Wednesday, March 27, 2013

How I became the Berwyn Public Library's Volunteer Coordinator

Sometime in 2007, I decided to ask if there were volunteer opportunities for adults at my public library.  This is the absolute true story of how I became a volunteer coordinator.

I had just moved to Berwyn and after a year of fixing up an older Georgian style home, I finally wanted to get out and meet people.  I also wanted to make better use of all the time I had spent at the library reading about every little thing that piqued my curiosity--something I didn't have time for in college.  Some days I would spend the better part of the day at the library.  So there had to be something productive I could do to help, right?  After all, I had just completed a bachelor's degree in English and thought that could be worth something.

The Circulation desk seemed to be a good place to start, so I asked if there were any volunteer opportunities available.  Surprisingly, this took a great amount of courage and resolve because I had no idea what the answer would be.  I asked in person because I couldn't find any printed information displayed anywhere.  From that desk I was referred to the Youth Services desk, and was informed that there were no opportunities for adults to volunteer.  Brick wall.  Bummer.

That did not sit well with me.  How could a library as large as this one not have a formal volunteer program?  The only thing I could think of to do at that point was to find a library that did have a structured program.  Upon a quick internet search, I found the Brookfield Public Library.  They had a volunteer application right on their website that I could download, scan, and email to the volunteer coordinator, who was the head of the Reference department.  Before submitting my application, I hopped on my bike and pedaled my way there to "check out" the place.

After taking a quick tour and enjoying the friendly hellos from staff, I determined this would be a fantastic place to volunteer.  I submitted my application and had an interview with the head of Reference.  She referred me to the Circulation department for service.  As long as I was game for it, I could help out once a week to process interlibrary loans.  Perfect!

To make a long story a little shorter, I volunteered with the Brookfield Public Library for about 5 months before I landed my first library job at the Lyons Public Library.  Not being able to volunteer at my home library still bothered me a little, but I filed that in the back of my mind for another time.

My second volunteer gig was at Project CARE, an adult volunteer literacy agency at our local community college.  While helping an adult English language learner with intermediate reading skills, I found a series of short easy reader mysteries that I thought would be fun to read with an entire group of adult learners. 

In 2008, I decided to make my own volunteer opportunity doing that at my own library.  After pitching my idea to the program coordinator at Project CARE, she agreed to refer students to a reading group for English as a Second Language (ESL) if I could get approval from the Berwyn Library to hold it there.  She suggested I call the Outreach Services department, of which I had no previous knowledge.  From there, I was referred to the Reference department.  I met with the head of Reference and pitched my idea.  She was willing to write a grant to purchase the easy reader books we needed, at a cost of about $500.  Five adult learners attended my first ESL book discussion group on October 18, 2008.

Flash forward to the spring of 2009--I saw a job posting for an Outreach Services Library Assistant I on the doors of the Berwyn Library.  Throughout this time I had been working at other libraries, but I still used my home library to pick up and drop off books so I could get to know people.  When I saw the posting, I asked a staff member how I could apply.  They made a copy of the posting for me and directed me to apply at City Hall.  Unfortunately, an internal candidate was selected for it, much to my dismay.

By November of the same year, the job was posted again.  The head of Outreach Services had become the director, an internal candidate became the head of the department, and another person had moved to different department.  This time, I got the job!  Patience and persistence paid off.

At my interview, I learned that I would be assisting with pre-school storytimes, attending events and festivals, and bringing adult ESL services to the library.  I would also have the chance to write grants if I were interested.  While I was a little over-qualified for the position, I took it anyway.  I really wanted the chance to do something well.  I started out part-time, wrote 2 grants at almost $10,000, received a promotion, a pay raise, and full time hours in 2011.  Best of all, I was handed the responsibility of adult volunteer coordination as a new duty.  Score!

So that's the long story of how I came to be the Volunteer and Community Service Coordinator at the Berwyn Public Library--my home library.  Now, when adults are seeking the opportunity to volunteer at the library, we have paper applications at every service desk.  We also have applications on our website. 

In 2011, 67 adults and teens volunteered 923.5 hours.  In 2012, 57 adults and teens volunteered 1,251 hours.  From 2011 to 2012, we increased volunteerism by 35% and volunteers doubled their average amount of hours.  Two things attributed to this kind of growth--the responsiveness of a volunteer coordinator who really wants to see people find a place in their own community to serve, and the development of more meaningful ongoing volunteer roles.

Through sheer fortitude, the Library now offers Berwyn residents opportunities to volunteer that were not previously available.  I love my job as volunteer coordinator and I hope it shows every single day.