Why You Should Start a Student Library Assistant Program in Your Library

Lucas Maxwell


Lucas Maxwell has been working with youth in libraries for over fifteen years. Originally from Nova Scotia, Canada, he's been a high school librarian in London, UK for over a decade. In 2017 he won the UK's School Librarian of the Year award and in 2022 he was named the UK Literacy Association's Reading For Pleasure Teacher Champion. He loves Dungeons & Dragons and is the author of Let's Roll: A Guide for Setting up Tabletop Roleplaying Games in Your School or Public Library. You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

In the high school library that I manage, I’ve been running a student library assistant program for close to eight years. I have ten students between the ages of 12 and 18 on the roster, but the number is actually much higher, which I will explain below.

In my experience, running a student library assistant program has been a huge boon the the library and the school as a whole. Here are a few reasons why it’s so awesome.

It Brings In Fresh Ideas

Students are brimming with ideas that I borrow/steal from them constantly. Students will bring a lot to the table once they realise someone is going to treat them seriously, not talk down to them, and provide them with a safe, welcoming space. I’ve been very fortunate in that our students have asked for and helped create some of our most popular and longest running programs. These include our Manga Club, Open Mic, Dungeons and Dragons Club, our library podcast, and much, much more. Steering students in the right direction will ensure you will have a thriving library that a lot of people want to use for many years to come.

It Frees You Up to Do Other Things

This may seem selfish, but once you’ve got a reliable team on board, it can free you up. I’m talking primarily about working on the desk, checking books in and out. This is a vital part of what we do, but I personally like to get out from behind the desk and wander the library, having conversations, running programs at lunchtime, and greeting students at the door during the early break time rush. Having students working behind the desk allows me to do this. Again, I’ve been lucky, I’ve heard other librarians say things like “students create more work than they do”. My response to this: You might not have found found them the right role. As I’ve mentioned, I have ten students who rotate week to week behind the desk but I have many others who do things like run the library podcast and help out with our manga club and other programs. The students who work behind the desk are ones that I know 99% of the time will be able to work independently. You need to figure out what works best for your library and your students.

New Programs Means New Faces

As mentioned above, our students have come up with some really great program ideas. These ideas have blossomed over the years meaning other students who primarily wouldn’t use the library have come in and become regulars. It might seem odd but our Dungeons and Dragons club has brought in a dozen or more faces ages 13+ that I never saw in the library. I am running one session for age 13 and a 13-year-old is now running a session for ages 11 and 12. It’s become a huge thing that I have absolutely loved see become a major part of our library programming. This is also true for our Open Mic, which has brought in an absolute ton of new faces to the library. I am so excited that we are able to have our Open Mics start back up again in mid June 2021.

Dungeons and Dragons club

It Is a Lot of Fun

Again, I’ve been very lucky, but I absolutely love the program. I think it’s something I’m most proud of starting at the library. Once the students get a feel for the library and how the programs run, what to do behind the desk, they take it very seriously but also have a lot of fun. They give so much to the library it’s hard to put it into words. The library space is for them, they are the reason it has been a success for the most part because I could stand there all day and shout about programs but without interest the library would be a ghost town. A student library assistant program is, in my opinion, the first thing you should do when you start at a new library!