Offering and Allowing Support
About a week ago (October 1, 2009 to be specific) was "Support Our 'Zines Day" (SOZD). What does that mean? To quote Damien G. Walter (SOZD's creator):
‘zines need support. Professional ‘zines rely on subscriptions to pay their staff and the writers who make the stories. Smaller ‘zines often rely on donations just to cover their costs. But with the speed of life in the 21st Century it can be difficult to remember to renew subsciptions or make donations to the ‘zines who’s work we enjoy.Damien included all sorts of magazine in this, from professional newsstand magazines Asimov's and F&SF down to smaller specialty publications like Shimmer and Sybil's Garage to DIY bare bones projects like Kaleidotrope and Brain Harvest. Damien is a big proponent of short fiction. In addition to being a writer, he writes about short fiction and science fiction for The Guardian.
I, being the editor of a Hugo Award winning zine, thought this was a great idea. And while subscriptions and renewals and monetary donations are great, that's not something everyone can do, so I suggested people could even just send them a note to say, "Hey, I like what you're doing!"
Even better, my assistant editor suggested that you could volunteer to help. I really like this idea. Who couldn't use some help? And with the way things work online these days, there are a of ways you could help a favorite magazine/zine even if you don't live near them (one of my submission readers lives in New Zealand, and we've never met face-to-face).
The more I thought about it, I wondered how easy it would be to volunteer for someone. I suspect many places do not have any plan in place on how to handle volunteers. In fact, I think that many places would actually be resistant to volunteers because of the work involved in finding them work/teaching them what to do. And how disappointing would that be, to volunteer to help and be told no? Many professional workplaces have limited to no ability to allow people to volunteer for them.
What about libraries? I constantly hear/read about how librarians are over-worked. How easy is it for someone to volunteer at your library? The public library I work at has a page on their website about volunteering. They even have someone on staff who is there to take care of volunteer requests. All the same, there's probably only a small set of jobs that pre-exist for volunteers to do and I don't know how much flexibility the staff person has in creating new work.
Volunteering has two sides to it. The volunteer, in a best-case scenario, should come with a clear idea of the type of work they hope to do. This way, even if they can't do exactly what they'd like to do (i.e., answer questions at the reference desk) you can devise something they can do. This is true for any industry. Let's say you wanted to help a magazine. Don't go to them saying "What can I do?" since they may not have an answer. Go to them saying "I'd like to help with X" and see what they can do to make that happen.
On the library's side, in addition to having a basic set of volunteer opportunities, try to think of other things you've got going on that volunteers could accomplish for you. Switching to RFID tags? Moving your website to a new template/platform? Need to do inventory or shelf-reading? Are your reader's advisories out-of-date or need more copies made? How about your vertical files?
Yes, some of these jobs are, let's say, not glamorous, but they need to be done, and you can talk to the person afterwards to see what they thought of the work. They might be able to better elaborate on what they want to do for the library, and you will have a better sense what this person is capable of.