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Mr. Mustache, another librarian blog

I am a reference librarian with experience in both the public and state government fields. I am doing this on a whim, sort of like the mustache I grew when I was 19 and still have in my 50's.

Name:
Location: New Jersey, United States

I am a state worker and a librarian.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Volunteering 2

We are a nation of volunteers. Volunteers teach adults to read, help senior citizens with their tax forms, deliver groceries to the home-bound and umpire Little League games. Parents with children in school know that they will have to stand in front of the supermarket two Saturdays a year, selling candies in the fall and wreaths in the winter, so their children can have uniforms for soccer and band. The amount of volunteering done in this country is quite impressive.

Soon to be part of every social science lexicon is Mr. Mustache's theorem on volunteering:

The pattern for volunteering is as follows. A small group of people set up a program to volunteer in one way or another. In the beginning all the volunteers are enthusiastic and the roster grows quickly. The people who actually take advantage of the service is relatively small in the beginning so it is a rewarding experience all- around.

Slowly word spreads. People who want to learn English are routed to the new volunteer groups. People who need someone to help them with their taxes are told of this new service. Slowly the group of people who want the service increases.

During this time the amount of volunteers remain stagnant and eventually starts to decline as the volunteers find that more and more demands are put on them and what started out as fun becomes a chore. Parents who sold candies when their older children were in high school feel they have already done their part by the time the baby of the family comes of age. Popular tutors realize they could get paid for what they are doing.

Inevitably, volunteers move, have declining health or have new responsibilities added to their lives and the pool continues to decline. At about this time the media writes about the project and more and more people request help as fewer and few volunteers participate.

The Mr. Mustache theorem on volunteering is that the amount of people wishing to volunteer to perform a service is inversely proportional to the amount of people needing a service. Hence, volunteering can never replace government-funded programs. Volunteering requires novelty. A paid worker will continue to work after the novelty is gone. A volunteer oftentimes does not.

The patron comes up to the Reference desk, ablaze in smiles. "I've been trying to get a tutor to help my aunt from Lithuania with her English for months. Finally my next door neighbor told me that the library offers learn English classes and tutors. And it's all free. I apologize for not coming to you first."

The Reference librarian hates this type of question. Although they had a good tutoring program last year, Jack Sullivan moved to Arizona, Cyndi has coronary thrombosis and Linda Jacqumeir recently got a job at the community college teaching English and has a new boyfriend that takes up all of her free time.


The Librarian raises his/her hands like a bird. All flown away like the birds he/she thinks but does not say. Into the rolodex looking for the usual suspects the fingers fly.

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