Ah, the library volunteer.
Volunteers are great, don’t get me wrong. There are lots of ways they can help out at the library. But here’s the thing: most people, and these are typically intelligent people, are under the assumption that being a librarian is EASY. I mean, who wouldn’t want to sit at a desk and read all day? And when this is all people think I do all day, (yes, people have actually said this to me) then it stands to reason that they can just walk in and be a librarian. No sweat. We have even had town officials suggest that the library could be run on a VOLUNTEER basis instead of having paid staff. This is how little people know about libraries.
But, back to the volunteers. It is very difficult to manage volunteers when you have very little staff. The problem is that more often than not, it actually ends up making more work for the staff. Plus, whoever is in charge of managing volunteers, which happens to be me at the moment but hopefully not for much longer, has to figure out jobs for them to do, which makes less time for actual work. And it can’t be just any job, by the way, because the library has Union employees and their contract states that volunteers may not take work away from Union employees. So we have to find random things for people to do, which is actually more difficult than it sounds.
I know, I sound really ungrateful. Some of our volunteers have been awesome and we love them. But not all of the volunteers are there simply because their life-long dream is to help the library. We have LOTS of people working off DUIs and other such misdemeanors and those people are not typically happy campers. Usually we try to set them up with some lame job in another room so they don’t have to interact with patrons.
Today, I had one of the most interesting volunteers come in. This woman, who I will call “Linda,” has to do about 90 hours of court-ordered community service, though neglected to offer the reason on her volunteer application. (I don’t really want to know.) Linda looked slightly uncomfortable in the children’s room as I wrote up a letter to the district court stating that she could do her hours here, pending a CORI check.
When I handed her the letter she thanked me and then said, “And just to let you know, I really don’t like children at all.”
I felt like I handled this pretty well by replying, “Um, OK. Duly noted.”
But Linda wasn’t done. “And I don’t really like working with people at all, either”.
“OK….,” I said slowly, “Well, we’ll try to find something for you to do…..that doesn’t involve kids. Or people.”
“Great,” she said. “I like to work outdoors.”
Believe me, Linda, we will keep you outside.