Volunteering at the Public Library – Connections and Realizations

“I cannot live without books,” Thomas Jefferson once said.

Well, I cannot live without books either and a few months ago I started volunteering at the public library book store. The store is managed and staffed by volunteers. We work three-hour shifts and during my shift I feel like I am connecting with people and life. Becoming a library volunteer has reminded me of life’s lessons.

For one thing, I am touched by the generosity of strangers. Thousands of books have been donated to the library book store. In one year alone, the library received more than $124,000 worth of donated books. This is an astonishing total and reflects the generosity of the community.

Volunteering at the book store reminds me that bargain-hunting is fun. The books we sell are deeply discounted and we also have sales. You can get beautiful books for a fraction of the original price. A few weeks ago a man came into the store looking for classics. He was stocking up for a book store he plans to open. “But I won’t sell my favorites! he exclaimed.

When I am working at the store I am glad to see people still love to learn. A man asked me if the store had any books on Java. To me, as someone who is from Long Island, New York, java is coffee, and I scanned the cook book section. Then I asked, “Do you mean Java script?” Yes, that was what he wanted and the store did not have a book about it. I referred him to the main library.

Working at the store has made me realize that people are lonely. Many customers want to stay and chat and I am glad to talk with them. One woman shared stories about her family and talked about her children as if I knew them. She was in the store for more than an hour and seemed reluctant to leave.

Book store and library patronage has increased in these tough economic times. Apparently this is happening all across the country. The Billings, Montana “Gazette” newspaper makes this point in a website article, “Gazette Opinion: Recession Raises the Value of Public Libraries. According to the article, “library usage has risen as job seekers access employment resources online and at public libraries.”

Working at the book store reminds me of the existence of poverty. I put two dollars worth of pennies in the penny dish by the cash register. Minutes later, when I glanced at the dish, the pennies were gone. People also steal books, so volunteers have to be alert. Unemployed people have come in and purchased books with the idea of selling them at a higher price.

The library book store is a microcosm of society: pockets of poverty, the burden of unemployment, need for social contacts, love of learning, and the fun of bargain-hunting. Do you want to make a difference in your community? Contact the public library and ask about volunteer opportunities. Volunteering is fun and you will learn a lot about life.