Volunteering is a great way to get experience in the field, especially if you don’t have any. The skills you learn while volunteering can potentially get you a job later down the line. While some MLIS students have experienced the limiting aspects of volunteering, others have gained experience that could take the place of a library school course. For me, this volunteer experience is going to help fill in gaps of skills that I haven’t been able to develop yet. What really helped me going into this is knowing what I wanted out of it. I know that I want to work with digital libraries when I graduate, so I want more experience with content management and metadata. After I explained what my interests were, the digital collections librarian suggested that I might also be interested in working with their cataloger to make the digital collections searchable in the database. I didn’t even know that they had that kind of opportunity, so it was really good that I flat out told them what I was interested in doing.
The opportunity at the State Library seems perfectly suited for me because they have many different projects going on at once, so I can probably find one to work on that fits what I want to do. I have heard about students who go into libraries as volunteers and seeing that they aren’t getting much experience out of it, and that is a big risk as a volunteer. I’ve learned that by laying out what you want to learn from volunteering at the very beginning, you can work with the coordinator to see how your experience there can fit those needs. They understand that you are investing your time and are doing them a favor by helping out, so usually they are flexible with setting you up with projects or tasks that will make you want to continue to volunteer (at least in an ideal world).
The volunteer coordinator gave me a tour of the library, which was really cool. It was built in the 1930’s and some of the reading rooms are so beautiful. She also told me that many of the volunteers there were able to get jobs once they graduated. Because they let volunteers work on projects that interest them, the volunteers get to develop job skills that they are interested in, and the library benefits from the work that they put in. It’s a pretty balanced relationship. I’m looking forward to volunteering there.