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Thing 22 - volunteering

For Thing 22, we're being asked to discuss the idea of volunteering, and whether we have ever done this in a professional capacity.

I have to admit that, since qualifying, I've not actually done anything in the way of volunteering in libraries, but it was probably my volunteering in a library that got me onto my library course in the first place.

After realising during my uni course that science was not going to be the career for me, and locating a postgrad course that looked interesting, and local (Scotland is not exactly swamped with universities that run library postgrad courses), I bumbled my way through my undergrad, and got ready to apply for a course that I had heard had far more applications than available places. So I needed to convince the organisers that I was committed to the idea of being a librarian, and that they should let me on the course. Due to the "interesting" approach of my uni and personal advisor (i.e. they didn't manage or advise in any way, and I foolishly trusted them as trained advisors to know what I needed to do better than me), nobody pointed out I'd be half a credit short to graduate after 3 years, so I ended up doing an extra semester in order to make up that half credit. I decided to make good use of this time, and volunteer in a library, to get myself some experience before applying for the postgrad course. My friend was a trainee teacher, and had recently had a placement in a local secondary school, and she put me in touch with the librarian there, who was lovely, and very happy to have some help for a day or so every week.

So, I ended up volunteering in the school for a good few months, continuing to come in and help even when I moved an hour away: it just meant that I had to sleep on my friends floor (alternating between 2 friends) for one or two nights a week. I got to do the things that the very busy librarian just didn't have time to do, like compiling the card catalogue records that came into the library with the books purchased and catalogued by an external service into a proper card catalogue, a task which the kids who liked to help out in the library also enjoyed helping with, under my supervision! Or fitting plastic-film jackets to the books, in order to get them out onto the shelves and useable, as cutting the film to size and fitting it was time consuming and would always be pushed down the to-do list by more urgent tasks. I was shelving the books that churned through the library, and helping to weed material that was obviously dated. And teaching pupils how to analyse the entry requirements and aims of a national poster display competition, encouraging them to consider what sort of material the commercial sponsor behind it would be interested in them creating, and showing them how to use paper and electronic resources in an appropriate way (it all paid off - their entry came 4th!). Staffing the library during lunchtime and breaks, to allow the Librarian a proper time away from her desk/in her office, while still allowing the pupils to access the library during their break time....and also maintaining discipline with the pupils during those breaks...I perfected a great Librarian Stare, which took a few kids who hadn't spotted me by surprise, when they were running around, thinking they were getting away with being rowdy and I materialised silently behind them (or in one case, when they'd thrown themselves on the ground, above them). Staring. Silently. With the Dead Face. It's very satisfying :)

It was a great experience, and I firmly believe that my commitment to volunteering in that school library, and the enthusiasm I left with for a possible career in school libraries, was a big element in securing me a place on that postgrad course. Who knows where I might have ended up working, if it hadn't been for a first part-time job in a legal library?

So yes, for me, volunteering has been a great way to further my career. Would I volunteer again? Yes, if I was thinking of changing sectors, I think volunteering is a great way to get some current, hands-on experience of tasks and duties I would be unlikely to have knowledge of from my current role.

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