How many things? Only 23.

{October 12, 2012}   Doing it for free (or, volunteering Thing 22)

Volunteering in libraries has been (and still is) a contentious issue, especially in the last 12 months or so, principally around the areas of staff losing jobs and being replaced by volunteers, or library branches closing and being re-opened by volunteers. I’m  not even going to begin to discuss this as it’s a huge minefield. Anyway, this Thing is all about me, not the wider world. (Sorry that sounds really ego-centric!)

So, for Thing 22 we’re tasked to reflect on whether we’ve undertaken volunteer work, how it was, did it further our career etc.

For my library career I have not undertaken any volunteering that I can think of. Or for my researchy career prior to this.

I have undertaken quite a lot of voluntary work however, in areas of personal interest. Whilst this hasn’t ‘furthered my career’ as the Thing blog post discusses, it has increased my skills, knowledge and experience in general. And I’ve met people who are now friends.

None of it was ever on a formal capacity (good volunteer programmes will have an agreed plan or document of understanding so everyone is clear about expectations etc.) and essentially centres around groups I’ve joined in my local area which I have some affinity with.

These include being a member of the volunteer committee who oversee Honno Welsh Women’s Press for a few years, a position I took up after finishing my (paid) work for them; also taking on various roles in the (now defunct) local LETS scheme; taking on various responsibilities in a local literature festival that ran for a few years in Abersywtyth (called Rich Text), and currently being a trustee of a  group of local yoga teachers called Yoga I Bawb (trans. yoga for all) who work towards taking yoga out to particular groups and making yoga more accessible. I also run some lunch time de-stresser sessions twice a week at work – just 15 mins  but it’s amazing the difference it makes!



Vic the Volunteer says:

I’m coming to this post from the other side of the coin, so to speak. After nearly a quarter of a century working in I.T. related roles, I am trying to change careers into the heritage sector, not strictly libraries, but archives and / or museums. Earlier this year, I graduated with a first-class honours degree in History, but seemingly this isn’t enough to get me employment; it would seem that unless I prove that I am willing to work for nothing, which I am doing by volunteering for free, gratis and for nothing at my local authority archive department and 2 local heritage sites, then my chances of getting paid employment are virtually nil. This puts me in an awkward situation, I am aware that I am doing something which, really, somebody should be getting paid to be doing, but I have no real choice in the matter and feel a bit exploited as a result. Not many winners here, only the organisations who are keeping their wages bill down.

Hi Vic, I don’t think you are alone. Several of the other blog posts written by people for Thing 22 seem to say the same – that to get the experience they have had to do voluntary work. In terms of archives and museums, in general, they have tended to have more volunteer posts anyway, and these people tend to do things that wouldn’t happen otherwise – this is particularly the case for a lot of small museums (and big ones), and so in these cases, it’s not so much that the organisation is keeping its wage bill down, more that they are able to give someone experience opportunities AND keep the museum open at the same time. Independent museums and heritage centres who receive no local government or other funding are one example. In libraries, there has been, in general, less of a tradition of volunteers, and certainly getting rid of people then using volunteers to do the very same job is very controversial. Good luck in your career!

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