Friday, 21 October 2011

CPD 23 - Thing 22 - Volunteering

My own experiences of volunteering have been overwhelmingly positive. I would recommend it to anyone both as a way to further your career and simply as a way to have some interesting experiences. I have no doubt that my time volunteering in a secondary school library played a very real part in helping me to secure my current job. It gave me a real insight into what working in an educational library involves. I also got hands on experience of lots of different aspects of librarianship.

The school library had other volunteers but as a library science student who was there to get professional experience I was entrusted with a wider range of tasks and a greater level of responsibility. I produced a series of information resources guides. I helped teachers and students with enquiries. I researched and reported on the possibility of lending ebooks and / or ebook readers.

I won't list everything I did but essentially I feel that I was given a real chance to taste what being a School Librarian would be like. I will always be very grateful for that opportunity.

In my pre-librarianship life I did various other bits of voluntary work. Regular readers will remember that I recently mentioned my time as an English teacher and a conservation worker in Peru. I hope that post gave an impression of what a great experience that was. I have also been doing children's group work for my local church for several years.

For the purposes of this 'thing' the interesting thing about these examples of volunteering is that although I didn't see them as career opportunities when I signed up they did actually play an important part in shaping my career. They guided me into teaching which in turn led me to working in an academic library. Arguably those voluntary jobs played their part in leading me to librarianship. Their role was indirect obviously but the lesson is perhaps that voluntary work might turn out to be useful in ways that aren't obvious at first.

Actually I met my now wife doing youth work for the church but this is meant to be about the career development benefits of volunteering.

I am very positive about voluntary work. It has had a huge positive impact on my life. However the sad truth is that today must surely be a difficult time to be a volunteer in libraries and in other public services. The combination of Big Society talk from politicians and the huge budget cuts must make volunteers feel that they need to tread very carefully to avoid undermining rather than supporting the services that they love (and in many cases hope to find paid work in one day). I'm sure many of them will be worrying about this even when they are in roles that have always been voluntary. I worry that current policy will have the opposite effect to the intended one and end up undermining Britain's previously healthy culture of volunteering.

Ok, I'll get off my soapbox now. I don't want to end my post about volunteering on a negative note. If you are thinking about voluntary work don't be put off by the difficult political climate. It really is a great way to gain experience and to develop your skills. It also has lots of other advantages. From meeting people to increasing your confidence to feeling that you are helping your community.

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