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As library budgets continue to dwindle, librarians have to get creative about how they recruit, train, and use volunteer help. We've got you covered with these tips from two experts in the field: Audra Caplan, Director of Harford County Public Library and President of the Public Library Association, and Redwood City Librarian Cristina Thorson.
1. Recruit with Target Marketing
Start your recruitment off on the right foot by targeting a good volunteer demographic. Retirees are a great volunteer base, so be sure to put your fliers and sign-up sheets in your local senior centers. You can also score some great teen volunteers by reaching out to the school's honor programs and societies.
2. Be Ready for Two Types of Volunteers
Keep in mind there are those who want to volunteer for a few hours, and those who want to be steady helpers. For those who only have a few hours at a time, be sure to give them jobs that don't take much training or supervision; think routine jobs such as counting fliers or prepping crafts for programs, etc. For steady volunteers it's sometimes a good idea to make up a brief "contract" or agreement detailing a minimum time commitment, and a description of the kind of jobs they'll be doing.
3. Keep It Interesting
Make sure to give your volunteers something they're interested in doing. Some people may want to just shelve books, but other volunteers will want a task more aligned to their interests. Many teens, for example, would make great computer lab volunteers. Other teens learning Spanish at school could host a Spanish storyhour for ESL students. Helping other people, both old and young, is a highly rewarding activity for teens.
4. Get Creative with Assignments
Sometimes where there is so much to do, it can be hard to figure out what to delegate to volunteers. Whether it's hosting an arts and crafts hour, making welcome packets for new patrons, checking in materials, helping people with self check-out machines, or manning special exhibits, it's important to think outside the box. Are there special opportunities that you simply can't do with your minimal staff? Are there ways to alleviate the daily tasks of regular staff?
5. Reward Your Volunteers
It's very important for volunteers to receive regular encouragement. Host a celebration. Offer awards for how many hours they work. Even small tokens, such as book bag for 500 hours or a library sweatshirt for 1000 hours, goes a long way towards saying, "We appreciate you."