Library Diva's Guide to Volunteering…

For all the Probation and Community Service Hour Volunteers out there, I respect you and understand that humans make mistakes, break laws and just plain ole have bad luck. I won’t make you scrub toilets with toothbrushes, and I will give you satisfying and valued tasks to complete, but just remember a few of my rules….

  • When you are doing court ordered community service, just because we are a library doesn’t mean you can dump your children under 8 years of age off in our children’s department while you volunteer
  • When you are given 15 different places to work off your service hours, contact all of them, not just the one place you want to go. Because if I can’t get you in, you may be in trouble, and its not my fault.
  • Your stress is not my stress
  • Remember I’m not the one that committed the crime
  • Also, remember, I’m the one that has a good relationship with your probation officers, I’m not going to join in and agree how unfair and how unjust they are, this includes our law enforcement and judges and our county
  • If you choose not to come, that’s your choice. I’m not the one that will be scrambling to get my hours in at the last minute
  • If you don’t come in, I’ll give your task to someone else
  • Just because you like the library, doesn’t always mean we like you
  • If you are found in violation or non compliant, it’s not my fault. I will not accept collect calls from jail to “get you out”
  • I may be “cool” but I’m not an idiot. I will dismiss you if you disrespect me or any of my coworkers…

I don’t judge our community service and probation volunteers, but I need to weigh and measure the value of their service that helps us vs. providing service to the community. This week, the balance was not tipping in my favor!


My dad always told me that if a meeting started at 10:00 am and you get there at 10:00 am, you are late. I had a program set for 5:30 last night. 8 Daisy Girl Scouts  were coming to do a community service project. I confirmed with the Daisy leader and told her I’d see her at 5:15. 5:30 rolls around and she and her daughter stroll in, the others usually don’t get to the meeting until 5:45, I was told.

Around 5:40 ish..I began to stew so I asked the Youth Services Librarian to select a good book about cooperation and respect (NOT FOX IN SOCKS!). I pre read it, it was perfect. Respecting others, helping others, cooperation, all the good things that just seemed to  apply to what was happening.

6pm rolled around and the leader kindly informed me that I could go ahead and start my program because the other 2 in the group were  in their car and on their way so it would be another 15 minutes before they got there. I gave a forced smile and as all the parents and kids were seated around me, launched into my reading. As I was reading, and was on the part of following instructions and listening, not only did the late comers arrive sooner then expected, they arrived as if nothing was happening. No quietly slipping in…not these daisies. Girls squealing and hugging, running up to each other, parents chatting, catching up and talking about the traffic, the day, someone’s taking online classes, what was being made for dinner? For real?


I may have read it a little louder then usual, but there was silence and all eyes were turned toward me. I continued, “Neighbors often cooperate by taking care of things in their neighborhood…”

The parents moved out of the story area and I was able to continue my reading, hand out the junior volunteer badges and assign the girls the tasks of shelving simple board books.

Daisy’s are my favorite flowers… always have been, always will be so I’m not going to let this type of  “daisy” ruin it for me, but they sure had me walking away wilted.

{May 9, 2011}   burning bridges

As a Volunteer Manager, I pay attention to what people are saying. I listen to the volunteers and I listen to the staff. I hear the complaints of the staff regarding tasks and time management so I try to connect the volunteer with the set skills and ability with that staff member to alleviate some of that stress.

As I move out of “Management” and into “Coordination”, I’m finding that staff would rather eliminate the volunteers who have been helping them over the course of the past 4 years and re-absorb those tasks back on to their shoulders instead of having to build a relationship with them or heaven forbid, talk to them or “manage” them.

I sent an email out to several volunteers today saying we were undergoing a staff change and that their tasks would now fall under staff instead of volunteers. When I was working directly with it the past 4 years, it seemed to work out fine, lots of work got done, volunteers were happy, staff was happy. Now that I’m not doing it, no one’s doing it.

Its very sad. No one wants to feel that things will fall apart when you leave or aren’t there to head it up…although sometimes people want to believe that it might…they don’t want it to really happen.

I know this is part of my transition, but I’ve built relationships with the volunteers who are doing these tasks and now I’m the one that has to tell them and say goodbye to them.

I guess it’s better to hear it from me who has cared about them and what they have been doing for us then the staff involved now anyway. The staff would  probably burn that bridge and not look back.

I don’t get people some days…

A friend and I were talking the other day about volunteering. I’m moving out of the management of volunteering and focusing on the coordination of volunteers. It’s a scary thing, because the management will now fall under someone else who may or may not know the delicate balance there has to be in the management of volunteers.

The first and most important thing is that volunteers don’t want to hear about the day-to-day drama. They want to come in, do good, and go home. My sister had told me of a time where she went to her local animal shelter to walk dogs and refill water bowls only to be met by a staff who put the pressure on the volunteers of that day that if money wasn’t raised than 8 pitt bull puppies would be put to death that night. She practically was given the choice of standing outside a store in a strip mall with a donation can or to cough up cash then and there.The staff’s job was stressful, they wanted the volunteers to know what they go through every day.

It wasn’t what she signed up for, she didn’t want the drama, didn’t need the pressure, she was so turned off she left and didn’t look back. When we volunteer, we want to do good, we want it easy, we want to make a difference in a positive way and feel good about it and share our happy stories. We don’t want the drama. If you are on the inside of volunteer management, remember that volunteers are seeing a side that “normal” people don’t usually see. Just because the dirty laundry is there doesn’t mean you have to flaunt it.

As in any management position, transition is hard, for the former manager, the future manager and all of those who are being managed. I shielded and protected the volunteers from a lot of the day-to-day drama that they can over hear and see when they are in the trenches with us. I just hope it continues.

Volunteering in any environment should be fun and enjoyable and worthy, even if  “working” in the same environment isn’t.

{April 23, 2011}   finding love…

I really really don’t like to be bullied, but I’ll get to that part later….instead, let me start off by telling you that every Wednesday between 10:00 am and 11:00 am, I’m told that I’m loved. I’m hugged, and reminded that I have been seeing Brad for “a long time, now”. It’s been about 5 years now that Brad has been a volunteer with me and about 10 years as a volunteer with the library.

Brad is a busy guy. He volunteers at the Zoo, a riding center for those with disabilities, Meals on Wheels, the Humane Society and I’m sure countless others. He bowls, he does art, he’s an uncle, and he loves to help and he loves to say I love you. He’s a hugger.

Saturday was Brad’s birthday and on Wednesday, when he came in to volunteer, he invited me to his birthday get together on Friday. I was scrambling as usual to get out of the office at 5:30 and make my way over to his group living condo by 6:30.  I was grabbing the phone number of his caretakers and shutting down when one of my co-workers rudely stomped into my office area telling me we were closing. She was so borderline bully/intimidator that I had to call her out on it. She was exact. We close precisely at 5:30. She was “in charge”. Are you kidding me? I was well aware that the library may be closing, but my work day wasn’t even close to ending. Take a chill pill.

I called up my girlfriend and asked her if she wanted to go to a special birthday party with me. Always interested in one of my crazy adventures, she couldn’t say no. She was so glad she went. The condo was amazing… 3,000 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, kitchen, common areas and enough storage space for every game and craft imaginable.

When children have disabilities and grow up into adults. Where do they go? What kind of independence do they have? What kind of independence do their parents have? Brad, lives with two housemates and with 24-hour a day staff. I asked where the staff sleep? Brad’s mom looked at me and replied…They don’t. Brad and his two housemates have 24 hour care, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

My girlfriend and I chatted with the other guests, I told them how Brad and I had met, what we do at the library, what opportunities we have at the library for them and others, ate Glutten, Dairy, Egg and Sugar Free Cake (…don’t ask) and really enjoyed our time there.

We drove out of the neighborhood, which was just like every other suburban neighborhood that you may drive by and marveled at the care, independence and family atmosphere that was just shared. We did have to pit stop for a juicy burger and fries…the cake just didn’t hit the spot like you would have thought…

I’ve been invited many many times before, and I don’t know why it took me 5 years to go to Brad’s parties and get togethers. I guess I didn’t know what to expect, I had prejudged the environment as sterile and institutional, cold and drab….downright scarey. Instead, I got homey and comfy and relaxed. One of Brad’s housemates is in a motorized wheel chair and the walls, although reinforced with steel still have dings and holes in the drywall where Brad’s mom had said Elaine had “creatively decided to decorate” the walls on her own with her chair.

Maybe I should have asked my co worker to go with me and learn a lesson in temperance, flexibility and kindness and being thankful for what we have, no matter what our needs. I was cranky when I left my office for the mood I was put in by her, but I wasn’t cranky when I left work where I represented the library at Brad’s house. I also got an “I Love You” and a hug from the whole “Brad Family”. I felt the love. I shared the love.

Maybe my co-worker’s not told that she’s “loved” every week like I am and that’s why she’s cranky. That’s such a shame…

{March 31, 2011}   Blind Faith…

I was doing a volunteer orientation the other day. We are all giggling and laughing and getting to know each other and it was fun. Before the tour, I began to take the volunteers’ photos for their name badges. Volunteers love their name badges. It’s their official step into our world. Don that badge and you’re all business.

I lined them up mug shot style and snapped away with my cell phone. A couple were blurry and we had to redo a few. I’ve only had 2 in the past 4 years not want their photo taken. Neither fell into the usual categories of those that did not want their photos taken. Not Amish, Not Vampire, Not without a soul I even point-blank asked if they were in the Witness Protection Program and they said no to all of the above. They just wanted their name on their badge. Fair enough. No Problem.

When I got to Darla, I snapped and it was a smidge blurry but nothing that would be noticeable. I had her look at it to agree and she said she couldn’t see it and she was fine with whatever I thought. I thought it was fine so I moved on to the next gal.

When I had finished, I told them they could leave their belongings and I’d lock up the room and we’d all come back to do our training schedules. It was close quarters all getting out of the door and I was busy locking it when I turned and felt a “whop” on my lower calf. I turned back around and realized that it was from Darla. It was her cane. She was blind.

My first thought was to apologize to her in hopes I didn’t make her feel uncomfortable in asking if she approved of her badge photo-which I did immediately. No big deal she said. My second thought, which I kept to myself was…how can a blind person volunteer in the library?

At the end of the orientation, I went up to her and asked her what she felt she could do for us and what she wanted to get out of volunteering with us. She wanted to promote library service for the blind or visually impaired. Books on Tapes, Books on CD, Talking Books, directional information, books clubs. She just wants to help. She wants to be out in the community doing something. She wants to be valued.

Mark Twain said “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see”.

I see her doing some good for us. I have faith in her.


{March 2, 2011}   Appointment Only

I finally had to do it. I had to place a sign on the door to the outreach suites that I can only see people by appointment only. That’s a big step for me. I love the walk in’s, I love the hustle and bustle of the office and I love being grand central station, but what’s pulling in lately has been Crazy Train and  I’ve had all I can STANZ I can’t STANZ no more! Ahh..Uch…uch…uch…uch (popeye impersonation).

The dust is settling from last week’s freak out of loss of jobs, benefits and livelihood and now I have to really buckle down and get some volunteers in here that are going to benefit the library. 

As I’ve said before, Volunteer Management walks a fine line high above the questions of “do we offer services to the community or do we accept the community to assist us in our day to day operations?”

Daily I get drained of the inundation of people who need need need. It’s time to circle our wagons and close our borders for a bit and take care of ourselves. I’m recruiting for people to help us directly…it’s “go” time….this is not a drill people!!!

It’s ok to be selfish a little bit, and I’m not feeling one bit bad about it…it’s time to help my co workers with their needs…they deserve it. Good things should happen to good people too.

{February 27, 2011}   Am I essential?

Well…It’s hard to believe, and I don’t want to believe it but my library is heading down the road riddled with financial pot holes that so many other libraries in the United States have swerved and have been damaged by.

We’re in a hiring freeze and determining what existing positions are essential. I’ve always known that I provide an outstanding service, but am I essential? I keep people from losing their homes, becoming evicted, out of jail, I help people get jobs, made to feel valued and needed, provide opportunities to share skills, to take stress off of staff, and many other things, but am I essential? …wait a minute, I’ve been told it’s my position and not me as a person that makes my job. Let me separate that, is my position essential?

What if…my position… was on the line? Would I rally all the hundreds of people who I have helped in the past 4  years in this position and ask them to go to bat for me if it came down to it?

I actually asked that of one of my volunteers turned friend…and she point-blank said no. She told me no one would care if the service I provided was gone. Shorten the hours and reduce the computers at the library and then people would care.


I sat at my desk and pondered that one for a long minute. Then, my phone rang and it was the Department Head of our Circulation Department.

“We’re in a hiring freeze and we need you. We’re going to need long-term volunteers to get us through.”

I wanted to cry. Instead I said, “I’m on it. Everything will be fine…we’ll get through this….”

I’m hopeful we will…

I sent a call out today to staff and our volunteer pool. One of our non-profit organizations in town needs volunteers for events they are involved in next week and they need them fast! For events like these I always send out a notice to our volunteer pool and staff. If they get even 1 or 2 responses, it’s 1 or 2 more than they had before.

Putting events on, a list serve or your website is common practice, but sometimes we just don’t get the draw that we had hoped which is where direct contact through sharing is very successful.

I make it a practice to always let our volunteers know that I’ll send them an email when opportunities come available with us and with others. When sending an email u can use undisclosed addresses or blind carbon their addresses to ensure their privacy.

Remember that it’s ok to share volunteers and resources. Volunteers select the organization they like based off of their interests, but they don’t always have that single-minded interest. Lots of volunteers like to give to multiple agencies, have friends that they can refer, or resources of their own.

You are not sabotaging your organization by promoting other agencies. One day, your organization may be the one that needs help and sending out the S.O.S. can only strengthen the bonds of non-profit sharing and resources.

{November 26, 2010}   The Magic of Harry Potter

I took today off from work, but when you work at a library, you really don’t take the day off. Call it a Bus Driver’s Holiday but I was passing by doing errands and I just had to run in and get a book. I had wondered what the fuss has been all about with this Harry Potter guy.

The latest Harry Potter movie is out, Hermione got a cute little pixie cut, college sports teams held their quidditch match and are lobbying for it to become a competitive sport and I haven’t read one book and I work at a library.

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, once said, “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.” And this is what the Harry Potter Alliance strives to do.

Their mission is “to empower their members to act like the heroes that the love by acting for a better world”. Whatever they are doing must be working, they just received the $250,000 grant from Chase Community Giving to help their Literacy Initiative among other projects.

This Harry Potter guy and his friends must be something else, I’m going to start reading and find out for myself. For those who already have read about him but would like more information on the HPA (Harry Potter Alliance)  I provided  a link to their website so you can check it out yourself. They have Chapters all over the place.

Always keep your eyes open for that special volunteer opportunity that interests you, you never really know where you might find it; and if you haven’t found it~ Good for those that create it!

et cetera
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