Volunteering at the Library

December 4, 2011
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I don’t remember the first time I went to the library. My father tells the story of how he went to the library when I was five days old and checked out eight Dr. Seuss books to surround me with books from the moment I was born. As a toddler, my mother took me to the library for story time, and I remember doing crafts at the library when I was five or six and my brother was a baby. I remember going to the library as a fourth, fifth, and sixth grader and browsing the shelves in the children’s section that held the next book just waiting to be read, and I remember going to volunteer in the library for the first time for girl scouts when I was ten. I remember going to the library as a middle-schooler to get books, not just in the brightly colored children’s room anymore, but in the young adult section as well. And more recently, I have been volunteering in the library for more than a year now. Thus, the library has been a part of my life since I was born, and it is only natural that I chose the library as a worthy way to give back to the community when I started volunteering at the beginning of high school.

Even though I’ve been going to the library my whole life, volunteering there is a very different experience than going to events or borrowing books. Though I’ve come to look forward to Wednesday afternoons when I volunteer, it started out slow, something I was required to do for school.

At first, I wanted to help out in story time because it sounded infinitely more interesting than shelving books. The first time I volunteered in story time, it was a November night when sunset was way before 7:00, and the only kid who showed up for story time was the librarian’s grandson, who was more interested in running around the room than doing the craft, which his mommy and I did. After this boring experience with story time I tried it again the next week, and it was much more enjoyable since there were about five families there. I still didn’t get to do much, although I did cut out Indian feathers and help a five-year-old-girl glue pink feathers on a construction paper pilgrim hat while her mother was making a pilgrim hat for her baby brother. Dancing the hokey pokey with the cute little kids and their parents also was fun and brought back memories.

Since then, I’ve been volunteering at the library for a year, and the ongoing activity I engage in for during my volunteer time is shelving books. I shelve books in the children’s section that have been returned to the library and need to be sorted into “easy” books (usually picture books for little kids having books read to them), easy reader books (“early chapter books” like Biscuit or Amelia Bedelia), juvenile fiction and juvenile nonfiction. Shelving books, though it sounds boring in the extreme, is a meditative task that requires concentration and occupies my mind while, paradoxically, allowing my mind to wander and think about other things. I am often surprised at myself when I realize how much more I know about the little ins and outs of Palm Bay Library after a year of volunteering there than after fourteen years of going there. When shelving books, I absorb the little skills and knowledge that are specific to library volunteer work, such as, the placement of specific books or series on the shelves. Occasionally, someone asks me where a certain book is, and I enjoy being able to tell them off the top of my head or help them find it quickly. Because we do most of our research for things on the internet, most teenagers aren’t very familiar with the Dewey Decimal system. Through sorting and shelving nonfiction books, I’ve learned through experience the numbers of most subject areas, as well as some interesting facts. For instance, fairy tales, which most people would think are in the fiction section, are in or around 398.2.

My volunteer work contributes to the smooth running of the library. When volunteers do the mundane work like organizing shelves, sorting books, and cutting out things for story time crafts, Miss Josephine, the children’s librarian, has time to devote to other things, like helping people looking for books, running and planning events, or just being there to be friendly to parents who walk in with their kids, an invaluable asset that no doubt makes people want to come back and experience all that the library has to offer. If a kind word can make someone’s day, then a kind librarian can certainly interest a child in reading, which will last him a lifetime.

Specifically, every book that I place in the correct spot on the shelf lets someone find it there later when they want or need it. When I shelve books and I see a book that’s in the wrong place, I take it out and put it in the right place. But what if a book of science project ideas that should be in the science fair section was still between 746.1 and 746.2089, in the arts and crafts section? An elementary-schooler’s winning project may come from an idea in that book that, if not for my volunteer work, he may never find!

Every single book in the library, fiction and nonfiction, holds a new world for someone. Every single book is important, and one book out of place is one child who doesn’t get the joy of discovering the story within it. I want other children to experience the excitement of reading that I have found through library books. In the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The student has his Rome, his Florence, his whole glowing Italy, within the four walls of his library. He has in his books the ruins of an antique world and the glories of a modern one.” That is why I volunteer in the library.





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