Volunteers in Libraries

Q. We have demand for new programming, but there isn't new funding in sight, so we're thinking about expanding our volunteer program beyond helping with the annual book sale. Do you have any resources that might help us manage our library volunteer program better?

A. Volunteers of all ages can be a valuable resource for a library--just as they are for many sectors. "Volunteering in America 2010: National, State and City Information", published in June 2010 by the Corporation for National & Community Service, reports that volunteers donated 8.1 billion hours of service in 2009.  Libraries shared in that number, with volunteers serving on governing boards, running story hours, helping out at the circulation desk--or doing fund raising, particularly book sales.  The emphasis on fundraising is across the board, with 26.6% of all volunteers nationally providing assistance with that activity.

But there are some issues--including legal ones--to consider in order to have a volunteer program that is both beneficial to the library and rewarding for the volunteer. Before developing your program you will want to consult with your library director and human resources department, or the appropriate municipal or campus offices, to be sure you are complying with local ordinances and policies. Various resources on using volunteers in libraries mention the following legal issues:

  • compensation for work-related injuries
  • insurance coverage for risk and personal injury
  • insurance coverage when operating a library vehicle
  • procedures for reimbursing any work related expenses
  • discrimination
  • ADA compliance
  • confidentiality
  • background checks
  • disciplinary action and contractual statement

Once you have your program planned, consider registering it at serve.gov, an online resource for sharing information about volunteer opportunities in communities across the U.S. You may find possible collaborative partners--as well as new library advocates!