A Little Recognition Can Go a Long Way!

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
~ Aesop

For many libraries in Pennsylvania, and indeed around the country, volunteers are the lifeblood of our organizations.  They are our community of tireless, unpaid, dedicated workers that make much of the daily work we do possible.  They fulfil many of the roles and responsibilities that our regular staff just don’t have the time to be able to do effectively. But more than that, they bring a wealth of ideas and possibilities with them—ideas and possibilities that can help shape, mold, and create new programs and services that better reflect what our communities need and want.

During summer, they are essential in helping to run our summer reading programs—coming up with new ideas, checking the kids’ reading logs, facilitating activities, distributing prizes, and much more.  During the rest of the year, though, the work they do is often unseen by the public yet still critical to the library’s success.  They manage our donations and book sales, assist with many of our regular programs, spearhead fundraising efforts, take our library outreach into the community, and do behind the scenes work that we just can’t find the time to do ourselves.

Considering their vital importance, are we doing the most we can to recognize and reward their efforts?  At the end of the day, our volunteers aren’t just workers.  They aren’t getting paid and are donating their valuable time to help our libraries.  As such, they represent a special area within our libraries—they’re here because they want to be here—and they need to feel appreciated and like what they do is making an important difference or having an important effect.  To that end, a simple thank you and some regular feedback can really go a long way!

Beyond a simple thank you, though, another idea might be to identify the special interests and abilities our volunteers have and then look for ways to incorporate those into the library.  Getting them involved and utilizing their expertise can be a great way of making them feel important and valuable.  That can be through programs that they help lead, story times that they contribute to, library displays they create, or even just custom-made book lists on topics they’re interested in.  Our volunteers have some pretty unique skills and abilities – and we should find ways to make the most of them!

Another way of fostering interaction and integration is to create opportunities for our volunteers to shine. Consider creating a recognition framework that recognizes and showcases they work they do.  This can be done by involving them directly in our library programs and services, as I just mentioned, but can also be done in other ways such as highlighting the work they do in our library newsletters, creating a display that showcases what individual volunteers are doing and the impact they’re having, or even just giving them more of a front-line role.  This not only lets our volunteers shine, but also gives them more visibility—which in turn can lead to more people wanting to volunteer.

Simplest of all, though, we need to make sure we are rewarding their efforts.  Rewards come in many different forms and don’t necessarily have to be monetary.  Giving our volunteers access to new library swag before it’s given to the regular patrons is one idea.  Another is to plan a volunteer appreciation breakfast or brunch, donated by your staff, friends’ group, or even board members.  And another might be to create an appreciation event tied into National Library Week, where you distribute certificates showing how much time your volunteers have donated or the work they’ve done.

While most volunteers are certainly not in it for the rewards or the glory, a little recognition can go a long way!  Interested in learning more about maintaining and incorporating a volunteer corps in your library?  Just fill out our Consultation Request Form and we’ll help you come up with a plan!


Ed Wolf, Virtual Reference and Information Specialist