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Volunteering at... The Local Library

I've always loved books, and believe that once a student of literature, you are always a student of literature. When the opportunity came up to volunteer at my local library in Mitcham, I thought, why not?

I heard about the role because I'm signed-up to the Merton Voluntary Service Council (MSVC) and they're really great at keeping their database up-to-date on local voluntary roles around the borough. They had a few volunteer roles that needed filling. They are:

  • Book Selectors: Choose books for Home Visits Library clients ready for Drivers to deliver

  • Shelvers: Put away returned books and talking books and keep shelves tidy.

  • Drivers: Deliver selected books and talking books to Home Visits Library individual clients and care homes. Collect books from clients and return to library.

  • Admin Support: Taking messages from Home Visits Library ansaphone; responding to enquiries from potential clients and volunteers.

I emailed back and said that I was willing to do any of the roles - only I don't drive, so that one's probably out. A lovely woman called Debby emailed me back to arrange a meeting so that she could explain more about the Book Selector role. I live about 10 mins walk from the library, so it was good to stroll down to the library which is situated in a beautiful Victorian building near the town centre.

Mitcham has a lovely library, and I've taken my son there many times as they have a really great sensory area. Also, pre-Covid, Merton Borough had just started weekly Saturday sessions across all of their libraries (different one every week) where they opened-up an hour earlier so that children with autism and special needs could enjoy the library without other people. We only went to a couple of sessions, and it's such a great shame that they were cut short by the pandemic.

Once masked-up and invited in, I was introduced to Debby who then led me up to the office so that I could fill out some forms and have a chat. There are a few things I discovered on this trip behind the scenes:

  • The library is cavernous. Seriously, when you go back of house, it's like journeying into a Tardis. I was really surprised to see that the front of house is a seriously small portion of what is actually contained in the beautiful building.

  • There are separate collections that are reserved for people who can't visit the library in person. This is amazing really, because the shelves were crammed with books that are just unavailable to your everyday visitor.

  • Only one person is allowed to work in the office at any one time because of social distancing measures. This means that I will be spending a fair bit of time in my own company in this role. I don't mind though, especially when surrounded by books.

So, what does it entail?

Debby spent some time explaining to me about what I will be doing, but it's essentially quite straightforward:

  • I will be paired with some people who are unable to visit the library, either because they are shielding or because they are unable to physically get to the library.

  • Using the records of their previous books and/or by taking a look at a form which details what they like, I will choose books for them from the special collection back of house.

  • They will either be books or audiobooks - some people prefer a CD. I know I love an audiobook.

I find the role really interesting because essentially, you are choosing books for people, and they have no idea what they're about to get. It also requires a bit of judgment and book knowledge on your part, because if they like crime but don't like blood and guts, you might want to stay away from Val McDermid and go for Robert Galbraith. If they like a bit of romance, but they blush at the thought of sexy scenes, stick with a classic Jane Austen instead of reaching for Fifty Shades of Grey.

I like the sound of the role because it seems like you can add real value to someone's life, at very little cost to your own time and it also requires thought and consideration for someone else. Also a bonus is that you get so spend time at the library. The best thing about it for me is that everything is done by a person and not an algorithm. Books make people so happy, and there's an opportunity to make it easier for someone to pass the time in an enjoyable way, at a time when things are pretty tough. There are a lot of people who are isolated within their own homes which must be so difficult, and if I have the opportunity to make it easier for them to sail away to a different world and forget the shitty reality of what's going on in our world, I'll happily help them.

I'll let you know how I get on!

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