IN PRAISE OF LIBRARY VOLUNTEERS
Does your library actively recruit volunteers? Are you making good use of the talents of willing people in your community? I hope so, because effective use of volunteers can greatly extend the range of services libraries can offer their users.
Many libraries use volunteers for routine chores like running their coffee shops and book sales, straightening shelves, typing booklists, checking books and CDs for damage, watering plants, and such. Other libraries make fuller use of the many unique individual skills volunteers have to contribute.
The Queens Borough Public Library, whose service area embraces people speaking more than 150 different languages, uses its 1100+ volunteers, many of them bilingual, in its literacy and ESOL programs. Its volunteers also serve as Gallery Docents, work in the gift shop, send out mass mailings, and create databases.
The DeKalb County [GA] Public Library, like many others, uses volunteers to teach computer and internet skills. They also create displays, help host special events, assist with genealogy research and use of the local history collection, help users with software learning programs, and teach kids to play chess.
At the Fort Collins Library [CO] volunteers index Fort Collins newspapers from the early 1900s, sort historical photos, and transcribe oral histories. At the Hennepin County Library [MN] bilingual speakers are courted as volunteers to read to children and to assist in internet training. Hennepin also uses volunteers to deliver library materials to the homebound, and to help people find appropriate tax forms during tax season.
At the Chelsea District Library [MI], volunteers clip and organize obituaries, do database entry, and provide "handyman" service; the Youth Service Group helps with story times and the summer reading program. The Leroy Collins Leon County Public Library [FL] maintains a "skills bank" list of people who are willing to contribute their unique skills on an occasional basis.
As noted below, in the interview with Molly Williams, some library volunteers make significant contributions to library web pages.
But dedicated volunteers are more than the sum of their specific library activities. They are a sign that the library is loved, and they are one of the best possible means of community outreach. Let us not forget that each of those volunteers is a member of the community, spreading the reputation of the library in the most effective way -- word of mouth.
Are you putting library volunteers to good use? Can you afford not to?
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MOLLY WILLIAMS: LIBRARY VOLUNTEER EXTRAORDINAIRE
Molly Williams is the library volunteer responsible for much of the content on the Waterboro [ME] Public Library's web site http://www.waterborolibrary.org/ and its weblog http://www.waterborolibrary.org/blog.htm, a site I visit daily to find out what's new in the world of reading and publishing. I asked Molly to talk about her volunteer experience.
MB: Tell me a little about yourself and how you came to be a library volunteer for Waterboro Public Library.
MW: My husband and I moved to Maine in early 1994 to escape the crowds, the traffic, and the hectic lifestyle of the mid-Atlantic. We knew no one north of New York. We lived in Waterboro in a spacious and rustic post-and-beam on 10 acres and quickly got to know the library and the two part-time librarians in town. Ruth Blake has been the librarian since we moved to town. The patrons love her because she remembers them and what they like to read, she's friendly and fun, she's a great baker and cook, she loves kids and animals, and she makes the library -- even as cramped and aesthetically unappealing as it is -- a welcoming place.
I started out relabelling the books in the Dewey 800s, writing the newsletter,creating bulletin boards, helping patrons, typing shelf list and catalog cards,accessioning books, helping choose books, and eventually serving on the library board as Treasurer for a few years. In 1995, my husband, who is a computer programmer, created the first web site for the library (I think it can still be seen via the Way Back machine), and by 1996 I had taught myself HTML and taken over the website's maintenance and expansion. We now have about 200 pages on the website. I learned Cascading Style Sheets and added that into the mix a few years ago. I try to check links on each page twice a year and I regularly add new pages; I added a page of resources on the Iraq situation last month. I'm currently creating new mystery booklists to post on the website -- mysteries with unusual (normally non-lethal) weapons, and adult mysteries featuring teens. The FictionL listserv is a great help in compiling such lists.
MB: Could you give us some background on the various features you chose to add to the site -- not just the blog, but all the reading lists and such. (Judging from the reading lists and from the very reader-oriented blog it does seem clear that you're a passionate reader.)
MW: Besides being a constant reader (I read mysteries and dictionaries all the time, and am in three local book groups to force me to read fiction other than mysteries), I am a passionate researcher and a passionate listmaker. When I find a website that offers narrowly themed booklists with detailed book descriptions, my heart jumps a beat. There is no way I can ignore such a treasure trove of well-ordered meaning!
The library's weblog evolved from a 'what's new' page, which listed only items new to the website, when a friend with a physics background created a science weblog in January 2002; although I had never heard the term weblog before that, once I saw his weblog's format and content, I knew that's what I'd been seeking for the library: a place to inform patrons, readers, librarians, educators, researchers, writers, and others about news relevant to reading, books, literature, libraries, bookstores, and to some extent, Maine, as well as to note our own website offerings, all in one place. Sometimes I also throw in news and information about my personal interests, such as gardening, botany,rural and coastal living, England, animals, sustainable living practices, and of course, crime novels and mysteries. I create the weblog daily using news that's emailed to me and using some of the several hundred webpages I have bookmarked as 'blogfodder.' Jenny Levine, the shifted librarian http://www.theshiftedlibrarian.com/, was instrumental in getting me started with the weblog and with RSS.
The homeschooling pages came about simply because we have so many homeschoolers in Waterboro, a small rural town. The library has a section in the children's room devoted to homeschooling curriculum and textbooks.
I created the Maine Writers Index, which now consists of almost 300 entries, simply because I could find no online resource that had or that aspired to have comprehensive information about Maine writers, and it seemed important to offer such a resource. Mary Anne Wallace, a former librarian who lives in South Portland, contacted me by email about 2 years into the project and offered to help research and write entries; she has written probably half of the entries since then and is such a joy to work with. The 'Fiction with a Maine Setting' came about for the same reason -- I couldn't find a good list online. Paula Blanchard, from Down East books, faithfully mails me their latest book catalogs, annotated as to which books have a Maine setting. I was also blessed with a huge list of Maine fiction titles given to me by Bill Bauer, who saw what I was trying to create and shared his work of a lifetime with me; I'm still just beginning to plumb the depths of his incredible list.
The Harry Potter Readalikes page was created because I enjoyed the Harry Potter books and because patrons and my friends' children were looking for similar books. Although there are many Harry Potter readalike lists now, I think ours lists the most interesting books and series.
Although we moved from Waterboro to midcoast Maine in September, I plan to continue maintaining and tinkering with the Waterboro Public Library's website as long as they'll let me!
Back to books: I can't read enough well written British police procedurals and forensic science mysteries. Current favourite authors are crime novelists Deborah Crombie, Val McDermid, Peter Robinson, Reginald Hill, Charles Todd, Nevada Barr, Beverly Connor, Minette Walters, Julia Wallis Martin, Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, Martha Grimes, PD James, Dorothy Sayers, and of course, Agatha Christie. Most of my other favourite books are reference books, like British Authors of the Nineteenth Century and The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, and beautifully photographed gardening books.
MB: Any thoughts about what else you might want to do with your web skills and research skills?
MW: I'm developing a website for my church now. I'm subscribed to the FictionL, Maine Librarians, and Stumpers listservs, and so spend some time almost every weekday tracking down book titles for far-off library patrons based on sketchy and/or inaccurate information, which is very satisfying. Beyond that and creating websites, I'm not currently thinking about using my web and research skills more. I think I really spend enough time on the computer already. I love living in this town because I can walk everywhere, including the local library, the park, the river, stores, the post office,restaurants, etc. It's nice to get out for a few hours every day, even in winter.
MB: Molly, thanks so much, for your time in answering my questions, and even more for the work you do, which is clearly appreciated and used well beyond Waterboro.
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NOTE: I have just updated my page on How To Find Out of Print Books, a collection of strategies, resources, and finding tools. It's at http://marylaine.com/bookbyte/getbooks.html.
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We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works. How do you recognize something that is still technology? A good clue is if it comes with a manual.
Douglas Adams. The Salmon of Doubt. Harmony Books, 2002.
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Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 1999-2003.
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