Thursday, 24 January 2013

Article Review: Volunteers in Archives: Free Labor, But Not Without Cost

Title: Volunteers in Archives: Free Labor, But Not Without Cost
Author: Kevin B. Leonard
Publication: Journal of Library Administration (52:3-4, 313-320)

There are many articles about volunteers in archives; here is a sampling; ALA, 1971; Carmichael, 1990; White, 1993; Randle, 1994; Frevert, 1997; Potter & Martin, 2006; Stanford & Meyer, 2011. This particular article stresses the importance of staff members understanding institutional goals and communicating them to volunteers. The Mayme A. Clayton Library is run exclusively by volunteers and I am concerned that their talents and time are not being used efficiently. There are quite a few objectives that we have identified and there are intelligent individuals who volunteer with us every week, how come we are not any closer to our objectives? Leonard encourages us to identify short term (interns) and long term (retirees) volunteers and give them tasks that are reflective of their level of commitment to the institution. We can’t take volunteers for granted; we have to hold them to the same standards as salaried employees. As soon as an appropriate task is identified, volunteers must be thoroughly trained and held accountable to their schedules and the quality completion of that task. Besides the obvious benefit of free labor, many volunteers can contribute with new perspectives, community ties, or technical skills. I think that we at MCLM blur the lines of personal and professional relationships with some of our volunteers, which makes it difficult to stick to firm assignments and critiques. Everything is so casual, some volunteers are not willing to do the work that we have available or spend their time socializing instead of working. Leonard also mentions that, for the safety of the collection, staff should set up work schedules and perform background checks. Volunteers should not just be relegated to the menial tasks, with proper training they can work with more complex tasks. Overall the article seems to say, the more that we invest in our volunteer (training) program, the more that they will be willing to do for us, and the collection will better be able to move forward.

All suggestions and comparisons were derived from Mr.Leonard's article.

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