Observations pertaining to library volunteers

Mike Kirk

Director/Fiscal Officer

Mount Gilead Public Library


Recently we joined a consortium and needed to re-barcode all the items in the library.  With a collection of approximately 35,000 items and a small window to complete the task, it was not possible for staff to do this alone while tending to the needs of the patrons.  With the budget as tight as ever, bringing in staff to complete the task on off days or hiring individuals were not options.  Utilizing the help of volunteers was our only choice.

Our library is an association where the majority of our trustees represent a local club.  Using the members of the clubs along with patrons and community members provided the library with 40 volunteers over a ten week period.  For most of those weeks, we ran three hour shifts three times during the week, working when the library was closed.  At each shift we had between five and seven volunteers, each performing a specific task to re-barcode each item.  What follows are some observations that I learned as we completed this ten week project.

  1. As mentioned before, each volunteer had a specific task to complete.  We had an assembly style approach to complete the project.  One person brought the items on a cart from the stacks.  Two people kept the books in order and had the task of scrapping the old barcode off the items and placing them at a different location on the item.  One person then placed a new barcode on the former location of the old barcode.  The next person placed a barcode protector over the new barcode.  The item was then handed to me where I would change the barcodes in the computer by scanning them both, old then new.  I would then hand it to the final person who would discard the old barcode and place it on a cart to head back to the stacks.  (By the way, this was the ideal situation.  Often I did not have enough people and had to improvise as I went.)
    1. I used a folding table that allowed the volunteers to sit and face each other as they completed their task.  I found that as they talked and interacted with each other, productivity often increased.
    2. Depending on the group, we would take a break every hour to an hour and a half.  I always had a variety of candy and water for them on their breaks as a sign of appreciation for their hard work.
    3. When scheduling the volunteers, I tried to group them with similar interests so they would enjoy each other’s company as they completed the tasks.  It was interesting listening to the conversations as they varied from the recent junior-senior prom at the high school to going down memory lane in our local village.
    4. I tried to time it so the volunteers were done in three hours, no longer.  I knew many of them led busy lives and I truly valued their time and did not want to go over.
    5. I tried to keep the atmosphere light.  I tried to have background music going to make it a more pleasant place.  Under no circumstances did I have a quota to complete.  That would have placed added pressure on the volunteers and they would not have had an enjoyable experience.  We completed as much as we could and I knew that the next group would continue where we left off.  Staff also helped during open library hours to re-barcode when they had some downtime.
    6. I did not expect perfection from the volunteers.  They made mistakes along the way.  When something needed to be corrected, I would make the change and quietly point out to the volunteer where the mistake was made.


    In conclusion, this was a great project that got the community involved with a project that the library could not have completed without help.  With the task of re-barcoding an entire collection in less than three months, the volunteers more than stepped up and helped us complete this undertaking.  Many of the volunteers felt good about contributing to the library and made sure others in the community knew about what they had done.  An article in the local paper highlighted this to the community. 


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