If you are fortunate enough to respond to library volunteer opportunities, your life will be enriched greatly. It is one of those services that you as a volunteer will probably get more out of than you realize. The library staff and patrons will really be grateful for your work, and you can experience so many rewards.

Most libraries have an online presence via a website, where current events and library volunteer training is listed. If your chosen library doesn’t offer volunteer training you could speak with the director or assistant director and find out why, and suggest a program to begin. I know the one I volunteer at just offered their first training program in October, 2010, and I was lucky to notice it and show up. There was only 3 of us that trained, now there are 10 and growing. Libraries are suffering just like other institutions, and cut backs are certainly happening. I feel bad for those with hours cut and those laid off, but at the same time I am very happy to be a volunteer. I am not replacing those with cut back hours because a volunteer is only able to do certain duties, not those that a paid staff member can do.

Some Library Volunteer Duties
As a library volunteer I was given library volunteer guidelines in my initial training. First I had to fill out a library volunteer application form, and then I received an orientation of the building, intro to staff, and a review of the library volunteer policy.

The main duty is to see that all materials are shelved in the adult area. All the following duties are for the adult area.

  • Check that the displayed item belongs on the corresponding shelf.
  • Make sure the book or other item belongs to the library you are volunteering at.
  • Check for it’s condition (falling apart, damaged in any way?).
  • Is the spine in good shape?
  • Remove any loose papers or objects in the books.
  • If the item on display contains a CD or booklet; check to see that the corresponding parts are there.
old fashioned books

Fiction Books
All spine labels should have an “F” followed by the first 3 letters of the author’s last name. This can be tricky, so be aware when you find AND for instance. The last name could be Anderson, Andersen, Andres, etc. First read the authors last name and place the books in alphabetical order (Andersen would come before Anderson). Then if you have numerous titles from the same author (like Tony Hillerman) (HIL), the books need to be alphabetized by title. I always find that this takes some time when I am in the areas of voluminous writers, like Stephen King. It’s quite nice to discover just how popular writers are by shelving work. I can’t tell you how many authors I have discovered that I had no clue about, and I don’t consider myself literary challenged!

Non-Fiction Books
Non-fiction books are categorized by the Dewey Decimal System beginning with 001 and ending with 999. Don’t let this frighten you, you don’t need to memorize it for volunteering. Here is a basic Dewey Decimal numbers description:

  1. 000 = Generalities
  2. 100 = Philosophy and Psychology
  3. 200 = Religion
  4. 300 = Social Sciences
  5. 400 = Language
  6. 500 = Natural Sciences and Mathematics
  7. 600 = Technology (applied sciences)
  8. 700 = The Arts
  9. 800 = Literature and Rhetoric
  10. 900 = Geography and History

Usually the ends of the shelves have numbers listed on them, like 917-920, or however the books are organized numerically, which does change, so it is a good idea to become familiar with your library methods. A Dewey Decimal poster is usually on a wall, so if you are helping a patron who wants to know where to find something on religion, show her/him the poster so they can feel empowered to answer their own inquiry. I love the non-fiction section, there is just pure gold on those shelves. I have been known to find exactly what I was searching for when I was not searching, but shelving. This unconscious “aha” is one of the many rewards of library volunteering.

These are categorized however the library chooses. They are commonly categorized by fiction and non-fiction and divided by alphabet letters and numbers (non-fiction, Dewey Decimal system). Fiction DVDs are alphabetized by dividers from the title of the DVD. An example is Babette’s Feast, a film by Gabriel Axel. The DVD would be found under the “B” divider. One important thing to notice is that the spine label reads DVD. This makes it easier to note when items are mis-shelved. There are also TV series DVDs, and they may be labeled so. Often they are shelved near the other DVDs, but separate. Also, if shelving DVDs, make sure they are locked.

Music CDs
These are also divided by the artists’ last name. They have a genre on the label, like “classical.” Usually this doesn’t matter to the shelving, unless a specified drawer is available for a certain genre. Each library does it’s own thing with the organization of the shelving according to available space, and the amount of items.

The library I volunteer at offers audio books, and e-readers, too. There is a method to the shelving, but it has to do with the labels, and that is a bit more detailed than this article is meant to be. The digital world is having an increased presence in libraries, and I honor that though I believe books will always be a bliss not a burden.

Special Sections
Other great library spaces are; express books, large print books, oversize books, reference books, magazines, literacy books, and a Spanish section. Once again, these are categorized with labels, and like the regular fiction and non-fiction. Magazines may be shelved by title with most recent copies displayed in a binder. Each of these sections is a like entering a new world of possibilities. There is a difference between large print and oversize; the oversized books aren’t necessarily in large print.

I have just touched on the most basic of the library volunteer experiences. Some volunteers read stories or help with literacy programs. There are many ways to enrich your life in library service as well as enriching the lives of countless others. I feel greatly rewarded spending time doing whatever tasks assigned to me because I always seem to receive more than I give in this wonderful place. Mostly, I am never bored at a library!