ASSOCIATES (vol. 8 no. 3, March 2002) -

*Blooming Where We're Planted:
Library "Ambassadors" Volunteering in Our Communities*


Rita Gibson
Access Services Coordinator
State Law Library of Montana
Helena, MT

We library employees can no longer afford to stay within our library's walls. The information explosion has rendered it necessary that we share ourselves, and our gifts, abilities and interests locally in order to accomplish the challenge of the phrase: "Think globally, act locally." In order to insure that we continue to have jobs in our field, we must continually prove to our communities, who most likely fund our libraries, that they still have need of us in spite of the Internet. In order to insure that we keep folks coming "in" to the library, we must "go out" and share with them the possibilities found within our library walls.

I'm reminded of an article by Laurie Pelayo in the November/December 1997 issue of Library Mosaics entitled "Common Roots, Dual Interests" (pg. 16-17). I felt excitement when I read it for two reasons: 1. because I, too, am a genealogist and 2. because her experience exactly fit my own. Laurie's words: "I feel my 'career' has given me an edge that some people don't necessarily have when they do their research." (Pg. 16) echo my sentiments exactly. I have found myself "accidentally" sharing my knowledge quite a few times with folks with whom I just happened to be chatting with and they find out that I work in a library or am a genealogist I also have a friend who is as deeply a paralibrarian as a genealogist, and she's been an inspiration to me because she's faithful about sharing her genealogy knowledge at library conferences and sharing her library knowledge with genealogists and other patrons visiting her public library. That's what it should be all about: sharing knowledge.

I believe we all possess personal interests, gifts, skills, and talents that we could share with others in our corners of the world if we would recognize them and then not be afraid to share them. The benefits to both the giver and the receiver cannot be measured. The influence we might have with people, especially children, can only be imagined. If we're the sparks, who knows how far the fire will reach! I not only try to share my "discoveries" in my genealogy journey with anyone who's interested, but I've also been sharing my love of books and reading with first grade classes in my daughter's elementary school as a reading volunteer. Because I care about the success of our local Irish dance school, I did enough volunteering that they asked me to be a board member! I'm aware of someone in our state paraprofessional organization who has assisted as an adult literacy volunteer in our local area and another friend who is a professional book preservationist who has also shared her skills and knowledge with others. I've also heard of someone else who has organized a program that gives school credit to junior high and high school age students for reading to local daycare children. There must be many library employees out there who do activities for fun that place them in contact with people who might ask questions about libraries and information once they know they're talking to someone who works in a library. For instance, I do an adult Irish ceili dance group and have sat in on a Swedish language group during lunch once a week. Some of these folks I've come in contact with through these kinds of activities have found it "interesting" that I work in a library, especially the job I currently have (law library). I get folks who say things like: "I know someone who really needs to come down and see if your library can help them. Are you open to the public?" I emphatically reply: "Yes, we are a public library. We serve not only the legal community but all Montana citizens." Most are very surprised and I come away feeling better as an "ambassador" for my library, by not allowing it to be the best kept secret in town.

A short article published in our local newspaper, the Independent Record back in March 2001 talked about a nationwide survey done by Harvard University and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University which concluded that places where people had high civic involvement proved happier than those areas with more money but less community involvement. "'Social capital is really a very strong predictor of individual happiness and quality of life in a community, much more so than financial status," says Robert Putnam, a Harvard professor and lead investigator on the survey.**

As we library employees allow ourselves to become more visible in our communities, we become a constant reminder of all the possibilities for growth and knowledge that can be found, not only within our library walls, but outside them too. The resulting benefits to those whose lives we touch cannot be measured, just as their influence in our lives cannot be either. I remember hearing Kathleen Weibel of Chicago Public Library remind us in her workshop "I Work In a Library, But I'm Not a Librarian,": "The library's best resource goes home every night: it's staff." By sharing, we all win.

**Independent Record, March 1, 2001, page 6B.

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