Taking Your Turn

The AASL chapters (formerly known as affiliates) communicate concerns to the AASL Board through a structured process. This helps AASL stay informed of local developments that affect school libraries and learners. The board reviews the concerns and takes action on those items that are within its sphere of influence. The process begins with chapter representatives discussing issues among themselves and considering what issues and concerns to send to the board. This excerpt is adapted from an early conversation among chapter leaders:

“Our chapters rely on volunteers to fill leadership positions on their boards and committees. These positions are difficult to fill because members do not seem to be prepared to take on the work of these roles. How can we encourage our members to view leadership as a manageable feat that can be incorporated into a balanced life?”

What is the problem here? Are members just not prepared to volunteer? The rate of volunteer activity in the United States has indeed declined, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016). The rate of volunteerism in the United States peaked at about 30% in the years just following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. By 2015, the national rate of volunteerism had dropped to 25% (Grimm and Dietz 2018).

Associations exist to improve life in a corner of the world. Professionals depend on their associations to provide standards, guidance, advocacy, learning opportunities, social support, and any number of other benefits. Likewise, professional associations depend on their members to do the association’s work and tell the association’s story. Volunteerism in general strengthens communities and creates positive social capital. Through association work, members advocate for their profession’s role in their communities and bring prestige to the profession. What makes people want to volunteer and to take on successively more responsibility? I like to think of volunteering as “taking my turn.” I am no more or less special than other member leaders; I’m just taking my turn to keep AASL moving forward.

Professional organizations compete for volunteer time and commitment with religious organizations, educational organizations, youth service organizations, and other civic activities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the median amount of time spent volunteering is approximately 52 hours a year (2016); people who love what they are doing will dedicate much more time than that. Therefore, it is essential to make the opportunities in one’s association attractive to volunteers.

To cultivate volunteers, state chapters can:

  • Figure out what motivates your members to volunteer. Are they politically motivated to advocate for the preservation of school libraries? Do they want some measure of control they do not get in their paid jobs? Do they have management aspirations? Do they want to make friends and connect with like-minded people? Do they want to make something work better? Ask individuals what they would like to get out of volunteering, and assign them tasks that most closely match their interests. Listen to them, and give them with what they want!
  • Make sure your association’s jobs and volunteer opportunities offer the kinds of experiences your potential volunteers seek. All volunteers and their needs are different, and it is a safe bet that in any given organization members’ needs will include achievement, self-determination, the opportunity to influence others, and opportunities to engage in social interaction.
  • Be clear about what the commitment involves. Write job descriptions for every position, committee, and task force. Include the purpose of the position, expected outcomes, the tasks to be done, time and resources required, term lengths, and meeting (and/or travel) requirements.
  • Ask individuals to consider volunteering for specific tasks or positions. Be specific about why you asked them and why you think they are right for the job.
  • Equip volunteers for the assignment through training, logical progression of tasks, a comprehensive handbook, or an orientation. Build in reasonable benchmarks and touch points.
  • Show appreciation through thank-you notes, special events, and other ways to highlight volunteer contributions.

To become a volunteer, association members can:

  • Gather information about the association. Study the web page, read the blogs and newsletters, attend information meetings at conferences. Ask questions. Where do you fit?
  • Consider the season of your life. What do you need right now? When my children were small, I did not volunteer in library associations; I sold hot dogs at the little league concession stand and was a stage mom for a community ballet school.
  • Start by doing something, anything! Offer to fix something that needs to be fixed. Others will notice your initiative.
  • Start conversations with visible volunteers about their work in the association. Find out what motivates them. Ask them how they got started. They will be honored by your attention and interest. Most likely, they will introduce you to other active members or suggest specific activities for you to investigate
  • When someone asks you to do something, say YES. It will help make the world a little better, and it could change your life. When Nancy Silcox, president-elect of the Virginia Educational Media Association (now Virginia Association of School Librarians) asked me to chair the conference luncheon in 2005, I had no idea that first step would lead me to be president of AASL. Through my volunteer journey, I have gained confidence, made friends, improved my craft, and had incredible opportunities to make my corner of the world a little bit better.

Satisfaction in volunteering comes from congruence between the organization, its mission and goals, and the volunteer’s own needs. An organization that is clear about its goals, offers different kinds of opportunities, looks after the social needs of its members, and celebrates contributions provides a place where volunteers feel comfortable taking a role.

Works Cited:

Grimm, Jr., Robert T., and Nathan Dietz. 2018. “Where Are America’s Volunteers? A Look at American’s Widespread Decline in Volunteering in Cities and States.” Research Brief: Do Good Institute, University of Maryland. https://dogood.umd.edu/research-impact/publications/where-are-americas-volunteers (accessed 5/12/2020).

U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2016. “Volunteering in the United States – 2015.” USDL-16-0363. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/volun.pdf (accessed 5/12/2020).

Author: Mary Keeling



Categories: Community, Presidential Musings

Tags: , , ,

1 reply

  1. I very much appreciate organizations that provide a collective voice for important actions; AASL is the strongest voice for school librarians. Taking your turn matters and I totally agree with your description of the personal side of volunteering: “Through my volunteer journey, I have gained confidence, made friends, improved my craft, and had incredible opportunities to make my corner of the world a little bit better.”

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