Christopher Peters, stacks manager at Virginia Tech's University Libraries, is the co-recipient of the Reference Service Press Award, granted by the American Library Association's Reference and User Services Association (RUSA).

The award is given for his article, written with Hollins University librarian Luke Vilelle, “Don’t Shelve the Questions: Defining Good Customer Service for Shelvers,” which was published in RUSA’s journal, Reference and User Services Quarterly (RUSQ).

According to the RUSA website, the award “recognizes the most outstanding article published in RUSQ during the preceding two-volume year. The article is selected on the basis of originality, timeliness, relevance to RUSA areas of interest and concern, and quality of writing.”

Peters’ and Vilelle’s article describes how libraries can initiate training programs for their student assistants, who work in the stacks reshelving books, as they are often called upon to answer questions by library users. These questions can be merely directional, but may be more specific and require the help of a librarian. Working in the library may be a student’s the first real job, and they may not have the customer service skills to handle questions effectively.

Peters would know — he began his career at Newman Library as a student shelver, and took a full-time job before he completed his degree in education at Virginia Tech in 1996. He also earned a Master’s of Library Science from the University of South Carolina in 2006.

Depending on the time of year, the Virginia Tech Libraries employs 15 to 45 student assistants as shelvers. On the third floor of Newman Library, where most of the library’s volumes are held, there are no service points or reference desks — so students, faculty, and other researchers must seek help from the first person they can find, often a student shelver.

“We started our research with the question, ‘Do shelvers get questions?’ and we were surprised at the results,” said Peters. After collecting data for several months, Peters and Vilelle developed a training program that prepared shelvers to answer all kinds of questions.

The research found that by empowering student workers, the library provides better customer service, and a better library experience overall for both users and employees. “The library’s basic tenet of service is to connect our users quickly and intuitively to the information and services they need for learning and research,” Don Kenney, associate dean for the libraries, said “At the same time, we hope to instill some life learning skills in the process.”