Entering the ground floor of the Hillman library, the expanse of desks, chairs and long tables encouraging group studying and collaboration are immediately noticeable. To the right of the entrance is the Donald S. Woods service desk, the main area for students can get help form a library employee.
The University Library System — consisting not only of Hillman library, but the Chevron, Frick, Benedum and other libraries — is a substantial employer of students, along with 19 full-time staff members who assist students.
Even after nearly two decades of working there, Caroline Brown still finds her job to be rewarding.
“What I like about the job is … pretty much everything. Even the really busy or stressful days [have] enjoyable aspects to it,” Brown, the Hillman Library information area manager, said.
She pointed out a number of library services she helps students with at Hillman, such as interlibrary loans, access to research databases and methods of finding resources.
“Anything that you need coming into the library, we’re gonna get you started on it,” Brown said. “If there’s a book you need for a class, say a $300 textbook, and you want to see if you can get that for free for the term, we can help you find that book.”
Christeen Jerin, a library specialist, manages the student workers. Most student employees, she said, work within the University Library System through work-study.
Though Jerin is familiar with them now, having been at Hillman Library for almost eight years, libraries were a new environment for her when she started. Growing up, she said her family didn’t take advantage of library services often. Even while studying at Pitt, she went to the library very infrequently. Then, she got a job at Hillman right after graduation.
“Coming to the library and having to learn academic resources was a big step, but I really like it now and I feel like I’m competent,” Jerin said.
April Yoder, a junior communications science and disorders major, has a work-study position in Hillman. Much of her work consists of reshelving books and miscellaneous organizing tasks.
“It’s a lot of busy work basically and just doing the same job over and over again,” she said. “It’s not hard, it’s just kind of boring sometimes.”
When not busy with library tasks, Yoder is able to get schoolwork done.
“Our boss is really nice and he lets us do homework if we want in the office. It’s like, do as much as you can,” Yoder said.
Yoder is particularly appreciative of the opportunity to work while going to school. She usually works 11 to 15 hours per week, and work-study students are capped at a maximum of 20. Yoder’s hours are also very flexible, and she is able to reschedule when she needs to.
“I think a lot of people who have jobs in college don’t get the opportunity to work and do school at the same time, so that’s really nice,” she said.
Jerin is also fond her job environment, describing the atmosphere as “casual.” The 19 full-time employees rotate through desk service responsibilities, and student employees help people find books or take care of different tasks as needed.
But sometimes the work is more physical. Hillman is slowly being renovated, and the top floor is currently under reconstruction. Yoder and a few other student workers assisted in moving books from the ground floor into storage at one point.
“Once they renovate that floor and move to another floor, we’re going to have to do that all over again,” Yoder said.
Much of the work requires customer skills. Yoder often has to explain things to people who aren’t familiar with the library system, which can lead to some frustrating interactions.
“There’s some people who come in who are always angry,” Yoder said. “You just have to be calm and be like, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do about that.’”
Brown said she enjoys being exposed to other fields of research through her job because it allows her to learn about the current state of various fields, how the different departments of the University work together and how Pitt functions as a whole.
“You’re finding out what the current research is, what the current questions are, what the current topics are in the classes.” Brown said.
According to Jerin, the most fulfilling aspect of the work is the environment and the people. She said library staff have grown closer over time, and the nature of the work — helping people get information — is rewarding.
Brown is particularly fond of helping stressed students through her work. She said that much of the time people will come to her as they are about to graduate, at the end of the term or very sleep deprived.
“Letting [the students] get it out. What is it that they need? What is the problem?” she said. “It’s making sure that they are really just having some time to express whatever their concern is and making sure that it’s a lot of empathy.”