In May, it’s hard not to run across stories of people who have made a difference in the lives of others. Newspaper columns, TV ads and Facebook posts laud mothers who made sacrifices, great and small. Graduates tell about the incremental steps along the way that brought them to the figurative finish line and the people who were there at those critical junctures. Parents of graduates have their own list of those to thank. While November may be the No. 1 month for sheer gratefulness, May’s tales tend to focus on the dividends of people investing in other people.
Organizationally, the library is in that very same mode. May is the time when we recognize the volunteers who share the very best gift of all — themselves — with the library throughout the year. As we took time to thank our volunteers this year, I realized anew the enormous value they provide for the community through the library.
There are whole library services that, without volunteers, would literally cease to exist. Others would become only a shadow of their current selves. Our Homebound program comes to mind first. Those who, either temporarily or permanently, find it challenging to get to the library to use our materials can sign up to have items delivered to their residences. The delivery isn’t just one-size-fits-all, either. Each person’s “order” is tailor-made, based on preferences of all shapes and sizes for both content and format. In some cases, we even take care not to bring items that an avid reader has already read. In a scenario without volunteers, our staffing simply would not stretch to cover the 50-plus personalized stops per month that we now make.
In other cases, volunteers bring skills, materials and interests that our own staff simply do not have. It might come as a complete surprise to you, but the 501st Legion volunteers who were a fabulous part of our “Stars Wars” Day own costumes and gear that just isn’t in my closet. Our Paws to Read program relies on people who have certified therapy animals and the time to share them with emerging readers. Anyone who delivers books to the Howard County jail must be male, which eliminates most of our staff and makes our jail volunteers worth their weight in gold. Our Community Advisory Council has the ability to look at library questions, plans or most recently our signage with fresh eyes. They don’t know library jargon, the history of why a decision was made, or any of the other reasons why things can’t be different; the comments they give us are gifts.