A nasty rumor has surfaced in the last few years: The book is dead.
Online content and e-readers are more pervasive than ever, but what does the electronic takeover mean for our beloved public libraries? How, in the digital age, can they continue to provide relevant, cost-effective services to a large group of people and—maybe more importantly— keep those people interested in those offerings?
As is often the case in times of budget tightening, the answers can be found in the form of volunteers. Through donations of time and talent, volunteers provide the manpower and the expertise necessary for libraries to stay up to date with computers and technological services and to offer updated class subjects, all while keeping up with the volume of print materials that still cycle through their doors.
As testament to the vitality volunteers provide, Ramsey County Libraries recorded more than 32,620 hours of service from volunteers in 2010. An external non-profit organization called Friends of the Ramsey County Libraries provides additional resources for those who want to volunteer outside of the library’s formal programs, and has raised at least $1 million to enhance library services and programs.
Each library system utilizes volunteers for a wide range of service opportunities: short-term, ongoing or sporadic. Volunteers at the Hennepin County library system (which encompasses all Minneapolis libraries) can run tutoring sessions, lead classes, repair books or staff the welcome desk. St. Paul uses volunteers for tutoring and day-to-day library operations, as well as special projects such as running a “collectors’ corner” trading post, organizing a Bookmobile parade or cleaning and maintaining bookshelves.
“Volunteers bring enthusiasm, new and added talents and a fresh perspective,” says Wendy Neurer, the St. Paul Public Library system’s volunteer coordinator. “Volunteers enable the library to have a greater impact in our community by enhancing the quality and range of services [we] can provide.”