Every year, the River Campus Libraries (RCL) employs around 100 students. The jobs that students hold are not just hollow resume-builders. They are RCL necessities.
Student employees make it possible for the libraries to realize and add value to learning, teaching, and research at the University of Rochester. They enrich the libraries’ services with their unique skill sets, and they provide invaluable input and feedback.
At this point, you might be expecting us to tell you about how the pandemic rumpled our stacks and changed everything—not this time. In fact, in some ways, the RCL has relied on and benefitted from students even more than usual. Laquanda M. Fields, administrative assistant to the vice provost and dean of the University of Rochester Libraries, explained how students played an integral role at the libraries at this year’s RCL student employee appreciation event.
“Our students showed up and showed out,” said Fields during the event, which was streamed live on Facebook. “Taking on extra projects, working remotely, recommending ways to enhance our patron services, ensuring fellow students followed COVID safety guidelines—the list goes on and on. Our students stepped up as the true protectors of our hive.”
In addition to all the ways students stepped up, the unique circumstances called for a new type of student employee at the RCL: a student ambassador.
At a time when COVID-19 was flexing on us, library staff members were feeling the strain of having to make sure students were following COVID-19 safety policies on top of their regular duties. Student ambassadors provided some relief. Ambassadors were focused solely on making sure their classmates and peers were wearing masks properly, staying physically distant, and adhering to other guidelines.
There were other “special” student employees; they went above and beyond the call of duty.
“Some students have been innovative and have taken initiative,” says Fields. “They say, ‘Hey, this is happening—we should be doing this.’ Or because some libraries are open by appointment only, some students used the downtime to try improving their department.”
The go-getters whom Fields refers to are the type of students who are typically nominated for a Dean’s Student Library Service Award.
This year, 10 students were nominated for the award. Nominees were put forth based on their service excellence, peer leadership and teamwork, initiative, professionalism, and communication. Typically, the award goes to an undergraduate and graduate student. As this was far from the typical year, it went to three undergraduate students.
“Meeting the nominees for this award has been a high point for me every year,” says Mary Ann Mavrinac, vice provost and Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean of the University of Rochester Libraries. “Our students are, in a word, inspiring. This year’s Service Award winners are no exception. These students were beside us for every step as we took on unique challenges. They were leaders among their peers, demonstrating extraordinary loyalty, creativity, and dedication to the mission of the libraries. We are forever grateful to them for their incredible contributions.”
Meet your 2021 Dean’s Student Library Service Award recipients (and recent Rochester graduates).
Deniz Cengiz ʼ21
Cengiz was a Karp Library Fellow and Design Thinking Fellow and community liaison at the Barbara J. Burger iZone. If you asked Zoe Wisbey, program initiatives manager at iZone, about Cengiz, you would hear the word “lead” a lot, mixed among phrases like “guiding force” and “above and beyond.”
In terms of projects she’s been involved in, Cengiz has been prolific. Omitting quite a bit, she helped develop the COVID-19 Challenge; as the online instruction lead, she imagined a series of virtual “crash courses;” and most recently, she was project manager and community liaison for the Kaboom! Playspace project.
“Deniz is a courageous, vibrant leader,” says Wisbey. “She can command the room in any situation and is committed to creating experiences that cultivate strong connections. She is an incredibly loyal colleague, and I know she will continue to shine. We will miss her dearly.”
Cengiz leaves the libraries after spending all four years as a Rochester student there.
“It’s been a second home,” says Cengiz. “I think I spent more time in the library than I did in my dorm. I’m very happy to end on a high note and graduate with this honor. I appreciate everyone at iZone and the libraries and all the fun things we’ve accomplished over the years.”
Eleanor Lenoe ʼ21
When you help a department successfully navigate a pandemic, you raise the bar for service expectations. That’s what Lenoe did as the manuscript paging clerk for Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation (RBSCP).
COVID-19 safety policies implemented by the River Campus Libraries made RBSCP an appointment-only department, significantly affecting its service model. By meticulously digitizing hundreds of pages of materials—and learning a new workflow to do so—Lenoe kept RBSCP’s collections accessible for classes, dissertations, and personal research. In addition to this work, she was also a regular contributor to the RBSCP blog.
“Eleanor is an absolute joy to work with,” says Melinda Wallington, section supervisor for RBSCP. “Regardless of the level of complexity, she approaches tasks with enthusiasm. She is also a fantastic advocate for our department, which has helped break down the perceived barrier to special collections. I am in deep, deep denial she won’t be here next semester.”
An unsurprisingly modest Lenoe says she was “flattered” to be nominated by Wallington.
“I’m so thankful to Melinda,” says Lenoe. “Working at Rare Books during my junior and senior year—I guess also my sophomore year—has been a really integral part of my college experience. It was fantastic to be able to interact with all the wonderful people in Rare Books. I’m extremely grateful.”
Ada Wightman ʼ21
In the world of academia, “transformative” is a word that gets thrown around a lot. However, that’s the proper adjective to describe Wightman’s impact on her role. Officially, she’s an “Office Assistant I” for the Rossell Hope Robbins Library. But over the last three years, she’s made the position much, much more.
Wightman’s responsibilities were, above all else, the shelving and stacks maintenance within Robbins Library. Her mastery of these duties led her to other opportunities: creating and organizing community events and assisting with large-scale collections work. She even earned the opportunity to curate her own exhibit.
“Ada has been indispensable to the Robbins Library,” says Katie Papas, section supervisor for Robbins Library. “She has gone from being the sole undergraduate staff member with few connections to our all-graduate student staff to the team cheerleader—and I mean that in the absolute, best possible way. The spirit and energy she brings cannot be overstated. In many ways, I consider her to be the leader of our student staff.”
Wightman’s spirit was no act. She looked forward to every shift at the library.
“Robbins [Library] is a great place to work,” says Wightman. “Anna [Siebach-Larsen, director of Robbins Library] and Katie encouraged me to challenge myself and reminded me to take a step back when I felt I needed to. I’ll miss them and my Robbins coworkers so much next year.” ∎
For questions about the River Campus Libraries Student Appreciation Event or the Dean’s Library Student Service Award, contact Laquanda M. Fields, administrative assistant to the vice provost and dean of the University of Rochester Libraries, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy reading about the University of Rochester Libraries? Subscribe to Tower Talk.