Recently I saw the following ad for a librarian. I edited it to remove indications of the organization’s name or location. This description includes many of the skills that it takes librarians many years of training and experience to do well such as management, collection development, ordering new materials, building a collection, assisting readers in the finding of materials, keeping library users informed of new acquisitions, cataloging materials, and providing reference services.
1> Run library of 4000+ monographs, periodicals, and DVD's.
2> Create catalog records in digital catalog for new additions to collection (using Resource Mate)
3> Order books, DVD's, and periodicals that staff requests
4> Assist staff & visitors with finding books and materials
5> Check in and display incoming periodicals
6> Send out library updates to staff on new acquisitions and interesting articles
7> Assess books donations for retention value
8> Classify books in both Dewey and Elazar systems; create books labels, and shelve
9> Provide reference services as needed
MLS graduate with good organizational abilities, and interpersonal skills.
This is not a small school or non-profit organization. It is a large professionally run organization that distributed more than $130 million in grants to more than 100 agencies. One $54,850 grant went to an Israeli library for a program in language and literacy development. You should have guessed by now why I am annoyed with this agency. For all of the required professional librarian skills, this is a volunteer position. All the above activities are supposed to be accomplished in 4-8 hours per week by a volunteer not paid professional.
I’m not against volunteers. I volunteer my time for my synagogue. I contribute my expertise and time to make the community a better place. Officers volunteer and provide management and leadership many hours each week. The synagogue could not run without volunteers. I volunteer for my professional librarian groups. I use my writing, teaching, and other skills to further my profession. I am not paid for writing articles. There is a line between what I would and would not do as a volunteer. I would run volunteer a program; I would not catalog materials or build a collection without compensation. I would answer a question; I would not sit for four hours on a regular basis and help all comers with skilled reference services without compensation.
Would this organization ask a lawyer, dentist, doctor or plumber to come to the office every week without compensation?
Volunteers can be used effectively in a library program. They work with and under the direct supervision of a librarian. Susan C. Eubank, the librarian at the Denver (Colorado) Botanic Gardens, writes in the article, “Volunteers in the Helen Fowler Library at Denver Botanic Gardens” (Colorado Libraries 25:3 Fall 1999) “…the Library would not exist without volunteers. Denver Botanic Gardens is a non-profit organization that has used volunteers from the beginning and the Library continues that tradition.” Volunteers in the Library at Denver Botanic Gardens run the book sale and some of the mundane and less time dependent tasks, such as shelving, processing new books and data entry. These tasks can be done on their schedule without any pressure to do it now. Many of the volunteers are there for the long term and have been there longer than the librarian. They are strong advocates for the library within the Botanic Gardens and good for public relations within the community. The organization and the individuals benefit from the arrangement.
Kathy Ishizuka has a different point of view (“School libraries struggle with layoffs” in School Library Journal 49:2 18-19 F 2003). This article reports on the situation of schools with budgetary problems using volunteers in elementary and high school libraries. In schools without librarians there is no collaboration on assignments with faculty, no collection development, and no instruction in research skills.
Alan Jacobson, volunteer coordinator at the Oak Park (Illinois) Public Library wrote in American Libraries (“Those Who Can, Do. Those Who Can Do More, Volunteer. American Libraries v. 41:5, May 2010 p. 39-41) about how a library can use volunteers to help serve the public. He claims volunteers augment staff. In a letter, (“Reader Forum, “ American Libraries v. 41:9, September 2010 p. 7) Brenda Knutson strongly disagrees with Jacobson. She claims that articles such as Jacobson’s encouraged the Los Angeles City Council to lay off staff.
What conditions should one volunteer professional expertise? When you are member of a community or professional organization, you are helping the organization and yourself. When you help your children’s or grandchildren’s school you are contributing to the school and the education of your family. There may be good reasons to volunteer for the organization mentioned in the above ad. However, the organization should requite from within and not listserv for professional librarians. As professionals we have to promote ourselves and show information services are valuable to the organization and the community.