The Value of Volunteers – starting a volunteer program in an NHS Library

HLG Nursing Bulletin Vol 35 (2)

Sarah Hennessy

Co-Chair, Health Libraries Group

The Trust in which I work has a very strong volunteer presence where individuals freely give their time to support both service users and their carers. They support services such as Befriending, the Museum, Expert Patient Programme, the Café, Recovery Colleges and various other services throughout the Trust.

It was working with a local Recovery College, where I co-facilitate a Reading for Recovery course with a volunteer, which first gave me the idea to pursue the idea of seeking a volunteer to help out in the Library.

I started researching the notion of volunteers in libraries to see if this was a common occurrence and what people’s experience was. I found that the main areas of concern were absenteeism, assessing whether the volunteer was well enough and the additional time in training someone to carry out certain duties.

Having then spoken to a number of people in the Trust who had been working with volunteers for some time, I was encouraged to hear that the benefits seemed to outweigh the potential risks, and that their volunteers were considered extremely valuable members of their teams.

Some people use the opportunity of volunteering to help them get back into paid employment, others are seeking some structure to their time and to feel useful. Many report that volunteering has helped them to gain confidence, and that they’ve enjoyed the experience.

I started work designing a profile for a Library Volunteer, being careful to ensure that the tasks were to enhance the service being offered by the Library, rather than to replace any specific tasks in an existing job description. It therefore started off fairly broad, and a little bit vague, including such tasks as helping to keep the library organised, with the expected shelving and tidying elements.

The opportunity soon received some interest and I’m pleased to say that having ‘interviewed’ (it was more of an informal chat to try to get to know them) two potential volunteers they are now going through the fairly lengthy process of becoming an official volunteer.

We are very lucky that we have a dedicated volunteer team within the Trust who handle all of the necessary paperwork, such as risk assessments, occupational health checks, DBS and reference checks, etc. and it is hoped that my two volunteers will be in place by February.

I will be their Placement Supervisor and am hoping to find them some interesting tasks which will both support the library services and also allow them to grow in confidence and skills. Once the program is up and running, I will aim to write again to share my experiences with the volunteer role having been established.

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