[Libs-Or] Volunteer opportunity discussion. Another point of view

Kirby Jane S jane.s.kirby at state.or.us
Thu Jan 13 13:32:31 PST 2011

In this discussion of volunteer opportunities in libraries I think it is important to consider the following points.  I've given this topic some thought from my perspective as a librarian of 25 years' experience, a library volunteer, and a volunteer coordinator at a non-profit.

It is too easy for non-profits and government agencies to think "library" and immediately think "volunteer."  Ask yourself, would a healthcare facility recruit a volunteer nurse to fill a key position? Would a municipality recruit for a volunteer city attorney?   Probably not. In fact there are legal or other bureaucratic agreements in place that prevent the selection of anyone but a paid and certified professional.  Why should libraries and librarians be any different?

As a former volunteer coordinator, I recognize how fluid these arrangements can be.  Many, many volunteers are as steady as the tides but let's face it, the fluidity of volunteering is one of its main attractions.  Its very structure allows for changes in time commitments, lengthy vacations, and simply "dropping out" when interest wanes.  Is it wise to assign a key assignment (such as setting up a new library) to a volunteer?

Speaking from a library volunteer's point of view, it is essential to clearly understand the host organization's perception of volunteers. For example, I once volunteered numerous hours to set up a non-profit's library only to be replaced by a major donor's family member who wanted the assignment - and no, she wasn't a librarian.

In short, if it is important enough  to have a library --  it is important enough to have a paid, experienced/educated librarian.

PS:  Internships are fabulous but by their very nature are a mentor-apprentice relationship.  As others involved in this discussion have noted, the job of setting up a new library may not be an appropriate task for an intern or library school student.

Best regards,

Jane Kirby, MLS
Oregon OSHA Resource Center
Salem, Oreg.

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