Why I Volunteer

I enjoy volunteering. I’ve volunteered at art museums, libraries, and libraries in art museums. Currently I volunteer approximately six hours a month at the Center for Local History at Arlington Public Library in Arlington, Virginia. I process archival collections at work and I volunteer to process archival collections in my free time. Here are some reasons why.

To learn how other organizations operate.

When I was little I loved learning about my classmates home life. They always did things differently. There were different rules, parental styles, foods, and different types of residencies. I am a sucker for behind the scenes tours. Volunteering is a great way to get to know how an organization works.

To learn new skills and ways of doing things.

I don’t know how to do everything and often I learn by doing. Different organizations process collections and create finding aids differently. For me part of volunteering in an archive is to arrange and describe collections according to an institutions needs and rules. Sometimes you are at an archive and they want you to remove every staple in a collection, and sometimes they want you to do some major MPLP and just get papers into folders and boxes. It is important to be flexible and open to learning new ways of doing things.

To step outside of my comfort zone.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a “people person,” but I love interacting with people. My full time job keeps me far away from the public so volunteering provides opportunities to interact with patrons. The Center for Local History is currently facilitating community scan-ins where residents of the Green Valley/Nauk neighborhood are encouraged to bring their old photographs to public events and library staff will scan them using equipment provided by the Library. Donating scans to the Library is optional. I’ve had two opportunities to volunteer for this project, the first attending a block party and the second a blood drive. Both occasions broadened my knowledge of an Arlington neighborhood that I wouldn’t otherwise know about and provided an opportunity to step outside of my sheltered lonely comfort zone and talk to patrons.

To share expertise.

Not everyone volunteering or working in an archive has the same skills / knowledge / or expertise. I was lucky to work with another volunteer at the Fairfax County Public Library’s Virginia Room. He was the subject matter expert and I was the processing expert. Together we were able to accomplish more than either of us could have alone. Including the arrangement of a collection, a finding aid, and an exhibit with a digital component.


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