Library Columns Olivia Tooker

National Volunteer Week: Thank You, Volunteers

Volunteers: You Rock!

Olivia Tooker
by Olivia Tooker

The first definition of a volunteer, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “a person who voluntarily undertakes or expresses a willingness to undertake a service.” The simple definition is “a person who does work without getting paid to do it.” And while both definitions will do, it vastly underestimates the value of a regular volunteer and what their unpaid service does for their chosen organization and for their community. As next week is National Volunteer Week, started by Points of Light and lasting from April 10 to 16, it’s time to take a moment to thank a volunteer and realize how much work they do.

The Highlands County library system has a large community of volunteers working at each location. At the Sebring Public Library, we have 16 volunteers, with some that are seasonal, who regularly come in and work. Some of these volunteers are in the book stacks and front desk shelving books, DVDs, and audiobooks and, with their expertise and knowledge, they even help patrons find items and use the self-checkout machines, acting as friendly sources of information.

Others are in technical services, helping us by preparing books for circulation. Some cover paperback books with lamination — a careful process of putting a large, clear sticky cover over the book without leaving any bubbles, whether through sheer force of will or with the careful use of a pin. They mend broken books and piece together torn pages, helping a book last much longer in circulation so patrons can keep reading them.

Some help us run programs, like Linda Sue who volunteers to lead the coloring group every Friday morning. And during the children’s summer reading program, our volunteers in the children’s area are always ready to help an event run smoothly and shelve the abundance of books being returned. Without all of these unpaid workers, we wouldn’t be half the library we already are. We could not function as an efficiently running operation without our dedicated volunteers and their unbridled enthusiasm, wit, and hard work.

Without volunteers, any of the Friends of the Libraries wouldn’t exist: each one is run entirely by members who use time out of their week to go to the bookstore and run it. The Friends of the Library bookstore in Sebring has about 30 volunteers, a number which fluctuates because they take seasonal volunteers. These volunteers greet customers, shelve the books, price the books and keep track of funds. And everyone does their part to keep the bookstore clean, neat and repaired — the volunteers do a fantastic upkeep job to make the older building last as long as possible.

But why do they take on such work? What motivates these Good Samaritans to come back every week or every year? People do things for their own reasons, and so the motivation for becoming a volunteer is different for every single person. It could be they’re giving back to an organization that has impacted their life — some who come to the library have previously worked at libraries. Many volunteers are retired, but they are so used to working and keeping busy that by volunteering it satisfies a lifelong cycle.

They could be volunteering for a reason to do something they love anyway, maybe to become more involved in the local community, or because a close friend roped them into it. Others have an empty nest they want to get out of: maybe their spouse has passed away and their children have all grown up and are working full time, so the person volunteers to find a sense of community and a makeshift family to work with and laugh with.

Two volunteers at the Friends of the Library bookstore met this way. Both retired public school teachers, Kay Trumble and Joy Belcher became friends by working Wednesday mornings at the bookstore. Belcher started about 8 years ago because she had heard of an excellent perk.

“Somebody said if you volunteer, you can take home books and read them,” Belcher said. And it’s true. Belcher says she takes home about 3 to 5 books a week, plus checking out books from the library. Trumble says she has too many other vices — coloring books and crocheting — to take advantage of the books. She began because she wanted to get out of the house, but now it’s the fellow volunteers and customers that keep her coming back.

“We get to meet all kinds of interesting people,” Trumble said. “Some are the same, some are completely new.”

For volunteers at the library, one perk is getting a first-hand look at new books and being surrounded by excellent sources of information. There’s always something to having a book in your hand with pictures and getting the information that way, rather than just searching on the internet.

But all these volunteers are getting something out of this unpaid labor; why else would they do it? They’re staying informed, making friends, sharing stories and experiences and they are incredibly appreciated by their organization. They are some of the greatest natural resources we have.

If you get a chance, thank any volunteer that you know for any amount of work they do — whether it’s one of our volunteers or anyone who helps out an organization with no financial reward. They are working harder than you realize and their work is worth more than you know.