The Evolving Volunteer
04/12/2011 9 Comments
I’ve lately read about some rather progressive ways students and adult volunteers are being used in libraries. In some libraries, crowdsourcing has been applied to tasks traditionally reserved for professional staff. Volunteer workers are doing more than checking in materials, prepping for craft and story hours, and shelving books. In some places, they’re aiding data discoverability, making connections, and creating content.
Volunteers, not paid staff, are digitizing newspapers, photos, and out-of-print books. They create searchable databases of community births and obituaries. Volunteers are tagging library photos on Flickr and engaging with the community on social media sites. They’re on Twitter, monitoring the library’s brand and tracking local news, stories, and events. They scan the catalog for errors. They perform readers’ advisory and write book reviews for the library’s website.
Libraries have long leaned on volunteers for purposes of maintenance and probably always will. Yet as libraries have changed, so have crowdsourcing and the role of the volunteer. The evolution of the relationship between library and user has intriguing implications regarding not only ownership and civic engagement, but information creation, quality, and searchability.
I’d be interested to learn how other libraries are mining the skills of their students and patrons. Please share experiences or other thoughts on the subject.