Thing 22: Volunteering to gain experience
Volunteering can be, and should be, a wonderful thing which benefits both sides – the organisation and the individual. I currently manage 154 volunteers. Yes, really. They’re not all active right now, some are seasonal (in the summer they do the gardening) and others were short term placements. But altogether we had 12,000 hours of volunteer time donated last year. Generally there’s about twelve volunteers in per day, but it varies depending on projects. Some also do work from home, although this can be tricky to set up.
Most of them have a single project/task that they’re working on such as proofreading an OCR’d volume or scanning in Tracts or typing out members lists. Others have progressed to something more technical like trying to find the duplicate maps and take them off the database. A few have reached almost managerial roles in training other volunteers and checking which Tracts have been scanned and which are to be done. Others require me to have done some work before they can do some work (i.e. if I don’t get some cataloguing done then the labelling volunteer and the shelving volunteer are redundant). And a few of them like to do different things every week. They are more work for me obviously because you have to train them in more things, and remember what they did last week.
Sometimes it does make my head spin. Just remembering everyone’s name is quite a challenge, never mind remembering what they do and don’t like doing and what they weren’t terribly good at doing…
I don’t have any issues here with replacing professional staff with my volunteers. There has never been any other paid staff here. There is barely enough money to pay me and their expenses,never mind another member of staff. And the fact we’re a registered charity sort of helps as well in my mind for some reason. Also, the majority of the jobs they are doing are additional. I’m not saying I would never do them as a professional, but the chances of me finding time to do them are slim to none. They are all bonuses and although they can help the basic functions of answering an enquiry and cataloguing, they’re not actually dealing with the public, or, crucially, any of their personal data. I think even many public libraries have had “heritage” volunteers for some time and I would say our roles are very similar.
I deeply wish I also had time to be a volunteer as well as manage them. I had just arranged to volunteer at Seven Stories when I got this job, and I blithely said “Oh, well, once I settle in, I can still come and volunteer a morning a week on flexitime!” Suffice to say, it never happened. And six years on, I still feel guilty about it! But I only just have enough energy to come to work, go home, go to choir and do a couple of evening classes a week. I just don’t have anything else left in the tank at the moment. Maybe one day. Or maybe it will have to wait until retirement!
I do volunteer for things on a more occasional basis. To help at one off events for NE CILIP. To host events here at the Institute too. And I go and busk as part of my choir for charity every year as well. Once you include rehearsal and travel time, that’s actually quite a lot of volunteering hours per year.
One thing I would never volunteer to do is work for free in a public library which had been handed over to volunteers. It’s just undermining everything we, and CILIP, stands for. Besides which, I very much doubt the whole system would last long.
Volunteers are great as long as you don’t have to rely on them turning up! Their work has to be additional to the basic services of the building opening and functioning because, quite often, volunteers get a better offer for the day and don’t turn up. Or they’re ill. Or their children are ill. Or it’s snowing. Or the bus didn’t turn up, so they went home. Understandably, they don’t (all – I am generalising here) make the same amount of effort to turn up as paid staff do!. There isn’t any penalty to them after all, if they don’t and the other options of finding paid childcare, say, or getting a taxi aren’t affordable because, fundamentally, they’re not getting paid…