Tag Archives: volunteers

Frequently Asked Questions about Library Volunteering

Last month, we celebrated both National Library Week and National Volunteer Week.  The fact that these two national celebrations always coincide is apropos; I always say “If the library is doing it, volunteers probably do it, too.”

Talking up our volunteers’ accomplishments is one of my favorite things to do, but I realize that there are still a lot of misconceptions about volunteering in general and volunteering for the library in particular, so I thought I’d use a blog post to address them all at once.

Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions I get about Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh volunteers.

How many volunteers does CLP have?

According to our official stats, in 2015, 1,428 volunteers contributed 36,717 hours. That’s an in-kind value of more than $850,000.  About 400 volunteers are active in any given month.

So, do volunteers just shelve books?

Shelving, cleaning and shifting books is important work, and volunteers do help with that sometimes, but make no mistake, it’s far from our primary volunteer role. In fact, we’ve had to turn volunteers away who want to shelve books when we don’t have shelving work available!

Andrew Card-negie

You can even volunteer to be Andrew Card-negie. Seriously.

Volunteers at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh teach global language classes, record audiobooks for visually impaired patrons,  spend hours each week reading with young children, plan special events,  promote library programs and services, facilitate book clubs and lots, lots more.  Look around at all the cool things happening in your neighborhood library — there’s a chance that volunteers can get involved.

Level with  me, are all library volunteers old ladies?

First of all, old ladies are awesome and do really meaningful work to support our community. Secondly, no! We are lucky enough to have support from volunteers of all ages.  One of the things that’s great about the Library is that it’s a meeting place for lots of different folks, and that’s reflected in our volunteer demographics.

We try hard to structure volunteer roles so that there’s a variety. For people who are retired or who have flexible work schedules, we do need daytime help. For people who are busy and would prefer to have evening or weekend options, we’ve got that too.  We even have special opportunities just for teens.  For people who aren’t able, for whatever reason, to make an ongoing commitment, we have one-time and occasional chances to help out with a special program or event.

Bottom line? If you’ve counted yourself out because you think volunteers are one “type” of person, reconsider!

Can I complete a required number of volunteer hours?

Maybe! We do provide lots of opportunities to volunteers who are looking to complete required community service hours, whether they are mandated by school, court, a scouting organization, a religious group or some other entity. We do, however, have to work with realistic time constraints, and sometimes we just don’t have the work available. I always suggest checking out VolunteerMatch.org or PittsburghCares.org as a way to find an opportunity that works with your schedule and deadline. It’s always good to get started on hours as soon as possible — volunteer roles might be more limited than you imagine!


Volunteers from AmeriCorps and Gamma Sigma Sigma (University of Pittsburgh) volunteering in April 2016

Can my group volunteer at the library?

Maybe! It depends on your group size and how flexible you are with your date and volunteering location. We don’t like to make up “busy work” for volunteers, but we are thrilled to have groups help when we have projects, which is often. We have quite a few opportunities for groups to volunteer this summer, so get in touch at 412-622-3168 or volunteers@carnegielibrary.org.

What is the “Friends of the Library” and how is that different from a Volunteer?

The Friends of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is actually a separate, all-volunteer nonprofit organization whose primary focus is fundraising and supporting Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh locations.  All “Friends” are volunteers, but not all volunteers are “Friends.”

If you’d be interested in volunteering to fundraise through book sales or other events and projects, contact Volunteer Services or ask a librarian at your neighborhood library whether that location has it’s own Friends group.

I have a great idea for a class or program I’d like to facilitate at the library! How can I make that happen?

We are thoughtful about adding new programs to our libraries — trying to make sure we balance the needs and wants of our communities with the resources we have available, including space and staff time.  If you’d like to go through the application process, contact the Office of Programs & Partnerships at 412-924-0063  x. 1411 or at  programsandpartnerships@carnegielibrary.org.

Ok, so how do I start volunteering?

The easiest thing to do is fill out a volunteer application form or apply directly to an open volunteer position. If you’d like to talk over your options or you have more questions, get in touch at 412-622-3168 or volunteers@carnegielibrary.org.

Thanks for your support!



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How the Library helped me be a better Big Sister

Volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters has been a big part of my life for years. I was “matched” with my first “Little” right out of college, and we were matched for two years until her family moved out of state.  A few years later, I decided to sign up again, and I’ve been a Big Sis to Lindalee for nearly two years. Spending time with her twice per month is definitely a highlight for me.


Original artwork by Lindalee

Together, we’re into dog walking, cupcake making, car singalongs and bowling; and of course, chatting about our lives, talking about school (Linda is very into Accelerated Reader and multiplication these days) and generally having a good time.

Big Brothers Big Sisters does a great job of hooking up volunteers with resources they need, and even gives tickets to events on occasion, but even so, it can sometimes be a challenge to keep our activities new and fresh (especially in bad weather when we can’t really go outside). Enter: the Library.

One of the easiest things to do when I’m not sure what to plan for an outing is to pull up the library website or app and check on which locations have something going on that my lil’ sis is interested in. We’ve visited a number of different libraries this way, and it’s great! Lego club, maker programs and sensory story time have all been favorites. After we’re done, we read some books and spend time playing games together on the computer (and we once spent nearly 45 minutes googling pictures of baby bats — surprisingly adorable). It’s been really convenient that Linda doesn’t need her own library card to use a computer, so we’re able to explore no matter where we go.

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Lindalee drew this after a attending a bug-themed Story time at the Main library. Afterwards, we played with lots of toys and she used fun-smelling markers on this colorful creation.

The library also helps out when we go on long drives. Because my Little Sis lives about 45 minutes away from me, it can be a haul to get to some of the activities we enjoy.  When I know we’ll  be in the car for a long time, I pick up some of her go-tos like Diary of Wimpy Kid or Dork Diaries, or even just some fun, short picture books to keep her (and I) amused while she reads out loud during the ride. (A recent favorite was I Love Dogs.)

As Linda has gotten more interested in baking and cooking with me, I’ll grab some cookbooks, and we’ll look through them together, read the recipes, shop for ingredients and make some delicious treats. (She also enjoys browsing cookbooks in the car, too.) Recent cookbooks we’ve chosen include  The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook, Smart Cookie and Baking with Kids.

Finally, although Big Brothers Big Sisters does check in with me to make sure everything is going okay, it’s also nice to know I can grab some books on mentoring, how to navigate conversations, or even how to come up with new activities. (I’ve found that browsing parenting books can be useful for mentors, too!)  Here are a few titles that look good to me — I’d love to hear any recommendations anyone has!

p.s. if you live in Pittsburgh and you’re interested in getting involved, Big Brothers Big Sisters is always looking for new mentors. You can get started here.





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You’ve got a Friend in Me: Reading Buddies at the Library

This summer, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh launched a brand-new volunteer program called Reading Buddies. The program was developed out of an initiative called Hazelwood Reads Together, and here’s the gist: trained volunteers are stationed in the library to read to and interact with kids, one on one or in small groups.

We know that kids succeed when they read, and that having a caring mentor doing the reading can be a big part of helping children develop a long-lasting love of books and reading. What we were also happy to discover is that volunteers love the experience, too.


Reading together at CLP – Hazelwood

One volunteer, Maddie, explains it like this: “I decided to become a Reading Buddies volunteer because I was working full time at a job that I was getting nothing out of … I decided to check out the library’s website and see if any volunteer opportunities were available. I saw the Reading Buddies post and was instantly drawn to it. I have always loved working with kids and I knew I would be a good fit. It became the highlight of my work weeks. My day would go faster knowing I was going to leave work and do something I actually enjoyed while giving back at the same time.”

Another volunteer, Sally, agrees: “The kids love to read, create puzzles and create stories … It’s nice to give all of the kids attention that takes them away from the computers.  The kids are appreciative of the time and I appreciate the opportunity to engage with them in a fun, relaxed way. Reading Buddies is enjoyable for everyone. ”

Besides having the opportunity to give back by encouraging youth literacy, volunteering to read with kids helped some volunteers reflect on mentors who played a role in their own learning.

“My fourth grade teacher used to read my class a chapter of a book at the end of each day. He almost always picked one of Roald Dahl‘s books,” Maddie remembers. “I was always a pretty big reader, but when I started hearing these stories I was hooked. I still think of that teacher today when I see someone reading a Dahl book or see the old copies on my book shelf. I think of how my teacher did a great job of picking books our class would connect with, and I try to do that as a Reading Buddy.”


A kiddo relaxes in the reading nook at CLP – Hazelwood

Adrienne, a Reading Buddy and a twenty-year veteran of teaching, recalls: “As a child, I always enjoyed being read to or reading with someone.  Some of my favorite books were: Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein,  the Dr. Seuss books, the Paddington series by Michael Bond, The Box Car Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner and books by Judy Blume.”

Since June, twelve Reading Buddies volunteers have spent more than 150 hours volunteering to support early literacy at CLP – Hazelwood.  As library staff, we appreciate and recognize the dedication of those who give their time and talents to support young minds in this way.

We’re currently recruiting Reading Buddies volunteers for three different Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh locations:  Hazelwood, Hill District and Sheraden. If you’re interested, you can apply online or contact us for more information.



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“You Want to Learn? Come!” – On Volunteering at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

Did you know that April 12-18 is not only National Library Week, but it’s also National Volunteer Week? This bit of serendipity makes perfect sense to us, because the volunteers who help out in various roles across our system are such a big part of what makes the Library a special place.

One set of amazing volunteers are the folks who dedicate their time to narrating, recording, and editing audio books for the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. We sat down with volunteers Russ Kuba, Sister Jeremy Mahla, and Joe Farinacci to shine a spotlight on the special work they do.

Some background info: The Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped loans recorded books and magazines, equipment to play the recordings, large print books, and described videos to patrons with visual or physical impairments. Many of the audio books we loan out are provided by the National Library Service, and are basically the same audio books available in the general Library collection. These volunteers, however, record and edit audio books based on local interest that might not be otherwise available in audio format; all the books they work on have some connection to Western Pennsylvania.

photo of volunteer Russ Kuba

Russ’s favorite thing about volunteering at the Library is learning something new!

What do you do at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped?

Sister Jeremy: I’m mostly an editor and I’ve been doing that for more than four years. I mostly fix up mistakes made in the recording process.

Russ: Mostly editing and monitoring recording, reading in braille. [Because I am visually impaired] I use special editing software that allows me to edit book computer files based on audio cues instead of visual cues. I’m all self-taught on using the software.

Joe:  I started as a narrator, but I do recording monitoring too.  I always say ‘What you need!’. If you need me, I’ll stay here as long as you’ll have me.

Why do you volunteer? What keeps you coming in?

Sister Jeremy: I enjoy it! I especially enjoy working with the people here and working with computers. It’s a very real learning experience. I always tell people ‘You want to learn? Come!’

Russ: I’ve been a patron here my whole life and I wanted to help others. It’s in my genes – my mother was a school librarian and I lived across the street from a library.  Maybe it’s a love of learning, but there’s always something new and interesting. The camaraderie is good and everyone gets along.

Joe:  I knew someone who was volunteering here and I had some experience with sound recording, plus my wife is slightly visually impaired and listens to audio books. I thought I would give it a try, and I loved it. I feel like I’m helping, plus I love the process. It’s an awesome service and a fantastic place to volunteer.

What’s your favorite book you have worked on?

Sister Jeremy:  One thing that’s fun about this work is you get to hear all different stories – all different kinds! I even worked on a book written by someone I went to school with.

Russ: Two great ones were Hatchet and Plow and Steel Ghosts.

Joe:  Hemlock Grove was a good story, and it was a fun challenge to do the different voices. I also liked Behind the Stage Door, which is about concert promoter Rich Engler. There’s all kinds of stories about concerts in Pittsburgh, including Joe Cocker, Paul McCartney, George Carlin, and Jimmy Buffett.

(Note: These special, volunteer-produced audio books are only available to LBPH patrons, so the links in this blog post will go to print copies in the general collection. If you or someone you know might qualify for service through LBPH, please call 412.687.2440.)

After our chat, Joe was kind enough to let us film him for a behind-the-scenes look at the recording process:

As a part of National Volunteer Week, we’re hosting tours and a service project at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Feel free to sign up if you’re interested in learning more about this extraordinary Library!



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Most Likely To…

As an institution serving a wide range of people, neighborhoods, and interests, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is lucky to have the support of a diverse group of community members and organizations alike. Some of these supporters are nominated by library staff (or other advocates!) to receive our annual Community Advocate Award. We wish we could give each and every nominee an award, but because there can only be one, we decided to use this post to give some honorary superlative awards in order to highlight contributions that have been made to CLP in the last year. If you want to wish these advocates well or see who was selected as the Advocate of the Year, you’re welcome to attend the Library’s Annual Public Meeting at CLP-Squirrel Hill on March 31 at 6:30 p.m.

Advocate of the Year Nominees:

Name: Rebecca Altes
Honorary Award: Library BFF
How they’ve contributed: A long-time member of the Friends of CLP-Lawrenceville, this Vice President of the Friends Council and member of the External Relations Committee of the Board of Trustees can always be counted on to work tirelessly to ensure library access for all.

Andrea Coleman-Betts is a fixture at CLP-Hazelwood.

Andrea Coleman-Betts is a fixture at CLP-Hazelwood.

Name: Andrea Coleman-Betts
Honorary Award: World’s Greatest Grandma
How they’ve contributed: When Andrea Coleman-Betts saw a need for a grandparents support group, she didn’t sit around and wait, she started one at CLP-Hazelwood. Andrea’s nominator put it best: “When CLP-Hazelwood needs community support, we reach out to Andrea; when Andrea needs resources, she finds them at CLP-Hazelwood”

Name: Jennifer Duffy
Honorary Award: Library Super Mom
How they’ve contributed: Jennifer is an online advocate, a supporter of CLP, and a cheerleader for other parents who want to make sure their children utilize the library’s resources to the fullest extent possible.

Name: David Hills
Honorary Award: Shelving Machine
How they’ve contributed: David volunteers twice-per-week at CLP-Squirrel Hill and makes such an impact that he’s been described more than once as a “shelving machine.” His attention to detail and dedication to the Library has made him an invaluable part of the team.

Name: Michael Janakis
Honorary Award: Most Likely to Know About Advocacy Options
How they’ve contributed: An active member of the Library Outreach and Community Advocacy Leaders (LOCAL) team, Michael is always ready to volunteer for an outreach event or to tell his teammates about advocacy initiatives through the American Library Association or the Pennsylvania Library Association. He’s also a devotee of CLP-Hill District! His nominator described him as “one of the most passionate library advocates I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting!”

Name: Julia Jordan
Honorary Award: Children’s Reading Advocate
How they’ve contributed: Julia is a power volunteer who helps out at CLP and the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank. Julia’s been known to get more than 100 books prepped and ready for the shelves in one afternoon of volunteering at the Children’s Department at CLP-Main.

Name: John B. McNulty
Honorary Award: Biggest History Buff
How they’ve contributed: As the president of the West End History Club and a member of the Friends of CLP-West End, John recognizes community in the library. He believes in the importance of libraries and through his tireless advocacy, he has helped to expand the scope of CLP-West End’s renovation so that it will remain an anchor in the West Pittsburgh community for years to come.

Emily MacIntyre poses with a homemade bobblehead at CLP-Carrick

Emily MacIntyre poses with a homemade bobblehead at CLP-Carrick.

Name: Emily MacIntyre
Honorary Award: Most Likely to DIY
How they’ve contributed: Emily is an invaluable presence within teen programming ant CLP-Carrick. A talented and creative person, Emily has helped with everything from redesigning the teen space, co-directing a teen movie project, leading designing work on the annual haunted house, teaching knitting to an inter-generational audience, and more!

Name: Amosizinna Scott
Honorary Award: Homewood Hero
How they’ve contributed: Amosizinna has been an outspoken supporter of the Library, is an active in the community, and constantly draws attention to the Library in community meetings. Her second honorary award might be “Most Likely to bring Cake,”  because we all look forward to the treats she contributes to events.

Name: Michael Smilaek
Honorary Award: Most Likely to Support Pittsburgh Veterans
How they’ve contributed: Mike’s taken his extensive career in technology and funneled his skills into providing outreach at Veterans Place alongside CLP librarians. He’s become a necessary piece of the puzzle of providing needed skills to local homeless veterans, empowering them to move forward.

You know how actors always claim it’s an honor just to be nominated? Truly, it’s an honor that we have so many people to nominate. Thanks to these Advocate of the Year nominees and everyone else who adds their voice to the chorus of Library supporters in Pittsburgh.



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Stuff We Like 2014: CLP Volunteers Edition

Between helping out with special events and programs, teaching global language classes, mentoring teens, and doing community outreach, CLP volunteers squeeze in time for their first love – checking things out from the Library! Here’s a selection of 2014 favorites from a few of our great volunteers:


The Secret Keeper is the only book I have ever read the second time. The ending was so mortonsurprising and shocking that I wanted to look for clues the second time around to see if I could figure out what would happen. The story takes place over more than 50 years beginning before World War II in England. The relationship of the key characters in the story is intriguing, and amazing how it all comes together at the conclusion. I highly recommend this book and this author. The Forgotten Garden, also written by Kate Morton, is another great book!


martianOne of my favorite books of 2014 is Andy Weir’s debut, The Martian. It’s like if Castaway was set on Mars, and Wilson was a potato. It was selected by another member of my SciFi Fantasy book club, and I was honestly dreading reading it.

Survival fiction generally isn’t my cup of tea, but this was engagingly plotted and the main character is impossible not to root for. There’s a great balance between humor and suspense, and everything that happens comes across very believably. If you like audiobooks, this one is superbly narrated by RC Bray. It’s also been nominated for an Audie Award, and won the GoodReads Choice Award in the Science Fiction category. Read it before the movie comes out in 2015!


One of my favorite things about the library is that it lets you indulge many of the pleasant obsessions you may find yourself having over the duration of your life. For the past several years I have almost exclusively read memoirs and biographies, mostly of your average person who may have had a not-so-average life.

An impoverished descendant of John Jacob Astor? Yes, please!

Growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution? Sign me up.

Britain’s oldest living nanny? I’ll take it.

Memoir of a Peace Corps Volunteer? Definitely.

As another year of reading about the lives of others comes to a close, I’ve looked back over lastgentlemanthose I read about. My favorite of the year just may be The Last Gentleman Adventurer: Coming of Age in the Arctic by Edward Maurice. It was a cozy tale including all my favorite things: immersion in a new and unfamiliar culture, an exotic locale, and superb writing. This book, written by the author in old age, is about his years spent working at a fur trading post for the Hudson Bay Company beginning when he was 16. He was stationed in the northern reaches of Canada on Baffin Island in the 1930’s and lived among the Inuit people (whom he calls Eskimos). If you’re looking for a good book to curl up with this winter – and something to remind you that, yes, the weather outside could be worse – try this!


If you’d like to learn more about volunteering with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, click here. If you speak Italian, German, or Spanish we could really use your help right now, but there are many other volunteer opportunities to choose from, too–a little something for everybody. Volunteers play a key role in helping the Library fulfill its mission to engage the community in literacy and learning! And as you can tell from the book reviews above, you would be in great company.


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