Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

The Spirit of Giving and Receiving: Librarianship and the Volunteer Tradition

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

The Spirit of Giving and Receiving: Librarianship and the Volunteer Tradition

Article excerpt

Recently I was talking with someone about the success of the ALA conferences. How do we attract so many attendees? What makes the ALA conference stand out among the other national and regional library conferences? There are a lot of reasons that I can find, but mostly they can be explained by the conference being member-driven. The volunteers plan almost all of the programs and they base the content on what they want to experience and what they see as the topics of interest to their peers. Programs are not based on calls for presentations with the winning applicants selected by one or two committees. It is a huge group of volunteers who together assemble a diverse schedule of presentations, author events, receptions, and discussion forums. Staff within ALA and the divisions provide necessary and substantial support, but the content is assembled by the members for the members.

The same is true for the success of RUSA, not just in our programs at conferences, but with all of our endeavors. The work of RUSA is determined by the volunteers and then implemented by those volunteers. RUSA Office provides some ongoing support, but at less than three FTE for our 4000 members, RUSA works because you do. I am aware that the process of volunteering for a committee appointment can be mysterious and daunting. ALA, even RUSA, can seem so large, and it is unclear what happens after you submit a volunteer form or what happens to get you onto your second committee appointment. The latter part of this column will hopefully answer your questions and provide some guidance. And if not, you know where to find me.

volunteering, the gift that receives

Librarians have a strong history of volunteering, from home-front efforts in WWII to support during and after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy (1). Of course, not all volunteering is in the wake of natural disasters or major wars, even though exceptional circumstances can bring out best and make for pressworthy efforts. Volunteering is more often about the smaller efforts, the quotidian, the activities that feel closer to work than participation in an heroic effort. It is this desire and willingness to impact lives in ongoing, incremental, and less often noticed ways that makes volunteering truly exceptional.

There are a variety of reasons that people volunteer and that can be seen from the range of organizations to which people offer their time and expertise. Since I am writing this for Reference and User Services Quarterly, I will focus on why people volunteer for professional associations. In every association there are member, and volunteers. Volunteers are nearly always members, but not all members are active volunteers and people may be volunteers at different times throughout their membership. One of the reasons for an association to exist, and a motivation for volunteers, is to provide resources for those who for a variety of reasons are not active volunteers but need what we have to offer.

A study from the Center for Association Leadership2 examined why people join professional associations with particular attention to the interests of members and active volunteers. In their study, about thirty percent of members had actively volunteered in the last year. The motivations for joining their professional associations was different and this seems to me to be related to why people volunteer within their associations. Volunteer members rated more highly than non-volunteers the personal value of access to networking with other professionals and opportunities to gain leadership experience, whereas non-volunteers value more highly access to educational materials, career information, and up-to-date information about the field. In some of these cases the differences in the rankings were not large (all members ranked up-to-date information as a first or second must important reason to join) but for other values the difference is more marked. When asked about challenges, everyone felt that lack of value placed on their profession by the public was the biggest challenge. …

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