I can do that! Volunteering in Library Land
by Mary-Michelle Moore, Senior Editor
One of the tried and true pieces of library job hunting advice is to get experience in a library – any experience. If you can’t find a job, volunteer. The problem with just going to volunteer in a library is the types of positions available to volunteers in your local library are not going to prepare you for librarian level tasks. Instead of volunteering as a shelver or other basic library work, you may want to volunteer at in your local library association; at nearby national or local events; find a subdivision meeting; or find a project you want to contribute to and contact project coordinators directly. The type of experience you will have working at this level and on these types of projects is the same type of work established librarians are doing. You will be contributing to the profession. Taking this approach to volunteering means not only will you be making connections and networking, but you will also be giving back to the wider library community.
In person at your state or local library association
If you don’t already know your state library association’s web address, look it up! Most state associations will have subdivisions dedicated to academic, public, school or special libraries. And many (especially in larger states) will have interest groups within these subdivisions dedicated to different aspects of library work. If you’re not sure which group is right for you, see what kind of programming they offer – do they have a spring workshop? See if you can attend, or at least read what type of work and programming they are currently involved in. This will allow you to see which area would be a good fit for your skills and interests. You can also find the local chapter of a larger library association. For example, the Special Libraries Association (SLA) has many area chapters that are very active, are welcoming to newcomers and provide many opportunities for professional development.
Once you have an idea of what group you want to join, be fearless. Attend a business or planning meeting for their group. If they ask for officers, volunteer to take part – in many places the same handful of people have been volunteering for a while, they may want some fresh ideas. If you’re not sure if you want a position to yourself, ask if you can be a co-secretary, or co-chair for the committee. Volunteering for an officer position right away does two things:
1) It will give you an extra push to get involved and stay involved with the group
2) It will give you the opportunity n to interact with others on the committee
If you can’t make in-person sessions work with your schedule, consider volunteering online. INALJ is always looking for more volunteers, but so are small nonprofits that need help with social media or user experience; open source ILS projects and many others. Some committees through the national and local library associations will allow members to participate virtually since they know not everyone has the funds for travel. What are you excited about? You can find a project that needs help and volunteer. This will give you a body of work you can point to on your resume and will help you get familiar with some names in the field.
Volunteering to gain experience is a great way to get to know your fellow librarians and future colleagues, but be strategic about where and how you decide to volunteer. Find a project that you’re interested in pursuing–a project that you’ll be excited to talk about at networking events and interviews and that will help to compliment or fill gaps in your current skill set.