Growth of a Librarian


Making a Difference
December 3, 2011, 5:39 pm
Filed under: CPD | Tags: , ,

At first I was confused by the issue under consideration in this Thing – that volunteering might not be a “good thing”.  I grew up volunteering as an active Girl Scout (Girl Guide for you Brits out there) where I learned about the importance of giving back at a very young age.  Volunteering my time and whatever skills I may have has always been a part of who I am, and I have been saddened and confused to find the issue of volunteering under such heated debate in England, where there is a tendency to replace paid staff with volunteers.  To me this misses the point of volunteering entirely.  It seems to me that volunteering should be a way of brining people in for small blocks of time, for specific tasks, or for efforts where sheer numbers are required, as a supplement to paid staff.  The work that volunteers can and should do seems inherently different from the work of paid staff in any given organisation, and the loss of either role seems a great pity to me.

That being said, I have never actually volunteered in a library, although a great deal of the experience I have gained in other volunteer roles has been useful in my jobs in libraries.  Partially this is because libraries are where I work, and when I volunteer I want a chance to try something new, and partially this is because I have been uncannily lucky so far in finding paid library work when I need it.  The volunteering I have done ranges from weekly scheduled shifts in local museums or with Scout/Guide groups, to one-off litter-clearing days or buying and packing Christmas gifts for children in need.  My first two visits to England came about because I was volunteering here, full-time, for several months at a time.

These varied volunteer experiences have all given me the chance to try something new, and have given me a wide range of skills to draw on in different situations.  I’m better at public speaking, have experience teaching children basic math and reading skills, learned my way around London, and learned to work a till and a fax machine, for example, all because I have volunteered.  Demonstrably then, volunteering not only benefits the volunteer by providing useful and enjoyable experience, but as the name implies it also benefits others.  Absolutely there are environments in which volunteers can be taken advantage of, and where staff are replaced by volunteers (my only personal experience with this issue has been through organisations in the UK, but it must happen elsewhere), and this is definitely bad for everyone.  In cases where the essential division in the function and purpose of volunteers and staff is clearly maintained and respected, however, then there are only benefits for everyone involved.