Volunteering & Staying Relevant at the Library
Coming into my seventh week at the Canton Free Library, it’s hard to believe we’re more than halfway through the summer. July at the library is busier than June – the Children’s room and rentable space downstairs are filled at one point each day with groups of kids reading and doing projects that help them engage with what they’re reading. In my role as volunteer coordinator, I’ve matched interested high schoolers looking for community service hours to the children’s programs, Canton Free Library’s outreach programming, and ongoing projects like the international book drive and the daily task of shelving returned books.
It has been wonderful to continuously be reminded of the number of people in the community who are interested in volunteering at the library. It has also dawned on me, though, that this is perhaps the least direct direct service volunteer position I’ve ever had. Coming from a background in hands-on volunteering, it’s been a bit of a challenge to learn to sit back and focus on planning and delegating. Training local students to shelve books has been an interesting challenge, for example, (not because they don’t pick it up with ease) because after I show them how it’s done, I have to step back and let them take over and find something else to do. In this way, I’ve learned a good deal about the value of delegating (as well as the difficulty) – training volunteers to shelve books and participate in summer programming has freed up my time to work on a volunteering handbook and other capacity-increasing projects that will hopefully help the library after my internship comes to an end. As I mentioned earlier, Canton Free Library has a lot more going on than books.
Thinking about these programs the library offers and the amazing volunteers who staff and offer help to many of them has had me considering the role of a library as a public and community resource. Since my last blog post, reflecting on giving (of one’s time and effort through volunteering) and getting (many free services) at the library has led me to thinking about how Canton Free Library has stayed relevant in town. Of course, I would argue endlessly that libraries are always relevant, but there are always naysayers touting the internet’s free exchange of information who would say libraries are on the decline. Canton Free Library, through its summer programs and outreach and services like free wifi and computer time, though, seems to be doing quite fine in the age of the internet. Information online is, of course, only free and accessible to those who can access it, which the library gives people the opportunity to do!
Additionally, the library has invested in keeping people interested by offering not just books to borrow, but graphic novels, many DVDs, TV shows, and video games as well. For example, in a back corner of the building next to the young adult section, there’s a flat screen TV equipped with a video game console, and headphones and game controllers people can check out. It’s often occupied by kids taking a break from reading or just getting out of the heat. Similarly to Canton Free Library’s year round programs and outreach, these features strongly attest to how relevant and important the library is in the community. It’s been a pleasure so far to help out around the library and get more high schoolers and community members involved in volunteering and spreading the word about library programs, and I look forward to my last few weeks here!