Blogger Eva Mitnick

Volunteers – in their own words

Library volunteers come in all ages, and they do everything from shelving DVDs to holding book sales.  It takes time to train and manage them, but the pay-off is vast.

We’ve had an amazing volunteer program at our library for over 20 years.  The idea is simple – we train adult volunteers to share books and stories with kids at the library.  First called “Grandparents and Books” because our volunteers were older adults, it later became just GAB when we began welcoming younger adults as well.  This July 1st, we’re changing the name again – to Storytelling and Reading, or STAR – so that the theme of the program will be more immediately apparent.

Whatever the name, it has been a spectacularly successful program, and this is due almost entirely to the enthusiasm and passion of our volunteers, many of whom have been with us for 5, 10 and even 15 years.  Every year we ask our 200+ volunteers to fill out a survey – and every year I’m struck anew at their dedication as I read their comments and suggestions.  Here are what volunteers have to say in this year’s surveys, which are still coming in daily.

They see the STAR program as a way to introduce kids to the joy of books, reading and libraries, saying:

“I think children see the pleasure that the reader… takes in reading the books and that pleasure is contagious.” (Susan D., age 63)

“(The program) helps children to read at their own level and they are not pressured.” (Ernestine S., age 84)

“Even the very little ones love to hear a story and point to objects on the pages.” (Carolyn Z., age 78)

“It is very rewarding to see the growth in both interpersonal skills and participation skills of the children… I have often heard from the parents that they are getting the personal attention and interaction time at the GAB storytime that they don’t get at school.”  (Donna G, age 63)

“GAB introduces children to reading in a fun way… There are no rules or requirements – kids get to choose the books they want to read, purely for pleasure and entertainment.” Maria F, age 27)

The volunteers also feel that they are participating in an activity that makes a difference in their communities and is rewarding and fun in itself.

“It’s my playtime… The children are radiant and open to  new adventures.” (Irving H., age 92)

“The experience of having worked as a GAB volunteer has brought an immense sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.” (Lloyd L., age 70)

“I give my heart and soul to my reading with the children.” (Cindy W.)

“It is so rewarding to give back to my community by helping tomorrow’s leaders learn to love reading.” (Florence B.)

“I just turned 80 years old; working with children has always been a part of my life and is now an essential to keeping me young, alert, and alive.” (Barbara A., age 80)

They also comment frequently on the helpfulness and friendliness of library staff.  Any less than positive comments tend to have to do with a lack of kids during their volunteer shift or with the necessity of competing with those ubiquitous library computers.

What is clear is that this program – as with all good library volunteer programs – is important for several reasons.

First, it provides a vital literacy service for the children and families in our communities by offering fun, one-on-one reading time with a caring, safe adult at the library (and yes, we do carefully screen and train our volunteers).

Second, and just as important, it offers a service to adults in our communities by offering a way for them to give back to their communities by sharing their passion for reading and their respect for children.

And third, as you could tell from that tiny sample of comments, these volunteers are fabulous advocates..  They are clearly ready and willing to speak up about the importance of books, reading – and the library.

We recognize our GAB volunteers every year with events, small gifts, and most of all with plenty of thanks and appreciation – and this surely helps with our high retention rate.  But mostly, the volunteers love what they do.  And that’s pure gold.

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