Great things come from shelving

Part of my work bio is to tell people, "be good to your shelvers; great things come from shelving." As a freshman at Virginia Tech, my best friend Kim told me to apply at the library for a shelving job. Somewhere in all that application process, I also interviewed for a job at VTIC, the corporate equivalent of interlibrary loan in the library (filling article requests for legal firms and other for-profit institutions). They were both jobs in the library, but very different in terms of what I did during my shifts. First, VTIC would only give me six or seven hours a week to work. Since I was a poor college student, I wanted to work the maximum of 20, so I was supplementing with the shelving job. VTIC also had all students perform the same tasks and gave out raises based on time served. You answered the phone, took messages, pulled and photocopied articles. I still remember they wouldn't let us students update items as filled on the OCLC Passport software because it was "too hard". This is super ironic since I now support the software that replaced Passport.

Shelving on the other hand was a brave new frontier of student employment. No one cared what you wore (the books don't care how you're dressed), you could change shifts to any other time the library was open versus only working 8-5 Monday-Friday and you could wear headphones while you worked. Man, I still remember the tragedy of showing up to a four hour shift to discover the batteries on my Walkman had died. That was a long shift.

I kept both jobs just to keep my options open. I had left Engineering in favor of Communication Studies after only one semester (much to my father's dismay) and I remember my parents hypothesizing that the VTIC job would have better avenues for employment since it was an office job versus just shelving books.

But shelving had tiers of employees. If you were responsible and clueful, you could become a Team Leader, assigning your fellow students to certain floors or cart assembling duties. And they also had a very small number of Student Assistants that worked in the office (sitting down!) doing various bits of paper work, shelf reading and administrative things. Ooh, and Irene provided snacks for us all during our shifts!

I remember the money was pretty even between the two jobs. Team Leader shifts earned me slightly more but I think the VTIC position was $0.10 more an hour. Granted, VTIC would only give me a paltry six hours a week, so woohoo! $1 more a week.

There was another student working in VTIC who was about to graduate. The VTIC boss lady promised me when he left she would allow me to work up to 15 hours a week and maybe even 20 on occasion. And, she'd give me a $0.50 raise so I've be making more like $4.75/hour. This seemed promising.

I didn't think I'd ever get a Student Assistant job in shelving, so I figured I had maxed out my career path in that department. I wouldn't be able to work both jobs really, so I decided I was going to quit shelving and work for VTIC only. I was sad to leave my buddies in that department, but since I was planning on staying in town that summer, I needed to have steady employment.

I went to my shelving shift and started assembling carts in circulation (side note: taking random books off the shelves and assembling them in LC call number order on a well-made wooden cart with two stationary wheels and two swivel wheels will forever be a zen sort of calming thing for me). The whole time I worked, my stomach churned over having to go talk to my boss and tell him I was quitting. But I knew shelving required a 10 hour minimum of work each week and I wouldn't be able to do that and VTIC. And there was that extra $0.50 an hour to consider.

Towards the end of my shift, Bossman walked up behind me. Always a man of few words, he said something to the effect of, "I'm creating a new student assistant position and wanted to know if you were interested in it. You wouldn't do shelving anymore but would work in the office on statistics and other projects. It pays $6/hour and you can work up to 20 hours a week if you want."

I nearly fell off my stool. I immediately accepted and gleefully told VTIC the next day I was quitting. I worked in shelving the rest of that year and moved over to interlibrary loan with Bossman to be his student assistant there. I coded my first program (the shelf labels that are still adorning Newman Library stacks today) and I shadowed Bossman everywhere. When he eventually left to start his own software company, I got his old job as the programmer in interlibrary loan (salary with benefits!) and continued to work for him part time. Only two years after that, I left Virginia Tech to work for him at that little software company where I still work today.

Needless to say, I make more than $4.75/hour and can work as many hours as I want. So like I said in the beginning, be good to your shelvers; great things come from shelving.