Front-Desk Shifts: Working and watching as the world passes by
One writer talks to the student workers who watch the world from behind the front desks of Dartmouth.
As far as classic campus fixtures are concerned, Baker-Berry Library is one of the first places that comes to mind for me. From casual conversations with friends in Blobby to hurried assignments in the serious — sometimes stifling — atmosphere of 4FB, we’ve all experienced the many places and “vibes” that the library has to offer. But do we know these spaces as well as we think?
What about other spots on campus? I pass through the Hood, Collis and Rauner countless times every week, but I can’t tell you the last time I looked around and took notice of what other students were doing there. This is especially true in the end-of-term frenzy that is weeks eight through 10. It got me thinking about who is able to sit back and just observe campus: What’s that like? How’s the view?
Student workers in front desk positions have all the answers. While they’re mostly doing homework, they’re also in a prime position to people-watch and eavesdrop. So I re-explored campus as I asked my peers: What’s it like to sit for a few hours in these spaces?
The answers varied from place to place.
The first desk I visited was the most visible of all: Blobby. But rather than get a sense of what Baker lobby is like at its peak, I spoke to Ayazhan Abdiken ’22 in the hushed lull of the library on a Friday evening. I pulled up a chair beside her, taking in the oddity of a familiar place at a completely unfamiliar time.
Behind the desk in Blobby, Abdiken said that things are mostly smooth compared to the tasks of other campus jobs.
“Most of the time, I just work on my homework,” she said. The lingering students peppered throughout the lobby must have shared her sentiment. “The work at the circulation desk can get busy sometimes. Depending on which desk you’re at, tasks differ.”
Given the demanding nature of her other commitments, Abdiken says that working the front desk serves as a respite.
“I’m a teaching assistant, which is basically like taking a fourth course,” she said. “It’s been more than a year since I took the course, so it’s like learning everything from scratch.”
Working in Blobby gives Abdiken a chance to keep up with her work, while also earning a little extra money.
Abdiken also noted that people who work at the Blobby desk are some of the first resources that visitors turn to when they’re not accompanied by a tour guide.
“It’s really nice to be able to help people when they’re first coming to the College,” she said.
As we sat behind the desk together, I observed the chandelier from an angle I’d never seen before. Facing out and seeing the checkered floor stretch across the expanse of the lobby, I understood the appeal. Blobby is a central part of campus life, and it’s only enhanced by the friendly face behind the counter as you walk through its front doors.
Shifts at front desks around campus typically range from two to four hours, and the atmosphere of each space on campus affects the kind of shifts that students work.
According to Bilan Aden ’25, working the Collis front desk has its perks.
“There are a lot of moments where people that I haven’t really gotten to know come up to me and introduce themselves,” Aden said. “It’s a nice way to catch up with people and say ‘hi.’”
Collis desk workers also act as a resource to students for virtually every scenario. Are you bored and looking for something to do with friends? They have games for rent. It’s pouring out and your backpack isn’t waterproof? They have umbrellas.
“People interact on many levels, whether it’s studying, eating or catching up,” Aden said.
I could tell as much. Throughout our conversation, the constant buzz of chatter from students throughout the building served as soothing white noise. The space felt alive, like a gentle reminder of the non-stop motion of college life.
I left the building feeling brighter, as if my visit to Collis had been during the refreshing midday rather than the beginnings of a cool evening. The night air centered me again as I made my way across the Green to the library once again. Through the back entrance and down the stairs, I found myself surrounded by the deep blues and vibrant reds of the Orozco Mural Room.
Julia Draves ’23 also works at various desks throughout Baker-Berry. When I talked to her, she was behind the broad arc of the Orozco desk. She seemed to enjoy the quiet compared to the business that sometimes accompanies the other front desks. We mostly spoke in whispers, trying our best not to disturb the students who were finishing assignments before dinner.
Like most of the students I spoke to, Draves said that she prefers an evening shift, when the wind-down nature of weeknights allows student workers a bit of respite from their duties.
“My [non-front-desk] jobs are more independent in terms of scheduling,” she said. “[Working the front desk] is more consistent because you get a schedule every week.”
She noted that while the Orozco room might be more peaceful, the desk at Baker lobby is the most interesting place to work.
“I always think it’s funny when tour groups come in. They stop right in front of you, and you can eavesdrop on [the tour guides’] spiel about the library,” she said.
With our conversation at a close, I wandered up from the mural room to the main floor of Baker once again, ready to return to my role as an unobservant student with way too much to do.
And so, with a couple of walks around a campus that I’ve become fairly acclimated to, I got my answers. The view from behind the desk is refreshing; it inspires conversation, creates connection and puts students in a position to see Dartmouth College in yet another light. If you ever get the opportunity to work at a front desk on campus, take it. Maybe it’ll change your mind about the campus that you already think you know, and maybe it won’t.
Regardless, you’ll still get paid to do your homework.