Thing 22: Volunteering
October 5, 2011
One more “Thing” to the end of this very educational program. This post is about our volunteering experience.
I agree that volunteering is a great way to get some experience, and to get yourself started in the profession. That said, it should be a valuable experience. Make sure you will be doing actual work that gives you experience, and not just moving boxes or doing general data entry.
You can gain a lot of information about the work environment by how the organization tailors its volunteer positions. Of course, volunteers are usually excellent at what they do, and give the projects their all. However, if the library is using its volunteers as a replacement for qualified staff people, then I would say that institution does not value its employees or itself enough to make sure that staff are remunerated for appropriate work. You may want to seek a better experience elsewhere.
Volunteer opportunities for burgeoning librarians work best in cases of special projects that have a finite shelf life, and that cannot be naturally done by existing staff. Examples of this would be cataloging a special collection that has been at the bottom of a priority pile, or assisting with a one-time special outreach project. If the project or volunteer opportunity is ongoing for anything more than a year, then it may actually show a need for a part-time or full-time position.
As for my experience, when I moved to the Chicago area a few months ago, there was an opening on my local public library board. I decided to apply for the position in order to keep my hand in the library realm, while getting to know my new community. It is a non-paid position, and we have a board that works well together and is very active. So far I have enjoyed learning this new aspect of the library community and am hopeful that I can make a difference to my community. It has also been a good way to make new networking contacts and meet new people.
Aside from “library” volunteering, I feel that volunteering in general is a very important aspect to being a useful member of your community. I used to volunteer once a year for Habitat for Humanity through work, and have sometimes volunteered for various things at my son’s school. Whether you volunteer regularly, or sporadically like me, every little bit helps.
If you are considering a volunteer position, consider it very much like a real job. Really get to know the goals of the organization for the project. Show up at regular intervals and at the times for which you sign up. Be professional, and treat all the others you are working with (volunteers or employees) also as professionals. Do not expect that because you are volunteering that you can put in only what time you feel like, as usually those “hiring” you have a specific timeframe for the project’s completion. If you remain positive and foster a positive impression, you will make excellent contacts and you can feel good about the job you have done.
Volunteering in any form should be a part of anyone’s life, no matter how small. To assist your fellow human beings with making things better is always gratifying, whether it is providing better access to information or building a new house. There are many opportunities out there, so don’t be shy–jump in and it will become a natural part of your life.