individual shelves (or three shelving units) an hour. Staff monitored the students’ work and determined that the assigned stacks were well maintained. Students asked for their feedback on the ‘adopt a shelf’ project were positive and encouraging.

Of equal import, the ‘adopt a shelf’ program freed a great deal of staff time to focus on other areas of library user support and collection maintenance. The 40 participating student workers shelf-read for 295 hours in the 2013-2014 academic year, which was more than double the number of hours that staff were able to shelf read in the same year and in the prior year. Over the course of the year the students shelf-read 50 of the most highly used stacks or ranges in the library.

The Rutgers University Libraries commend collection management staff for implementing this innovative program and we thank Alexander Library student workers for pitching in so enthusiastically to properly maintain our stacks. Both groups range among our most prized assets!