If any of you were like me, you often were told in high school, and perhaps beyond, that volunteer experience “looks good on a resume!” I’m not about to argue that. Nor am I going to argue that volunteering isn’t a good thing in general. But volunteering in libraries is a whole other ballpark.
If any of you were like me, you were told to get library experience while still in school. This is sound advice! But there are only so many library assistant positions to go around, so many people will turn to volunteering instead. Imagine my shock when I heard that a lot of hiring managers tend to, overall, discount volunteer library experience!
I can, on some level, understand why: paid positions entail some degree of specialization, or at least different responsibilities than would be given a volunteer. That doesn’t mean I agree. Certainly, if you’re only volunteering for a month or two, I imagine you wouldn’t get that much in the way of experience. But what if you keep at it? I can’t speak for anything but my own experience, but when I volunteered in an information institution (archives), I found myself with more responsibility as time went on, because I was around often enough to prove to my boss that I could handle the responsibility. I won’t say that my experience is everyone’s experience, but long-term volunteer work at one particular place should be enough for someone to take notice.
The idea behind this came from a discussion on LinkedIn, where members were discussing the relevancy of library work. I mention this only because it brought up a solid point that I hadn’t considered: volunteering at a place you want to work at is a good idea. You can show off your skills to potential employers directly, and should a job opening come through, they might just let you know ahead of time. (Note: I’m not saying they definitely will. Please don’t assume volunteering long enough leads to insta-job.)
That’s not the only reason I’m in support of volunteer work. While yes, a volunteer may not have the same duties as that of a paid employee, it can really help familiarize you with the workplace culture of that particular place. Maybe you find you don’t like it – well, in that case, it’s not hard to gracefully make an exit. If you like it, great! Keep on working.
Not to mention, if an institution is looking for volunteer positions at all, that suggests there is a real need for some additional help. Your help could be very useful and appreciated! To say nothing of the skills you could gain – time management, working in teams, or working solo. These skills are always crucial to have, and if you don’t have them already, volunteering can be a great way to develop them!
Just because hiring managers don’t seem to take volunteering as seriously doesn’t mean you can’t. Volunteering can teach you a whole host of related skills that you can put to good use later, in the workforce.
Besides, it looks good on a resume!