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Volunteering as a builder of community spirit at libraries

In the blog series Vapaaehtoisuus on timanttista toimintaa (‘Volunteering is Brilliant Activity’), we publish articles or videos about volunteering by students who study volunteer leadership at the HUMAK Open University of Applied Sciences.

One might not perceive library as the first place to volunteer. Yet, in some countries voluntary work and community participation at the libraries are indispensable. For instance, in the UK, due to lack of public funding, hundreds of libraries around the country stay open with solely volunteering staff. Fortunately, in Finland, we have not had to replace professional librarians with an unpaid labor force. But this does not mean that local communities and volunteers do not participate in everyday operations of libraries.

For a long time, volunteers have created various events and activities at the libraries all around the country. The libraries also have a tradition to collaborate with various other volunteering organizations: Homework Help by the Finnish Red Cross, the Martha Organization and various digital support providers such as Enter ry have become a familiar sight at libraries as well. In addition, reading group leaders, admission free concert- and exhibition organizers and reading-companion-dog handlers have delighted library visitors for decades. At the same time, they have helped libraries to become meeting places where one’s voice can be heard.

With the new library law, libraries’ duty to enable an active citizenship has become emphasized even more. Residents are encouraged to participate in making libraries and their activities more suitable for them. For example, residents have been involved in planning the renovation of libraries. However, for the library to truly be a part of the community, it is not enough to concentrate merely on the outside appearance of buildings. One has to be able to contribute to what transpires inside the walls.

One of the best ways to do so, in my opinion, is to enable further volunteering at the libraries. The more the volunteers and local organizations are working on various activities at the library, the more the library will reflect the local community and its residents. Some libraries have active programs to seek volunteers but surely one can offer to volunteer independently as well. Only the sky is the limit here.  For example, library grandmothers and library godparents keep company to children after school, and poem- and handicraft clubs enable self-expression and cultural experiences. Various language cafés help with language studies and integration.

One-time events and clubs organized by volunteers can enrich the library offerings significantly. The sense of community and the feeling of success can be enhanced commensurately by the additional role of library participation. Through volunteers, the library staff gains additional understanding of the needs and wishes of the library users. In this way the library personnel can serve and cooperate with the resident community even better.


The Guardian: Do Libraries Run by Volunteers Check Out?

Uusi juoni: Vantaan kirjastoista viihtyisiä tuunaten ja asiakkaita kuunnellen. (In Finnish)

Ministry of Education and Culture: Kirjastolaki uudistuu -aktiivinen kansalaisuus, demokratia ja sananvapaus uusia tehtäviä. (In Finnish)

Text: Maija Lehtola

The writer studies volunteer leadership at the HUMAK Open University of Applied Sciences and works at Vantaa public library as a volunteer coordinator.

Translation: Pirkko Nurmikko

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