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Recruiting, Hiring, Orienting, Maintaining and Saying Goodbye to Library Volunte

About 60 years ago, the professional nonprofit community concluded that volunteers needed to be treated like paid employees, meaning that they needed to be subject to the same scrutiny and oversight. The result was that nonprofit agencies became more skilled at recruiting and signing up volunteers who were productive, and the volunteers were treated with the respect they deserved.


Everyone benefited as did the agencies and communities they served. Unfortunately, some libraries and library-allied organizations have not yet adopted this professional model. Instead, recruitment is hit and miss, with no guidelines and burdened with an attitude of desperation and guilt.


The biggest myth regarding volunteers is that they are “free.” They need supervision and encouragement. They might not receive a paycheck, but their compensation is the time, attention, appreciation, and recognition of co-workers, managers, and leadership, companionship, and the knowing that they have accomplished something.


Volunteers have the same lifecycle as paid employees and many of the same legal conditions for working for the library. Are they a right match for a library, which is first and foremost a service organization? Do they have technical, clerical, or professional skills? How are they at dealing with conflicts with library customers? Have you screened them for financial problems, a criminal background check, or anything that might flag them for being around children? Have they received the same orientation as the paid employees, as well as periodic reviews and consistent positive reinforcement? And what happens when you need to say good-bye?


  • Evaluate your library’s volunteer program: How do you treat your volunteers, and how do volunteers contribute to your library.
  • Create and maintain a welcoming, rewarding, and goal-oriented environment for volunteers.
  • Broaden your outreach to more potential volunteer candidates.
  • Partner with nonprofits and other agencies to build volunteer pools and share candidates.

Recruiting, Hiring, Orienting, Maintaining and Saying Goodbye to Library Volunte


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  • Pat Wagner is a trainer and consultant with 40 years of experience working for libraries, universities, local government, nonprofits, and small businesses. She supports the success of libraries with programs on personnel, supervision, management, leadership, marketing, strategic planning, project management, and communication. Pat has worked with libraries and library organizations throughout the United States, from the smallest rural storefronts to the largest academic and urban library institutions. Pat also is a frequent speaker at state and national conferences. She is known for her good-humored and practical presentations.

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