Further Questions: Does Volunteering Help a Candidate’s Chances?

This week I asked people who hire librarians to talk to me about volunteering and internships.  My question was:

What kinds of volunteer or internship experiences (if any) help a candidate’s chances with you and your organization?

Terry Ann LawlerAny! Really.  So few people bother to volunteer or intern and it is a huge mistake. I look at that as real world job experience and, depending on the duties, just as good as any paying library job on a resume.
 So, if you are unemployed, or underemployed, consider working a few hours a week for free.  You’ll develop experience, contacts and professional relationships that pay off.  I have, for example, helped volunteers and interns with resumes, recommendations, and passed along inside info on job openings.  You get a lot more than you realize for those ‘free’ hours you put in.
– Terry Lawler, Assistant Manager and Children’s Librarian, Palo Verde Branch, Phoenix Public Library
Colleen HarrisAnything that you can leverage into listing as experience in technology, teaching, information management, or customer service will help. If you’ve volunteered by designing websites, flash-mob cataloged a local collection for a church or other agency, or even taught free workshops on something at your local public library, you might be able to use it.  Most importantly, what you need to do is be able to either (a) relate it to the required and preferred/desired qualifications posted for the position, or (b) relate it to something you know about my library and/or University that demonstrates how it makes you a good match for us. Listing a volunteer or internship experience alone wont help you much, it’s the connectivity factor that will make it or break it as useful to you.
– Colleen  S. Harris, Head of Access Services & Assistant Professor, Lupton Library,University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Many library schools fail to provide field work experience. Volunteering is a way to fill in that gap, as well as a source of references.
– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

We do not have any volunteer or unpaid internship experiences/positions available.

I like to see a commitment to service in the community, in general, as I think it is important to contribute to the community in a  positive way. Sadly, I cannot make that the most important criteria on which I base hiring decisions. Being a good person is important, but showing up, being cheerful, doing the work without complaint and being committed to excellent customer service are the most important when I am hiring someone.

If a candidate has an extraordinary volunteer position that could be considered a job, they should put it in the job category of their resume.

– Jaye Lapachet, Manager of Library Services, Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass LLP

Photo of Daveta CooperAlmost any volunteer experience or internship is helpful, especially for entry-level candidates or those who are coming back to the profession after an absence. What a candidate has done in their free time, or in pursuit of professional development, says a lot about them. Someone who has chosen to work for the benefit of the community or intern at an organization to learn new skills is probably a better coworker and employee than someone who has not done so.
– Daveta Cooper, Library Manager,Technical Services, Benicia Public Library
Thanks as always to our hiring librarians for answering this week’s question!
If you have an opinion to share, the comments are open.  If you are also someone who hires librarians and are interested in being a regular participant in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.com.
Thanks for reading!


Filed under Academic, Further Questions, Other Organization or Library Type, Public

4 responses to “Further Questions: Does Volunteering Help a Candidate’s Chances?

  1. Lindzy

    Not that it’s exactly a library. But, we’ve structured in-depth volunteer/ internships for our science education programs (volunteer 10hrs/week for the school year). This year 4 out of 6 of our interns have gone on to get jobs in the field. The two that didn’t are mainly because they decided they were interested in a slightly different career path. Regardless, those two have whole projects to show to potential employers of how hard they have worked.


  2. This is good to hear. I volunteered because I enjoy the work and I’m nicer to be around if I can do work I enjoy for at least a few hours a week. I read online a lot of conflicting opinions about whether volunteering would help my job chances. What I sussed out was that people who don’t hire think any library experience is helpful; people who do hire only count volunteer experience if the person is doing something “cool,” like building websites.

    I knew I wanted to do more than shelve books as a volunteer, so I talked about that to my volunteer supervisors. After I got used to the place, I looked around and suggested projects for me to do that would require little time from the regular staff. I never designed a website or cataloged the board games or other fancy volunteer work, but I did get to do some things I hadn’t done before and found some things that I do or don’t enjoy. I also got to read professional journals that I couldn’t afford the subscription and got current references in the field. Whether or not volunteering is beneficial in a job search, I think depends on the hiring manager and how you present your experience, but it is more than worth it personally.


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