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

Kyle Banerjee banerjek at uoregon.edu
Thu Jan 13 15:14:25 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?

I haven't given this much thought, but my gut reaction is that unless I'm
really missing something, hiring a professional librarian to organize a
collection of 225 books, a few periodicals, and a handful of videos is like
calling the fire department to help plan a candlelight supper.

The overhead of even taking the first volunteer that walks through the door
is likely to exceed the labor that should be expended on this project,
though it could be a good way to get people more involved with the

A librarian could physically arrange the materials according to some logical
criteria, add consistent metadata, provide a good access mechanism, etc, but
any user would have to be some kind of loon not to just walk to the
collection and just browse it as that could be done in a few seconds even if
everything is in random order. It's hard to imagine how it wouldn't take
longer for users to deal with even a good organizational scheme than to
simply go to the stuff.

I am somehow reminded of a place I lived in years ago where we would be
fined if we got caught changing a lightbulb (required procedure was to fill
out a work order so a union electrician could do the job). That kind of
situation is bad for everyone. It's a total waste of skilled labor, and the
schmucks who have to pay an arm and a leg to be forced to wait too long in
the dark start wondering what the pros really have to contribute.

Happy Thursday to all, and as you've undoubtedly surmised, I'm representing
only my own views ;)

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