All Library locations will be CLOSED today in observance of the Memorial Day holiday.

Notification

“Today I had fun, I got creative, I made an impact, I shared my time, I joined a team.” 

The quote, printed on a sticker, circles a V for “Volunteer” and the words, “I volunteered at The Library today!” 

The stickers, made exclusively for Library volunteers, are one way The Library is celebrating National Volunteer Month in April 2024. These let volunteers know they are essential for a fully functioning Library system. 

“Our goal is to make each volunteer feel special and to let them know I appreciate everything they do, and that staff appreciates everything they do,” said Volunteer Coordinator Brenda Fernsler. 

Throughout America, volunteers help make their communities vibrant and dynamic. The Library tries each year to make National Volunteer Month a time to spotlight its volunteers and their indispensable services. 

Fernsler counts about 110 volunteers on her roster, but each is more than a number to her and the staff they support. Often, they are retirees or teens who feel a kinship with libraries. The Library gives them meaningful tasks that respect their time and talents. 

“Every one of our volunteers loves reading, and everyone wants to be a part of The Library,” said Fernsler. “They always comment on how comfortable they feel with our staff and how it’s a good place to be. I think that’s why a lot of people want to be here.” 

Barb Ewell has volunteered at East Shore Area Library for about 10 years. Every Tuesday and Friday afternoon, she unloads the book drops, checks books and other items back in for circulation, and reshelves them. The stream of books, CDs, movies, and other borrowed items is endless, and Ewell knows that performing her time-consuming tasks frees the staff for direct service, helping visitors with their unique needs. 

“They are overwhelmed with the amount of books coming in,” she said. “When I am there, I am never not busy. You would not believe how many things in a day you put away. They wouldn’t have the time to do this.” 

While National Volunteer Month gives volunteers a special time to shine, The Library’s staff show their gratitude every day of the year. 

“They really appreciate their volunteers,” Ewell said. “They always thank us. They’re glad when you’re there.”  

With The Library’s 351,000+ items in circulation and on shelves, many volunteers play the essential role of making sure that everything is in its place. Like Ewell, they return books to the stacks or even practice what’s called “shelf reading,” when they review shelves for a misplaced book or a magazine that strayed from its assigned spot. 

  • What else do volunteers do, depending on their skills and availability? 
  • Help patrons use computers. 
  • Conduct outreach at public events. 
  • Help set up and run programs inside the Libraries and in the community.  
  • Serve on the Dauphin County Library System board of directors. 

In one annual event that helps young children get a strong start in school, The Library collects the materials for 2,700 back-to-school bookbags for the community’s kindergartners. Through local partnerships, the bags are stuffed by participants from local organizations serving people with special needs.  

But first, all those rulers, crayons, coloring books, Library pamphlets, and other pieces – about 12 to 14 distinct items — must be organized. 

“It’s a massive program, but working with staff and the volunteers, we get it done,” said Fernsler. “I had seven volunteers helping to sort and count and get everything ready to box up and get to our partner organizations.”  

The Library plans to honor volunteers this year with the “Today I had fun” stickers, designed in-house. Every volunteer with more than 20 hours of service also gets a book placed in The Library’s collection in their honor, with their name on a bookplate. A May 11 celebration will thank the volunteers and recognize the winner of the Dottie & Henry Swartz Volunteer Excellence Award. Presented since 2006, the award recognizes the contributions of an outstanding volunteer, chosen by the Library board from staff nominations. 

Anyone interested in volunteering is encouraged to apply. Volunteers must be 14 or older (there’s no age limit. The oldest is 93, and he helps Library visitors use the computers.) Applicants 18 or older must have their Pennsylvania child abuse clearance, Pennsylvania State Police criminal background checks, and, if they have been in Pennsylvania fewer than 10 years, an FBI check.  

“We have the best group of volunteers here,” said Fernsler.  

Ewell returns the compliment. 

“All the staff are great to work with,” she said. “They’re so friendly. It’s a good system. I think our Library’s great. I can’t say enough about them.”