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Page history last edited by Alaska State Library: Library Development 15 years, 11 months ago

The term volunteer is used for people who usually work in the library at scheduled times, without salary or wages, and who are performing tasks that are part of the operation of the library. In school libraries there are two kinds of volunteers--adults and students. (See the entry on Student Aides/S-9.) Most likely the adults will be parents, but grandparents, retired community members and other adults that have an interest in schools and the time to volunteer may be candidates for volunteer jobs. Elementary, combined school/community, and K-12 school libraries will find it easier to recruit adult volunteers than will secondary schools.


Whenever possible, volunteers should be used to enrich the program and enlarge the activities of a school library. It is sometimes a temptation to load more and more of the regular activities of a school library onto the shoulders of a volunteer. The regular, basic program should be the responsibility of the school district.


Volunteer Programs

  • Some libraries have very active volunteer programs. Volunteer programs can be effective when well administered and supervised. Volunteers can be effective library advocates also.
  • Some volunteer activities are minor commitments, perhaps providing cookies for a storyhour or a reading club party. Other volunteer jobs may require a major commitment of time; for example, keeping the library open one afternoon every week, or one day every month. Or it might be mending books, or telling stories one morning each week during the summer, or managing the library sales items.
  • All that is needed to organize volunteers to bring cookies for a story hour or library party is a phone list and a sign-up sheet. For important programs, something more formal is better.
  • Regular volunteers for major library services, functions, or programs should be regarded as unpaid staff. As staff, their positions, tasks, or projects should have job descriptions, goals, and objectives, written if possible. The time it takes to write up these program basics will be well repaid by better, more organized results from your volunteers.
  • When seeking volunteers, don’t think or imply a lifetime commitment. Sometimes people want to volunteer for a short period of time only, or for one project or one activity. If volunteers have successful experiences in the library, they can make another commitment if they wish to continue.
  • A volunteer wants to know that his or her contribution has had an effect on the library or has been beneficial in some fashion. Try to be as specific as possible in thanking your volunteers. Express to them exactly what would not have been done or would not have worked as well without their presence.
  • Dissatisfied volunteers leave for a variety of reasons; unclear expectations, lack of supervision, lack of meaningful experiences (drudgery jobs), lack of personal rewards. If a volunteer leaves your library, try to find out why. You may be able to adjust your volunteer program in such a way as to lose no more volunteers for the same reason.


Establishing a Volunteer Program


Some libraries have a volunteer who manages the volunteer program. Volunteer programs don’t just happen; they must be organized and developed. Some steps to build a program:


  • Planning — Determine the needs of the library. What are the priorities, the objectives? What needs to be accomplished and what skills are needed to do it? How long will it take to complete the activity you are planning?
  • Recruitment — Write a job description. Determine the tasks to be performed and the skills and experience needed. Publicize the volunteer opening in the library in public buildings in the community—the post office, the grocery store, the health clinic, churches, etc.
  • Interview Applicants — During the interview you want to explain to the applicant that the volunteer experience is of mutual benefit. The library will gain from the assistance, but the volunteer will be receiving training, information, skills, and experiences of benefit, too.
  • General questions should be asked during the interview. “What do you want to get from this volunteer experience?” “What personal and work goals are important to you in considering a volunteer job?” Sometimes the person wants to gain certain skills to qualify for a paid job. Sometimes volunteers have experience that is needed by the library, so ask questions that bring out other skills. “What kinds of jobs have you held in the past, either paid or not paid?” “Which jobs did you like?” “What tasks did you not like to do?” It may become obvious during the interview that the person is a good choice for the job. Or it may be that the person cannot fill the position you have available. In most school situations, you should find some job which the volunteer can do rather than turn him or her away. Since most volunteers are already connected to your school through their children, they may resent not being allowed to help.
  • Orientation — Once you have accepted a volunteer, that person should be given the same orientation as would be given paid staff. Everyone working in the library represents the library to others. They will be asked questions about the library, or they may tell a friend about materials or services of the library. Because of that interaction with other members of the community, it is important to explain the activities going on in the library, the job responsibilities of the volunteer, and the contribution the volunteer is making to the operation of the library.
  • Training and Supervision — The purpose of training is to enable the person to perform adequately. Be specific about the tasks you want performed. Provide a procedure manual, a checklist, or written instructions that will help the volunteers perform their duties in a satisfactory manner. Be courteous; greet volunteers when they arrive and thank them with a smile when they leave. Include them in meetings when possible. Invite them to participate in social functions of the staff; potluck dinners, the Christmas party, etc.
  • Recognition — People have good feelings about themselves when they know something they are doing is important to others. Appreciation of volunteers is very important to keeping those volunteers. Recognize volunteers publicly. Mention their names to the principal and superintendent and the number of hours they have contributed. Write a letter to each volunteer thanking her/him for assistance in the library. Mention them in the newspaper or in a newsletter. Celebrate outstanding projects or achievements. Put a book plate in a new book. It should state something similar to: “In recognition of (name) who has contributed over 100 (or other number) volunteer hours to the library.” Have a cake on their birthday. Sponsor a “Volunteer of the Month” program. Write letters of recommendation when requested. National Volunteer Week is in April of every year. That is a good opportunity to recognize all the library volunteers and publicize their contributions.
  • Evaluation — There are two targets for evaluation in a volunteer program; the program itself and the volunteer.
  • The program — At the end of a year or just before a new one begins, ask yourself: How successful was the library in attracting and managing volunteers? Were there job descriptions for the important volunteer programs and activities? Did the library establish objectives and performance standards for the volunteer job(s)? Was the library program improved? What was accomplished that couldn’t have been accomplished without the volunteers? Did the results warrant the investment of time?
  • The volunteer — Did the performance of the individual measure up, meet, or surpass the objectives of the project? What else could this individual do for the library?


Volunteers can be a valuable resource to the library. A good volunteer program requires time – time to plan, to train, to review. Successful volunteers can be another voice for the library in the community.

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