I was an occasional library visitor at best until I was laid off from a job in 2018. While I did most of my applying to jobs from home, I also found myself spending a lot of time at the library. I would stand at circulation for just a moment too long because that was all of the human interaction I was likely to get that day. That summer, I also convinced my friend to put her two kids in the car and join me so that I wasn’t the lone adult at the library petting zoo. Our society doesn’t have a lot of third places, spaces where people can just spend time without spending money, and that is only one of many reasons why libraries are so important.
I eventually found another job, and it wasn’t until last year that I found myself wanting to give back for the things I’d enjoyed courtesy of my local library. In addition to wanting to pay it forward somehow, it’s not super easy to make new friends as an adult who spends way too much time commuting. I thought that volunteering with the library might be a good way to meet other people who like books — and also I’ve now lived in this town for enough years that it’s pretty weird that I can only name a couple of my neighbors.
If you’re ready to take the plunge and level up as a library patron, here are just a few ways to get started.
ESL Classes or Conversations
Depending on where you live, there could be a need for volunteers to come in once or so per week just to talk to people who are learning English. Many libraries host both formal classes and informal conversation groups and offer the opportunity for friendship across languages. Your library’s website is your best source of information on whether this is something your community needs.
Friends of the Library
The Friends of the Library help to raise money for the library. Friends groups do this in a lot of different ways including through library book sales, special events, and more. Volunteering at the library book sale is absolutely one of the highlights of my year. There are so many books to touch!
Some libraries also have their own foundations, which also work to expand library facilities or the programming libraries are able to offer. Foundations tend to raise larger amounts of money than Friends groups alone.
Teen Advisory Board/Committee
When I first started working with the Friends of the Library, I noticed that my library has a ton of teen volunteers and I was super jealous, because I still remember the struggle to eke out those National Honor Society volunteer hours. Teen Advisory Boards do a number of different things, including helping out with executing programming and events at the library. If you’re a teen who loves books, why wouldn’t you want to join a group like this?
Depending on the library you’re volunteering at, you may also be called upon to assist with homework help or provide tech help for older patrons.
Library boards are responsible for the governance and policy of the library and serve as representatives of their communities. If you are interested in joining your library board, here is a great overview of the duties and the various ways one might join, since the application process varies based on where you live and how your local government is structured.
Come to an Event…Or Host One!
Not ready to commit? Try coming to a special event at your library. If you don’t follow them on social media, you’re probably missing out on everything your library has to offer. My library hosts everything from book group discussions to introductory classes on things like tarot. You could even read to a dog!
After you have attended some events, maybe you’ll come to realize that you have a talent to share — crafting or reading tarot cards or even something like bullet journaling. You could speak with the person or people who handle programming at your library and offer to teach a class.
Now is a great time to get involved with your library — not just because it’s always a great time to give back to your community, but also because libraries need our support now more than ever. Learn more ways to support your libraries and to advocate on their behalf against book bans and censorship.