Off The Shelf: Volunteers Make Communities Stronger

Off the Shelf

Volunteers Make Communities Stronger


They say April showers bring May flowers, but we’re seeing plenty of April flowers to enjoy right now. I love watching the flowering trees bloom all over town and the tulips and bluebells popping up in my yard.

April usually also brings two of my favorite annual events. I’m sure we all can name events special to us that were canceled or postponed over the last year. For me, I’m feeling the loss of both the library’s annual volunteer appreciation reception and the Mayors Volunteer Awards dinner, which typically happen this month. Both events are joyful moments to recognize special people in our community.

While I make a point to stop and say hello and thank our library volunteers whenever I see them, the library’s annual volunteer recognition reception is a nice chance for these volunteers to spend time with each other and for us to thank them in an extra special way. I’ve also been fortunate to be on the planning team for the Mayors Volunteer Awards dinner for several years. That event is always so inspiring, as I get to read the nomination of volunteers from several community organizations and enjoy watching those volunteers recognized for the many ways that they improve our community and enrich the lives of others.

I look forward to both events returning. In the meantime, with today being the first day of Volunteer Appreciation Week, I find myself thinking about all the ways that volunteers strengthen libraries and communities.

The library literally couldn’t operate without the volunteers who make up the Library Board of Trustees. City ordinance requires a volunteer governing board appointed by the mayor and approved by the council. This structure is common to public libraries across Iowa. These seven community members volunteer to take on the responsibility for hiring and evaluating the library’s director, setting the policies, approving the expenditures, determining the goals of the library, and more.

Another group of five volunteers strengthen our community by serving on the library’s Foundation board to oversee the long term investment of funds gifted to support and enhance the library. In addition to investing for the future of the library, these community volunteers grant funds to the improve the library experience for everyone. Recent examples include funding the new self check stations and new security gates, purchasing mobile hotspots and Chromebooks for circulation, and remodeling the former coffee shop, among many other contributions to projects that wouldn’t be possible without the Foundation’s support and the work of these volunteers.

We also have several individuals who volunteer for special projects. For example, we currently have a volunteer who comes twice a week to straighten shelves to make sure the collection is organized and in good condition and to do other projects as needed, such as assembling take and make kits. We have a volunteer who has been coming for years to clean and polish DVDs and another who has mended countless books over the years. One volunteer recently spent two years scanning over 700 glass plate negatives from our collection. For over 17 years, one couple has volunteered weekly and worked on a wide range of projects from putting old newspapers in archival boxes, moving shelving units, relabeling the microfilm collection, helping with newsletter mailings, and so much more. They are currently working with another volunteer on projects in our local history collection.

Throughout the year, but particularly in the summer months, teen volunteers help shelve items and keep the collection in order or do other special projects. In May and June, we are holding volunteer training sessions specifically for teens ages 14-18.

Our library’s biggest group of volunteers comes from our Friends of the Library members. Friends volunteers include their board of directors, as well as all of the people you see staffing the Footnotes Used Book Store in the lobby or working the book sales. Many volunteer hours also go into sorting and preparing donated items, carting up boxes of books from storage on the lower level, unpacking and arranging the books on the tables, and taking down the sales.

I often say that we’d be a very different library without our Friends. Even over this last challenging year, the Friends volunteers continued to raise funds to support the library, and their board granted funds to enhance services through early literacy outreach, summer reading support, equipment, and more. Our popular take and make kits are made possible through their support.

There are still three weekends left in the nine week series of book sales that the Friends started back in March. While you are there, take a minute to appreciate the volunteers who make it all happen.

Volunteers often tell me that they learn a lot about the library and its services, discovering the many behind the scenes tasks that go into keeping the library running smoothly. They also find out about services like home delivery, interlibrary loan, mobile hotspot checkout, and others that they didn’t know happened at their library.

One thing all our volunteers have in common is that they freely give of their time and talents because they believe in the power of public libraries to strengthen the lives of individual and in the vital role libraries play in making a community a great place to live, work, and play.

Thank you to all the volunteers who make our communities stronger.

See you at the library!