Saturday, May 14, 2011

Volunteers: Hearts full of grace @ OPL

On Friday, I attended two volunteer appreciation teas at OPL, first at Beaverbrook Branch, and then at Hazeldean.

I would have been ashamed to tell you that I keep a running list (in Excel, natch) of OPL locations I have visited, had I not discovered that several of my colleagues also aspire to visit all the locations (one even has a plan to do it all on one day - tip: can only be achieved on a Thursday). As of Friday noon, I was at 25 out of 34 (if you count 33 branches + 1 Bookmobile, except there are 2 Bookmobiles, technically, and yes, I've been on both...).

I had been to Hazeldean before, but I had only ever been in Beaverbrook's parking lot (don't ask!) Above, you can see the public computer area at the branch, looking out to a patch of grass that some Beaverbrook Branch volunteers, working with the library settlement worker, are turning into a garden (hard at work in the picture, even! On the day of their own celebratory tea!). Below are some other photos, first of Beaverbrook's teen zone (designed by teens from Earl of March Secondary School), and then of the lcoal history room, the Kanata Room. I was very lucky to receive a tour of Beaverbrook from my colleague and fellow readers' advisory expert, Pat, and a tour of the Kanata Room (including framed sheet music, which you can sort of see in the dead centre of my -sadly- blurry pic) from the volunteer who lovingly maintains, arranges and promotes the collections therein. In addition to gardening and local history, volunteers at Beaverbrook sort book donations, do minor book repairs, run book sales at the branch (for which there are line-ups outside the doors!), and animate book chat groups. A mix of dedicated volunteers (some having given more than 30 years' service!) and newcomers to Canada mixed with local high school students (who also volunteer), staff and managers at the Beavrbook tea; my speech was translated into Chinese (hey, try translating "Acting Coordinator of Diversity and Accessibility! No small feat!).

At Hazeldean, I was introduced to many more passionate volunteers, including some who work with the Friends of the Library. I was also treated to a very funny reading of Lane Smith's It's a Book, in celebration of the day's events, and I was served with real teacups. It was such a pleasure to meet some of the people who so kindly give of their time for the library (and it's always a bonus to spend some time with colleagues who I don't often see, including the lovely Pat, who picked me up at the bus stop and gave me a tour of Beaverbrook, the amazing Karen, fellow coordinator, with whom I always have thought-provoking conversations about management, Annie, storyteller extraordinaire, and Linda, who drove me from Point A to Point B and then back to Point C - Main Library!)

Below are some excerpts from my speech.

Almost half of the Canadian population volunteers, and in 2007 alone, volunteers contributed 2.1 billion hours of their time to organisations around the country (source). Here at OPL, we have about 350 volunteers at a variety of branches.

You donate your time, your wealth of experience and knowledge, and sometimes a little muscle, to the library, and it’s a contribution that I know is greatly appreciated. Volunteers enhance our services and inject fresh energy into the library. You are relied upon for your friendly faces, your willingness to pitch in, and, in many cases, your ongoing years of involvement in the life of our library communities. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.... You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace [and a] soul generated by love.”

There is a saying in volunteer circles that “a few contribute the most” – so, for instance, the top 25% of volunteers contributed 78% of all volunteer hours in 2007 (source). That’s a simply exceptional achievement! Beyond numbers, you may not think of some of the other ways in which you positively influence your communities as volunteers: for instance, those who have seen a parent or someone they admire perform volunteer work in the community are more likely than other Canadians to volunteer (source). I was, and still am, a volunteer in part because I watched my grandfather enjoy contributing almost 30 years of volunteer service, from practically the day he retired until weeks before his death. Volunteering is intensely personal: the contribution of one outstanding volunteer can change an organisation, and, as I am sure you know, the volunteer.

Thank you, on behalf of OPL, for giving a part of yourselves to the library.


  1. In case anyone is interested, or wants to invite me over, I have not yet been to: Blackburn Hamlet, Centennial, Constance Bay, Fitzroy Harbour, Greely, Maotick, Metcalfe, Osgoode, and Vernon.

  2. Volunteering is such a complicated thing -- the museum I work at wouldn't exist without its stunning volunteers, but...... I deeply resent that volunteers are required to keep libraries, archives, museums and other cultural institutions alive, when there are so many trained, capable professionals out there that could be getting paid to do so many things that volunteers very generously do for free.

    Or, when I explain why we have such restricted research hours in our library, someone inevitably will suggest that we keep the library open for extended hours with the help of volunteers, which is such a lovely idea, but getting people to do things for free is not always such a great solution. The position of librarian where I work used to be a full-time job, then it was cut to part-time (4 days), and will be cut to 3 days in September.

    Plus the time and money required to recruit, train and supervise volunteers can be prohibitive, not to mention insurance issues: 2 of my volunteers are highly knowledgeable gentlemen in their early 80s - our insurance won't allow them to volunteer past age 85, which is a mixed blessing for both the people involved, and the institution itself.

    Of course, this is also the opinion of a trained professional with paid work experience who is being told to volunteer in her field in order to make more contacts, get more experience and hopefully land a permanent position somewhere. I would much rather work for money in my field, and volunteer elsewhere.

    Doing the same things for free that I have been paid to do in the past, well, it leaves an extremely unpleasant taste in my mouth. I want to volunteer because I want to volunteer, not because it MIGHT lead to a paid, permanent position.

  3. I think you raise some excellent points about the blurring of the distinctions between employees and volunteers, which is a really loaded question for unions, for one, and anyone remotely concerned about the de-professionalisation of our fields. Volunteers have to be used appropriately.