A brief international perspective on library volunteering

Dóra Frisch


By systematically selecting international studies on library volunteering published over the last forty years, we sought to answer two main questions. On the one hand, what is the role of volunteering in the world of libraries in the age of rapidly developing information and communication technologies and tools, and what is the effective library volunteer management that meets both the challenges of the present and the motivations of volunteers, while preserving the 'traditional' service and community function of libraries. The 'peculiarity' of today's world is the convergence of revolutionary changes in information and communication technologies and tools and the effects of the economic crisis, which poses a double challenge for libraries. The analysis used a targeted search and a 'snowball methodology', resulting in a review of 30 studies to examine and provide examples of library volunteering in the US, UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and Korea, published between 1984 and 2023. We have focused mainly on analyses describing the practices of urban public libraries and, in researching youth volunteering, university libraries. Our research questions were answered with rather partial answers related to the advantages and the disadvantages, and with good examples in each of the sub-areas. There was general agreement among the authors that library volunteers are a very important human, cultural, and relational resource for libraries. Dilemmas arose in the area of the 'substitution effect' of professional staff versus volunteers, which emerged in the wake of the resource and expenditure cuts of the 1980s and is again topical in the current economic crisis. The benefits of volunteering in libraries and good examples have shown that only well-defined and, differentiated volunteer management methods can maintain the balance in volunteer employment that ensures the library's service and community roles.

Keywords: library volunteering, volunteer management, public libraries, university libraries, international examples, information technology development