Joint BayNet and Northern California & Nevada Medical Library Group Tour and Program (NCNMLG)

by Michelle Howard

February 1, 2012 found approximately 35 librarians from around the Bay Area meeting at the 2 year old Stanford Health Library at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, for a combination tour, reception and program on Using Volunteers Effectively: Issues and Opportunities.

The five Stanford Health Library librarians offered the audience an overview of the history and services of their nonprofit health library system.  These libraries are funded by the Stanford Hospital to provide service not just to Stanford patients, but to the public at large.  In addition to their five library facilities, the Stanford Health Library is in the process of revamping its extensive Web site of evidence-based health information.  This library represents a unique and valuable health information resource available to us all not just in California but around the world.

Following a short reception (generously provided by the Stanford team), Tamera LeBeau, Assistant Director of Livermore Public Library, moderated the panel discussing the use of volunteers in libraries.  Panel participants were Nancy Dickenson, librarian at the Stanford Health Library; Jenifer Shurson, Associate Human Resources Analyst at Berkeley Public Library; Karen Schneider, Director of Library Services for Cushing Library at Holy Names University in Oakland and Peter Doering, Supervisor Media Services for the Santa Clara County Office  of Education.

Each presenter offered a unique perspective on how to best work with volunteers in their particular library organization and some of the challenges that come with managing such a unique “workforce”.   At Stanford Health Library, the more than 80 volunteers are viewed as an important resource in providing health information services.  Volunteers come from all walks of life, including retired doctors, librarians and scientists, and range in age from 25-80.  Volunteers are trained by the library staff to conduct reference interviews and do research.  Volunteers commit to at least one year of service.  Many of their volunteers have been with Stanford Health Library for years, leading to a strong family feeling among the volunteers and library staff.

Berkeley requires a 6 month commitment and they accept along with adults, high school students.  There is a common intake process (application) and no applicant is processed without successful completion of a reference check. For security reasons all volunteers must wear badges and are listed on the master roster of staff.  Berkeley provides their volunteers with an annual appreciation event in addition to thank you gifts, like coffee mugs, tote bags etc. to show the library’s appreciation of their commitment.  One of the biggest challenges has been to find better/ more interesting assignments for volunteers, so they don’t burnout as quickly.  Since Berkeley Public is a union shop, certain tasks are not open to the volunteer pool.  They have recently brought on a volunteer to assist the Volunteer Coordinator to shorten turn-around time on candidate processing, assist in the development of new assignments and generally finding better ways to manage the volunteers.

Holy Names University uses volunteers mostly for short-term special projects that the regular library staff has neither the time or nor resources to pursue.  They don’t use volunteers in any public facing positions – only for back office assignments.  Recent project included the cataloging a vast collection of K-12 textbooks that had been languishing for decades.  Volunteers include library school students who are looking for internship opportunities.  The student interns get the library experience and references they need, and in turn the Holy Names gets special projects completed in a timely fashion.  Karen Schneider also spoke about her previous experience overseeing and supervising the pool of volunteer librarians who wrote content for The Librarian’s Index to the Internet.  This mostly all volunteer project was in part highly successful because each contributor was able to include their initials at the end of their index entry.  This gave the volunteers a sense of pride and recognition for their individual efforts.

The last speaker Peter Doering described how Santa Clara County School District has seen overall a steady decline of credentialed librarians first in the elementary and middle schools and now even in the high schools.  Here the challenge isn’t over how the library staff can supervise and utilize volunteers but rather the trend of hiring part-time classified help instead of professional library staff in their local schools.  The classified staff while eager to help doesn’t always have the skills or experience to run an effective school library.  The decision facing Santa Clara schools is either often between closing a school library all together or relying on these classified positions to run the library.  In the wealthier school districts, volunteers are plentiful while in the lower income areas volunteers are harder to come by, leading to an even greater decline in availability of library services.

Following the four presentations, questions were raised about privacy issues for library patrons working with volunteers; the differences between library school interns and volunteers and what are the discretionary jobs that volunteers can do versus the mission critical task performed by librarians.   All excellent questions that we librarians will continue to be discussing for the foreseeable future.

On behalf of BayNet we want to thank all our presenters and the staff of the Stanford Health Library.


Bibliotecas Para La Gente Fundraiser and The Big Read Panel Discussion

by Mildred Arencibia

On a recent rainy afternoon with winds that threaten to lift buildings, I attended the Bibliotecas Para La Gente Fundraiser and The Big Read Panel Discussion. BPLG is the Northern California chapter of REFORMA, the National Organization to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking. Truth be told, I debated between leaving the house in such perilous weather and staying curled up in bed sipping hot chocolate and consuming trays of cookies. Fortunately, common sense won and I set off to meet the BPLG folks.

Driving miles to get to the San Leandro Public Library, where the event was taking place, was no easy feat but I made it safe and sound in spite of the hurricane-like conditions and the hysterical drivers. On this Saturday afternoon the library was full of people, and they were not even there for this particular event! It is great to see patrons taking advantage of the great library services we offer throughout the Bay Area.

The event started with the fundraiser dinner to benefit BPLG during which attendees enjoyed a Mexican inspired feast and got to mingle with librarians and teachers from all over the Northern California region.  It has been said before: there is no better way to get involved in interesting projects, make friends, and even get jobs than networking within this great community. Three hours into the event and I was ready to call it a night, foreseeing a long commute home with, let’s face it, my less than ideal 20/20 vision. Again, reason prevailed and I stayed. Also because I didn’t have anything else to do.

The next portion of the evening was sponsored by The Big Read, a fantastic program from the National Endowment for the Arts, whose mission is to inspire people across the country to pick up a good book. On that afternoon, they would have a panel discussion to discuss the book Sun, stone and shadows, a compilation of Mexican short stories, edited by Jorge F. Hernández.

The members of the panel were composed of several Spanish Language Services librarians and the editor of the book. For the next two hours we were treated to an enlightening discussion about the panel members’ favorite short stories.

Mr. Hernández guided the talk expertly threading narrative and jokes and patiently answering the many questions the audience had. One of the librarians even started her talk by bursting into a song that caused the audience to erupt into enthusiastic applause. That’s what I call entertainment!