There have been some interesting discussion about volunteering, particularly around the concerns that if librarians work in jobs as volunteers, does it devalue the profession? Why would anyone pay for librarians if they can get them for free? It's a difficult issue, and I'm going to wimp out of addressing that because I'd like to discuss the voluntary work I've been involved in throughout my career.
Volunteering to find out more about profession
When I finished my degree, I knew I didn't want to go into a PGCE, was contemplating further study, but knew that was just putting off the decision about what job to do for longer. I was really interested in finding out more about librarianship, and though the best way to find out if it was something I enjoyed would be to get some experience.
I visited some local libraries and tried to find some contacts to speak to for advice or let me have a bit of experience. I was turned away at the academic library (which I later ended up working for in my graduate trainee job!), but the public library and school library I approached let me visit.
I spent a day at the public library, mainly visiting the different areas and chatting to different people to find out what it's like to work at a public library. It was an interesting day although the thing I remember taking from it was that there were a number of 'dodgy' characters that you had to keep an eye out for and watch what they were up to. Not something I had really considered before then!
Shortly after that I managed to visit the school library and the librarian there was happy for me to come along every day to help her out. I was there for a few weeks of term time, and then there was a stock move to help with over summer. I absolutely loved my time there and the librarian really helped explain more about the library profession to me too (she previously worked in a university).
I was able to discuss this voluntary work at two job interviews, and I really think it helped my applications (I was successful at both interviews). The feedback from one was that the voluntary experience really showed my commitment to the profession and they valued that greatly.
Volunteering to develop skills
Although not on a daily basis, I continue to volunteer my time to serve on committees within the profession. I've mentioned before that I am on the CILIP West Midlands branch committee, CILIP Career Development Group West Midlands division committee, and I'm ALA NMRT-ASCLA liaison.
Each of these positions are slightly different, but each benefits me greatly through both informing me more about the profession, and helping develop skills. Being part of committees has meant I can develop skills that I wouldn't ordinarily be able to in my day job. For me this has included organising events, managing multiple communication channels, representing a committee at wider events/communications, and working with a variety of different people from across different sectors.
I find my committee work really rewarding and would definitely recommend it to anyone wanting to develop skills outside their job role or wanting to meet and work with a variety of different people.
I definitely plan to continue with my committee roles, although they do eat up free time so balancing them with other commitments can be tricky. I'm getting a lot better at that though, and make sure to spend some time away from the computer (and phone and iPad!) in the evenings and weekends.