Thursday, May 03, 2007

On the value of clutch hitters

Time and time again I have the same conversation with my evening and weekend full-time staffer about student employees who in her opinion aren't quite up to snuff. She always wonders why I keep certain people around.

"So and so is bad with the details," she'll tell me. "X always forgets to do this, and Y never remembers to that unless I remind her."

While I'm not saying that attention to detail isn't critical in a library setting, I tend to be a little more forgiving in this regard than my coworker (whom I often refer to my "enforcer"). This is in part because of the economics of work-study - on our campus the library jobs tend to be the ones that pay the least, so aside from a spike of interest at the beginning of each semester there are often few takers no matter how aggressively we advertise - but mostly because I've discovered an interesting correlation between "more" and "less" reliable workers: namely, that the former, while consistent, are less available at clutch times than the latter.

Of course this is not some mysterious principle at work, as kids who already have their life together at 19 tend to know when they are overcommitting themselves and give me plenty of advance warning to schedule themselves off duty to accommdate their papers, exams, and everything else that needs their attention as the semester comes to a close and free time is squeezed down to zero. Whereas the ones who tend to be a little flakier during the regular semester are suddenly the students whom you depend on to man the fort when everyone else is home studying - they're the clutch hitters, to borrow a baseball metaphor (sorry, I've got Sox on the brain, especially this season!).

I've worried about this phenomenon, mostly because as a supervisor in a higher educational setting I don't want to be taking advantage of this second category of students. But insofar as they are adults - albeit young ones - if they want to pick up the extra hours I will gladly take the help during the tumultuous end of the each term, as I'd be dead in the water without them. I try to communicate this to my enforcer colleague, and I think she gets it sometimes, but I know that deep down inside she'd rather have students who are both reliable and there when the chips are down.

So would I! But just as my beloved Red Sox dare not part with their at-times brilliant, at-times lackadaisical slugger Manny Ramirez, neither can I cut loose my clutch-hitting students. Because sometimes when you're down by three runs in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, only a player like Manny will do.

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