Using Volunteers in Ontario Hospital Libraries: Views of Library Managers*

By McDiarmid, Mary; Auster, Ethel | Journal of the Medical Library Association, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Using Volunteers in Ontario Hospital Libraries: Views of Library Managers*


McDiarmid, Mary, Auster, Ethel, Journal of the Medical Library Association


Background: Volunteers have been a resource for all types of libraries for many years. Little research has been done to describe the attitudes librarians have toward library volunteers. More specifically, the attitudes of hospital librarians toward volunteers have never been studied.

Objective: The objective was to explore and describe the extent of volunteer use and to determine library managers' attitudes toward volunteers.

Design, Setting, and Participants: An anonymous, self-report 38-item questionnaire was mailed to the target population of 89 hospital library managers in Ontario. Seventy-nine useable questionnaires were analyzed from an adjusted sample of 86 eligible respondents, resulting in a response rate of 92%. SPSS 11.5 was used to analyze the data.

Findings: The data revealed the attitudes of managers using volunteers did not differ significantly from the attitudes of managers not using volunteers. The findings showed that a majority of managers did not believe their libraries were adequately staffed with paid employees. Sufficient evidence was found of an association between a manager's belief in the adequacy of staffing in the library and the use of volunteers in the library (χ^sup 2^(1, N = 76) = 4.11, P = 0.043). Specifically, volunteers were more likely to be used by managers who did not believe their libraries were adequately staffed. The presence of a union in the library and the use of volunteers were also associated (χ^sup 2^(1, N = 77) = 4.77, P = 0.029). When unions were present in the library, volunteers were less likely to be used.

Implications: This research has implications for hospital library managers in the management of volunteers. Volunteers should not be viewed as a quick fix or as a long-term solution for a library's understaffing problem.

INTRODUCTION

Between November 1, 1996, and October 31, 1997, approximately 1.3 million Canadians, or 6% of the country's population aged 15 and over, volunteered their time and skills to health organizations. The volunteers contributed more than 108.6 million hours or the equivalent of 56,000 full-time year-round jobs. Hospitals as a group accounted for 10% of those volunteer hours [1]. In Ontario alone, hospital volunteer associations represented more than 60,000 women, men, and youth, who annually provided more than 4 million hours of service. At a rate of $15.00 per hour, this service was the equivalent of $60 million to the hospitals of Ontario [2].

Volunteers have been a resource for all types of libraries for many years. Little research has been done to describe the attitudes librarians have toward library volunteers [3-6]. More specifically, the attitudes of hospital librarians toward volunteers have never been studied. These attitudes can affect whether and how volunteers are used in hospital libraries. The use of volunteers can be a make-or-break decision with respect to the acquisition and retention of adequate staffing in the library. On the one hand, a hospital librarian, through the hospital's auxiliary program, has a ready supply of volunteer workers available who may be used to help out in the library when workloads are heavy and staffing is inadequate. On the other hand, given the depressed economic situation, a hospital librarian may willingly or through administrative pressures turn to unpaid volunteers in lieu of paid staff as a way of providing services. The risk is real that jobs may be lost or difficulties may arise in trying to justify new paid positions. The financial constraints under which both Canadian and Ontario hospitals have operated for the past decade have made the study of these issues especially timely.

The way hospitals are funded in Canada has changed radically over the past 3 decades. In 1975, hospitals received 44.7% of the total health care expenditures in Canada, and, in 2000, that figure had dropped to 31.8% [7]. Financial cutbacks in public funding to the health care system have resulted in widespread closures of beds, hospital units, and even hospitals themselves. …

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