Volunteering – further thoughts

Thanks to everyone who commented on my previous post.  The number of swift replies shows what a hot topic this is at the moment!

The CILIP links were very interesting and shows their official position.  I was pleased that they emphasised that volunteers are “not a no cost option” and I hope our politicians are reading this carefully.  I loved the point in one article by Tim Buckley Jones where he mentions the volunteer-ran library which he tried to visit however it was closed – because no-one had turned up.  I can also sympathise with Helen’s worries about not being able to find a paid job if too many posts become volunteer staffed.

I liked the ideas from Caroline about using volunteers for roles outside of those being performed by staff such as the events and mailouts and also Pat’s cataloguing of collections which have been shelved as “non-urgent”.  The ex-members of staff were a fascinating group which unfortunately are not an option here, (well, not until I get to retire anyway…) but sound fantastic as volunteers.  I wish I had more of them to tap into! I do have a number of ex-librarians from other libraries – there is clearly an additive element to cataloguing!

After hearing Tori’s experiences, I am very glad that I have never experienced problems with volunteers being bullied.  Also in her comment I loved the line “it was when they started to branch out that most problems occurred” – this is true on many levels and in all organisations with volunteers I think!  But it’s not until they start to branch out that some volunteers can really develop and extend their skills so it is a difficult balancing act of giving them the space to make their own mistakes whilst offering enough guidance.  I agree with Sandra that volunteering can provide huge benefits for both parties, but also that it is definitely hard work managing them sometimes!  I am indeed already in touch with my local Volunteer Centre and I would recommend that to everyone working with volunteers.  Volunteering England is also a helpful resource.

I was particularly pleased to hear from another “mining librarian” of sorts – Hi Ellie, I’m sure we can help each other in the future!

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One response to “Volunteering – further thoughts

  1. Margaret

    I have had experience both of volunteering myself (retired archivist cataloguing collections that wouldn’t otherwise get touched for many years) and of working with a range of volunteers in Durham University Library and elsewhere – work-experience students; Mormon “family history missionaries”; regular groups of Library volunteers, often working on projects such as those funded by the HLF that demand volunteer participation; and adult education/ Victoria County History groups. They have done things such as labelling, numbering, listing , indexing and transcribing documents. It can be hard work preparing and checking their tasks but the more you put into it the more you get out! It seems to work best if what the volunteers do is carefully targetted and if they use a template for listing, e.g. a database with term lists for names etc. Sometimes there might be some conflict of purpose between the aims of certain volunteers and what the institution hopes to get from them. But on the plus side they do a lot of work that would be beyond the scope of paid staff and if you can encourage them to stay they build up speed and expertise. As a bonus many of the older volunteers can also contribute lots of relevant knowledge, e.g. of local history. You also need to think too what they are getting out of it. The odd thank-you party always goes down well! It is also good, though sometimes difficult, to integrate the volunteers with regular staff. Working in groups gives the volunteers a sense of camaraderie and pride and it is always worth encouraging them to aim high. Two of the groups I have been involved with have gone on to produce books based on material they have transcribed as volunteers and others have written articles, given talks etc – which incidentally draw attention to the Library’s holdings and hopefully increase usage of the collections. So – working with volunteers is definitely time-consuming but can be well worth while!

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