Volunteers–What Supervisors Want

Before I retired, I worked in base (similar to public) libraries and academic libraries.  In both cases, we used volunteers.  Sometimes the volunteers were family members and other times they were special duty soldiers (SDs)  who were temporarily assigned to the library because they were awaiting reassignment or had some type of physical reason that they needed to be assigned limited duty.

People volunteered for a variety of reasons.  Some high schools required their students to complete a number of volunteer hours as a pre-requisite for graduation. (They made great volunteers.) Occasionally a parent would want a child to get work experience or spend part of the summer doing something constructive, especially if the child considered him or herself too old for the day camp run by the base youth activities.  A few adults really liked the library and wanted to help make it a better place.  The SDs were assigned to the library and did not have a choice.

Take away one:  Do you want volunteers?  If so, what kind of volunteers do you want?  How much time commitment do you want your volunteers to make?  How much training can you provide, if needed?

In the base library, the most popular assignment was usually working the circulation desk, back in the days when books were still stamped and checked out manually.  The ability to alphabetize book cards by the author’s last name, stamp the book with the date due, add the book to the correct borrower’s card, and separate the checked out books from the books being returned for check in  were all prized.  The volunteer also had to be polite to all customers and willing to help them find materials or fetch a staff member to help them.  There was not much of a dress code.

Take away two:  Attention to detail is very important when filing manually.  An item checked out to the wrong person or incorrectly could remain an issue indefinitely. It affected the library’s ability to determine who had checked an item out or whether  it had actually been returned.   Customer service is also important.  A patron should not be kept waiting because  a volunteer prefers to visit with his/her friends at the circulation desk.  

Shelf reading (putting the books back on the shelf in Dewey Decimal order) was a frequent volunteer task and one of the most unpopular because it was boring and could be dirty or uncomfortable.  There was a lot of standing and stooping as the shelf reader progressed from the top to the bottom shelf for each book case and then had to repeat the steps on the next book case. Both the teenagers and the SDs could be relied upon to avoid this assignment whenever possible.

Take away three:  A volunteer can be requested to do a job, but an unwilling volunteer will not do the job well or for very long before deciding this is not a good match.  Both the volunteer and the organization need to benefit from the transaction.  Sometime explaining the value of the task may make a temporary difference, but not if the volunteer really does not want to do it.

At Ft Story, we had SDs for varying periods of time.  Sometimes they were problem soldiers that the first sargeant wanted to temporarily reassign.  Othertimes they were soldiers with “profiles” that limited their abilities to do their military jobs.  These soldiers often had medical appoitments.  The soldiers were all young and became very adroit at working the system.  Many of them had reasons why they could not be at the library on a particular day or by a specific time.  One of them had physical therapy twice a week for two hours.  He continued to vanish during those scheduled times long after the PT ended (we found out afterwards.)

Take away four:  As a supervisor, find out what you can realistically expect from any volunteer.  If the volunteer is part of a program, find out who the program counterpart is.  Is that person willing to support you, if there is a question about the volunteer’s job performance or attendance?  This is important for both SDs (the military) and special work programs for disadvantaged people.  (I had both excellent and problem volunteers/employees paid by some other program) in both categories.)

At the National Defense University, we did not have SDs, but we did have volunteers.  Some volunteers were library school students completing an internship.  The interns were usually  good.  They got professional experience and sometimes a job offer if their graduation coincided with the Library having a job vacancy.  We had one volunteer who had already graduated but did not yet have a job.  She was a friend of one of the employees and was such a chatty-Kathy that even her friend would escape to parts of the library where she was not allowed.  She was also a disaster as a volunteer–she took forever to complete any task and her friend would have to clean up the mess after the project was ended.

Take away five:  Attitude and aptitude are often more important than actual skills or experience.

In both the academic and the base libraries,  previously identified volunteer projects was always a good idea.  What new project or event would you like to see happen, that the staff does not time to do?  Can you partner with another department to provide training or an activity that would benefit both of you?  Story hours, youth job experience, book clubs, literacy programs, technology petting zoos, seasonal displays, local celebrations or anniversaries are all opportunities for the library to shine or perhaps use volunteers.

Take away six:  It should not take more staff time to set up a volunteer opportunity than it does for the volunteer to complete the task.  The opportunity should benefit both the library and the volunteer.  A variety of previously identified projects offer the volunteer a choice on things that you would like to see happen.

What was your experience either as a volunteer or as a supervisor of volunteers?





Smorgasbord End of Summer Party – Brunch Meet Robert Goldstein, Victoria Zigler, John W. Howell, Becky Ross Michael, Jemima Pett, Marcia Meara, Luna Saint Claire and Anita Dawes

Since Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer in the United States, I thought this reblog would be a nice opportunity to share some other fascinating bloggers with you.

via Smorgasbord End of Summer Party – Brunch Meet Robert Goldstein, Victoria Zigler, John W. Howell, Becky Ross Michael, Jemima Pett, Marcia Meara, Luna Saint Claire and Anita Dawes

TRUTH–Constant or Variable?

truth is paradoxicalToday’s






Is Truth a constant, unchanging state, or is Truth  a variable, a continuously moving state?

truth is out there

Most of us believe that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.  Most of us also believe that depending upon the season and where we live, the amount of daylight changes each day.  The position of the sun in the sky, determines where in the east it will rise and where in the west it will set.  So even though most of us expect the sun to rise and set in the same general direction, it does not rise and set in the same location each day.

beach sunset.jpg

Does the variable of the sun’s movement change the constant of the sun’s rising and setting?

Do you think that truth is a constant or a variable?



All Aboard!

Cabrillo National monument is a wonderful jewel in San Diego’s  crown. The VIP s, volunteers in parks, are now trained (pun intended) to tell train passengers about the park and the passing scenery between San Diego and LA.


Cabrillo National Monument Partners with Amtrak to Connect People with Places

By VIP Karen Scanlon

Amtrak’s Surfliner rolled into the Old Town Station as usual the early morning of June 2. But on this day, three specially trained volunteers from Cabrillo National Monument boarded this inaugural Trails & Rails route San Diego to Los Angeles. They board as history guides educating travelers on historic sites along the way.

The Trails & Rails program is a partnership between Amtrak and the National Park Service. Locally, ten trails’ volunteers at San Diego’s only national park have jumped on board and will journey two-at-a-time on summer Saturdays through August. Guides travel as crew and are well versed in passenger and on board safety, as well as knowing the route’s history and natural resources. Each volunteer must also meet Amtrak’s requirements for physical fitness.

(Incidentally, do not be misinformed: the infamous statue of Cabrillo…

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Good Friday, Virginia

In 1974, I did my student teaching in Wythe County Virginia.  One of my friends from college lived in Wytheville.  Her family had lived there for generations.  As we drove around the county, she pointed out some of the flowering trees and told me the legends surrounding them.  The dogwood tree and the Judas tree are relevant on Good Friday.

dogwoods pink and whiteAccording to legend, the dogwood was originally a tall, strong tree and provided the wood for the cross where Jesus was hung.  The dogwood was so ashamed of that role, that it prayed to God.  God answered it’s prayers.  The dogwood would be a smaller tree whose wood could not longer be used to make crosses used for crucifixions.  The flower of the dogwood was shaped with four petals to represent the four nails that affixed Jesus to the cross.  In the center of each flower would be a small red seed that represented a drop of Christ’s blood.

When I looked this legend up, I found the following poem, author is anonymous.

When Christ was on earth, the dogwood grew
To a towering size with a lovely hue.

Its branches were strong and interwoven
And for Christ’s cross its timbers were chosen

Being distressed at the use of the wood
Christ made a promise which still holds good:
“Not ever again shall the dogwood grow
To be large enough for a tree, and so

Slender and twisted it shall always be
With cross-shaped blossoms for all to see.
The petals shall have bloodstains marked brown
And in the blossom’s center a thorny crown.

All who see it will think of Me,
Nailed to a cross from a dogwood tree.
Protected and cherished this tree shall be
A reflection to all of My agony.”

The Judas tree, which is also known as the Redbud tree,  is allegedly the tree where Judas Iscariot hung himself after he betrayed Christ.  It’s once white blossoms blushed pink with shame.

Happy Easter.



More about Little Free Libraries

via Library Closings & Little Free Libraries

I can not fathom why Canadian librarians might view LFL as the competition, but to each their own.  Mirable Dictu does a lovely job with words and picture about LFL in her neighborhood.  Interesting Read.

To read more about Little Free Libraries, check this out too:


Seasons Readings!DSC00721

Little Free Library at the Peaks of Otter Lodge, off the Blue  Ridge Parkway near Bedford, VA

Flexible Flyer Sleds: From New Jersey

If you are a child of a certain age and live where you have access to snow, you  are probably familiar with a Flexible Flyer sled.  Probably the most famous Flexible Flyer was Rosebud, the mysterious sled in Citizen Kane.  Flexible Flyers also accompanied Richard Byrd on his 1928 expedition to the South Pole.

flexible flyer ad

Long before sleds were round, made of plastic and became a symbol of public disregard for private property in the mountains of Southern California last winter, sleds were made of wood and had two runners.

Atlas Obscura has written an interesting article on the Flexible Flyer Museum in Mooresetown, NJ.  flexible flyer--sam leeds inventorThe sled was invented in 1889 by Samuel Leeds Allen (right), a local farm and garden equipment manufacturer. Although Leeds was better known for his potato diggers and grass edgers, his desire to keep his factory workers employed during the winter gave him the idea to manufacture a winter product

His sled was flexible and steerable.

The museum is part of the Moorestown Library.