Be A Volunteer (aka. Getting your foot in the door)

by Shayna Monnens, Head Editor, INALJ South Dakota

Be A Volunteer (aka. Getting your foot in the door)

steampunk LibrarianMore than likely you are in this profession because you love books. You love the idea of reading and sharing these ideas with the others around you. Maybe you have even gone on to receive a degree in library studies or information sciences. Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t have exactly what the position is looking for.

Let me reiterate one important problem:  it can be challenging finding a library position. If you live in a lesser populated state, it’s harder to find an available position. If you live in a larger, more populated area, it’s equally as hard (if not more so) to find a job due to high competition and a larger candidate pool. So, that leads us to the question: what will make you stand out from the crowd?

Here’s biggest tip I can give you. VOLUNTEER! GET INVOLVED!

Volunteers are always needed in a library. Whether it is working at the circulation desk, shelving the books, working on various projects, or assisting in library programs, volunteer assistance makes the library world go ‘round. The library where I work currently has 6 volunteers, with one of the current employees having started out as volunteer. No matter where one starts, there is always room for growth in a library.

Not sure if your local library needs volunteers, or unsure how to get started, here’s a few tips to get you on your way.

  • Ask the library. Stop in, call them, or find out online as to if there are any volunteer opportunities available. Do a quick Google search for library volunteer opportunities in your area. You might be surprised. Don’t be taken aback if a library has you fill out an application or do a background check. This is just a security measure to keep the library patrons safe.
  • Make sure to ask questions. Libraries always have projects or programs going on. Perhaps they have a historic preservation project they need assistance with. Maybe they have a book sale that could use some help. Don’t forget to ask about summer reading programs as well. With the hordes of children who attend SRPs, extra hands are always helpful.
  • Don’t be discouraged if there is nothing available. There are many others out there who are doing volunteer work to get started in the library profession, but there are also many teens looking for experience and retirees looking for something to do. Ask if you can be added to wait list or a volunteer candidate pool.
  • When you do get the chance to volunteer, be the very best volunteer you can be. Being on time is already a HUGE mark in your favor! Offer yourself up for additional projects and upcoming programs. An eager volunteer looking for more work is awesome.
  • Make sure to be polite to people who are both patrons and employees of the library. Nothing makes people more uncomfortable than a mouthy, rude volunteer. Patrons don’t like it, and the staff will report it.

Volunteering is a great way to get started in the library profession. Not only does it leave the library employees with an impression of you (make sure to make it a good one!), but it also gets your name out there. This will also be that extra sparkle on the job application. Potential employers will see that you took the time and made the effort to help out a library on your own time. That’s speaks multitudes for you work ethic and personality. Volunteering will be what sets you apart from the crowd.


Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list (formerly I Need a Library Job) and former CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of, a crowdfunding platform focused on African patrimony, heritage and cultural projects. INALJ was founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard. Its social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ. INALJ has had over 20.5 Million page hits and helped many, many thousands of librarians find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in one month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this with many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro and many other publications in the past decade. She presents whenever she can, including serving on three panels at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Las Vegas; as breakout presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa; as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting; at the National Press Club in Washington DC; McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has been living and working in Budapest, Hungary and Western New York State. She spent years running her husband’s moving labor website, fixed and sold old houses and assisted her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food. She is preparing to re-enter the workforce and is job hunting. Her husband is now the co-editor of INALJ, a true support!  She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay.