Library Diva's Guide to Volunteering…

{December 9, 2009}   Reaching Out

I read in the newspaper that a library on the South side was cutting hours. I hate to see that. They were cutting hours to the community because of the economy. That also meant, staff hours would be cut, but the same high quality of customer service would have to stay the same. Probably no raises, more work, more handling of complaints, more and more with less. I don’t know about your libraries, but because of the economy…we are busier than ever! More people are using our computer labs, borrowing our books, reading our subscriptions, checking out our AV collection. Our dvd’s and cd’s seem to be going out more than the books are as of late.

I just couldn’t let another library fall by the wayside without reaching out.  So I sent an email saying “hey…this is what I do. I work with volunteers.” Believe it or not, good volunteers can get us over this hump. We have a National Call to Service going on People! And it’s for this reason, not to cut hours and have people lose more jobs or get less wages, it’s to help us keep things open, keep people employed and paying bills, keep services running and keep things “normal”.

If your library is one of those closing earlier, draw on volunteers to help! If you can run the library at the same level that you were doing without them, maybe you were heavy on the cream and gravy. I know it’s something that people don’t want to take a look at but it’s there. Some people are afraid of volunteers taking their jobs. We’ll if that’s the case, look at the staff and see how they are working. Volunteers don’t need to be looked at as the enemy, many of them can save us, but we choose not to include that part of it.

Most of the public libraries are being run by volunteer boards aren’t they? We need to look toward the volunteer to help us through this. If we think outside the box, we’ll be ok.


We know that volunteers can help us with the day-to-day operations, special library events and fundraising,  but how can we use volunteer statistics in our budgets and hiring processes? I track hours and projects and project based hours monthly. Tracking helps document trends and busy times. Summer Reading Programs bring in huge numbers of volunteer hours. By accurately tracking and documenting hours, Administration can use these statistics  to determine if an increase in staff hours is a possibility.

One department that we have is our History and Genealogy Room. We consistently have volunteers who work 20-30 hours per week. When those volunteers began to drop off with vacation, illness, or other activities, we noticed a dramatic decrease in productivity in moving obituary cards to an online data base. We  realized how much we depended on those volunteers to do that task. In turn, we began to look at possibly hiring an additional staff member. According to the Independent Sector ( which tracks the worth of a volunteer hour, the 2008 worth of a volunteer is $20.25.You can take the task that the volunteer is doing, and multiply by the hourly rate of the comparable staff member. Statistics can be used to show savings or show need.

Tracking hours can be something as simple as a sign in sheet, an excel spreadsheet, or you can get a little more advanced with a subscription to Volgistics ( The important thing is to track them and document them.

The other reason to document volunteer hours is to use it for Recognition and we’ll talk more about that later! HANG IN THERE WITH ME! There’s a lot to cover!

et cetera
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