Using library student employee promotions and recognition to increase engagement

Ruth Harries Circulation Evening Supervisor (Wichita State University)

In the past, Wichita State University’s Circulation Department has used a model of employment where graduate assistants act as desk supervisors. Traditionally, undergraduate student assistants have not been allowed to supervise other students. This, coupled with a budget that makes us unable to give raises, put student employees in a situation where there was little motivation to do good work aside from the satisfaction of a job well done. The department began to promote student assistants in August of 2011.

Undergraduate students as supervisors
Circulation’s qualifications for a student assistant who would be promoted included working for the department for at least a semester, having a solid performance record, and being able to work at least 20 hours during the evenings. In August of 2011, a student supervisor opening occurred. A qualified undergraduate library student assistant was identified and promoted; this meant that she was given more responsibilities and a pay raise to the student supervisor rate. Because she already had an understanding of department policy and procedure and only needed to be trained on supervisory duties, it took less time to complete her supervisor training than someone who was brand-new to the department (fig. 1). Since the supervisor training occurred, she has continued to be an asset to Circulation.

Although this program allows greater flexibility for the department, it is not used for every student supervisor position that occurs; we have promoted only one undergraduate student so far. In one recent case, we promoted a graduate student who had already worked as a student assistant for the department for one semester, which gave us the same training advantages. In another case, we were unable to identify a qualified student assistant who was already working for the department, so we hired a new graduate assistant.

WSU’s Circulation Department is still in the process of tweaking the student hiring and promotion process and the student employee recognition program. However, it is clear from the existing literature and from my observations of Circulation Department student workers that recognition, promotion, and pay raises motivate employees to perform better. Although the department’s budget does not allow for raises, we can promote engagement through the use of praise and promotion.

Circulation Student Star of the Week:

Done, P. (2011, April 21). Q&A: Looking beyond financial incentives. Financial Adviser. Retrieved from Fuller, J. F. (1990, October). Employing library student assistants as student supervisors. College and Research Libraries News 51(9), 855-857. Nagel, M., and Molloy, J. (1991, October). In praise of students as supervisors. College and Research Libraries News 52(9), 577578. Saks, A. M. (2006). Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement. Journal of Managerial Psychology 21(7), 600-619. Yang, Z. Y. (2006). Library working environment: from the perspective of student workers. Chinese Librarianship: An International Electronic Journal 22. Retrieved from

Literature review
Regarding student employees as supervisors
A review of the literature reveals that although management of student employees is a hot topic, very little has been published on the subject of student employees as supervisors. The literature that does exist is not scientific, but it suggests that student employees find increasing levels of responsibility to be satisfying, even if they do not receive a corresponding raise (Nagel & Molloy, 1991, p. 578).

For being willing to work on any project we ask her to, helping with shelving and shifting, having a great attitude, and for generally being awesome!

I thank Robyn Tiemeyer and Nan Myers for helping me get my original proposal for student employee promotions off the ground.

Figure 2. A typical Student Star of the Week announcement. During the summer of 2011, these were posted weekly on the door of the circulation workroom, an area used by employees on a regular basis.

For further information
Please contact An electronic copy of this poster is available at

Student employee recognition
During the summer of 2011, the department recognized one student each week as the Student Star of the Week (fig. 2), which included public acknowledgment of something job-related they did especially well. Although the department did not measure productivity to see whether or not a recognition program made a difference, the student employees were gratified to see that we understood the effort they put into performing their jobs.

Regarding employee recognition
Business literature amply demonstrates that employee recognition is an important part of engagement. Although financial recognition is most effective (Done, 2011), praise is also an important factor in productivity and engagement (Saks, 2006; Done, 2011).

Figure 1. The last page of the WSU Circ Department’s student supervisor training checklist. The items highlighted in gray are student supervisor duties.

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