Tuesday, 18 October 2011

23 Things for Professional Development: Thing #22

I have a confession to make. It's been some time since I volunteered for anything officially - and I've never volunteered in the library and information sector.

However, when I was younger I did volunteer quite a lot, and it was one of the best things I could have done. One of my first experiences of voluntary work was during my gap year between college and university, when I was finding it difficult to get paid work. I ended up volunteering for an organisation in Exeter that aimed to improve the employment prospects of 16-25 year olds. It gave me confidence that I could do a job well, and relate to teenagers younger than me - confidence I didn't previously have. It also led to me finding paid work by building on the experiences I gained (such as team work).

That experience led me to want to continue doing voluntary work - over the next 4 or 5 years I worked reading news stories onto audio tapes for the blind and partially sighted, and as a first aider for the Red Cross whilst at university.

Since I started working full time I've spent a lot less time volunteering - but I have been involved in voluntary work in a different way. This summer, a university student asked if she could get some work experience at the library I work at. Our team was able to provide her with some useful routine tasks, but I also felt that it was important for her to see a wide range of the work that librarians do. As she was volunteering in order to learn whether or not she was interested in a career librarianship, I believed that she needed to do both some routine tasks and to get involved in some of the more creative, exciting things we do.

I strongly believe that if you can get voluntary work experience that allows you to carry out some routine tasks and learn about the wider jobs and organisation, volunteering can be a good thing. It gives you a wide range of experience and a better understanding of the world of work, and of the sector, you are volunteering for. Yes, we can devalue our profession by working for free and only carrying out the tasks that paid staff can do - but I hope that is not the way our work experience student felt, and that she got something more out of the experience.

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