Belated Happy Volunteer Week

National Volunteer Week 2019 was 7-13 April.  From the Points of Light Web site

National Volunteer Week was established in 1974 and has grown exponentially each year, with thousands of volunteer projects and special events scheduled throughout the week. Today, as people strive to lead lives that reflect their values, the expression of civic life has evolved. Whether online, at the office, or the local food bank; whether with a vote, a voice, or a wallet – doing good comes in many forms, and we recognize and celebrate them all.

Den Mother

Big Brother

Meals on Wheels

Thrift Store deals

None of these things appears

If there  are no volunteers.


Poem 15, 15 April–Half way to the goal of one poem per day for Poetry Month.

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?




Volunteers–What We Want, Part 2


Pictured above top (l) Archive I in DC, middle (l) Archive II in College Park, bottom (l) Shuttle at Archive II, (r) box containing typed decklogs for the USS Midway 1945-Mar 1946.

After I moved to Central Virginia, I was still able to volunteer for the Midway Library remotely. My shipmates on the Midway arranged a schedule where I could remotely log into the library before the ship opened (thanks to the 3 hours difference between the East Coast and the West Coast). I could access the automated library system to catalog (if they sent me a list of titles ahead of time and were willing to answer questions about titles I was uncertain about), prepare bibliographies, and research a chapter about the Vought FU4U Corsair for a forthcoming book the library is going to publish about planes that flew from the Midway over her almost 47 year career.

Living 2-1/2 hours south of DC, it was feasible to drive to Northern Virginia, catch the Metro into the District, take a free shuttle from the Archives downtown to the Archives in College Park, MD, and spend the day copying Deck Logs onto a thumbdrive.  (I usually combined the trip with an opportunity to see old friends and visit old haunts from the years I lived  and worked in the DC area.)  I upload the thumbdrive to an external drive on the Midway when I got home.  I have been doing this monthly.  I have also taken pictures of battleship presentation silver at the Smithsonian.

Take away four–Think outside the box–does a volunteer have to be onsite to provide value to the organization?  Is there anything the volunteer can do from home or some other location that would be beneficial to both the volunteer and the organization?  Possibilities include remote access, research, outreach, marketing, or providing a service on site (eg. a classroom, a senior center, a hospital) as appropriate to the organization.  Many organizations want the volunteer to start onsite so that both parties know the volunteer’s interests and capabilities and whether the volunteer is a good match for the organization.

Miller Center frontOnce a week, I volunteer for the Scripp’s Library at the Miller Center of Public Affairs for UVA.  I copy catalog books using a Mac laptop and the Koha Integrated Libary System.  It is the first time I have used  an Apple computer or the Koha open source ILS (so you can teach an old librarian new tricks).  I copy cataloging records that have previously been created by the Library of Congress or the University of Virginia.  The solo librarian had to get permission from the Volunteer Co-ordinator for me to be able to help since most of their volunteers are students. (However, most students are not professional librarians with over 30 years of experience who also know how to catalog.)   The work is pleasant but I have been introduced to very few people and mostly sit in the library in a corner, cataloging the books.  I am regularly told how much I am helping and the empty shelf that was previously full of book donations indicate the progress that has been made in the past year.

Take away five–Make the volunteer feel welcome and a part of the team.  Let them know about what is going on in the larger organization. Thank them for the work they are doing  and let them know it does make a difference.

To be continued:  What an organization wants in a volunteer.

Volunteers–What We Want, Part I

One of things I have done since retirement is volunteer, both in San Diego and now in Central Virginia.  In San Diego, I volunteered for the San Diego Public library, the National Park Service, and the USS Midway Carrier Museum Library.  In Central Virginia, I still volunteer remotely for the USS Midway and  for the Scripps Library at the Miller Center.


library volunteers delivering a mlk message
Volunteers put on a MLK Jr story hour at Joint Base San Antonio, TX

At the public library, I shelved DVDs.  On the plus side it was simple, no one had to take time to create a project for me, and there were always DVDs to shelve.  I had a schedule, but I could have shelved DVDs at any time.  On the minus side it was boring–necessary but not a good use of my skill set.  Fortunately, the children’s librarian took an interest in me and had me tutor a remarkable young man one hour a week.  (He did not really need a tutor but his mother wanted him to have it.  He was an immigrant child with excellent English, strong sense of duty, and wonderful manners.  When he saw me come in, he would stop what he was doing, including leaving a game with his friends or participating in a library program.  I usually told him to come back when the event was over.)


Take away one–Make the volunteer feel welcomed and try to give them a task that will enrich them as much as it will the organization benefitting from their time and abilities.


open bunker day re-enactors set up a military checkpont at cabrillo
Volunteer WWII re-enactors set up a check point like there would have been when the tip of Pt. Loma was a Costal Artilley Base during WWII

At Cabrillo National Monunment, the Park Service referred to us as VIPs  (Volunteers in Parks),  a wonderful acronym that already started with you feeling like a Very Important Person.  Unlike the library which had strong rules about volunteers not doing what a paid employee should be doing, the Park Service treated us as equals, not free grunt labor. (Both Rangers and VIPs share a lot of the scutt work from clean-up to manning the Visitor Center.  We all realized that the Rangers had the final word and they were always careful to consider volunteer opinions and recommendations.)  We could do inside work, outside work, behind the scenes work, frontline work–almost anything we felt comfortable doing from leading nature walks, historical re-enactment at the Lighthouse, the WWII coastal artillery batteries, the Age of Discovery exhibits,  at or in the Tidepools, to working with records and files.


Take away two–As  much as possible, treat the volunteers as an intregal part of your team.  Don’t treat them as free grunt labor.


maddy and nan getting thier docent graduation certificates from ceo mac maclaughlin
Maddy and Nancy graduating from Docent Training.  Volunteers can get the training, even if they do not plan to become a Docent.

At the Midway Library, I served as a Lead Librarian one afternoon a week.  The Midway Library is totally manned by volunteers.  The only paid position, is our boss, the Mueum Curator. While I was at the library, I usually  cataloged, but I also helped people who came up  to look themselves or somebody else up in the Master Crew List.  I could wander around the ship learning about different parts of the ship, its history, its crew, and its varying missions.   Anything we learned could be of use, when a guest stopped us anywhere on the ship with a question.  Each section wore a different colored golf or tee shirt and kahki pants/shorts/skirts–but the guests would have no reason to be aware that our uniform indicated our volunteer speciality.  They only knew or cared that we were part of the Midway and could help them with a question or a problem.  We were always invited to take advantage of any learning opportunity on the Midway.


Take away three–Let the volunteer learn as much about your organization as possible.  You never know who will ask them a question.   They are also a valuable marketing opportunity to get your organization exposed to groups that may not be part of your normal constituency.

To be continued…..