Jennifer Barkdull 2017-07-11 15:32:15
The poignant two-part series “Archival Bonds: Love and Friendship in the Archives” in Archival Outlook (November/ December 2016 and January/February 2017) examined various bonds that archivists form with their collections and the individuals who are the subjects of those collections. But the connections don’t stop there. They also include bonds shared between archivists and their volunteers—and it’s never too late to develop better, closer relationships with those volunteers. I work in the Reference and Visitor Services section of the Church History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where I oversee a group of nine volunteers, one contract employee, and two interns. The library holds ecclesiastical records for individual members, and my team responds to an average of 14,000 requests per month from members. We work directly with the public to fulfill requests made online and help our walk-in patrons. I could not meet the needs of our patrons in as timely or effective manner without my volunteers. My team is not only hardworking, but also close knit. We have developed bonds with one another that serve to strengthen us personally as well as professionally. Amid heavy workloads and short deadlines, how do we find time to create those bonds? Is the time and effort needed to create those connections worth it? I can answer you with a definitive yes. When you take the time to create relationships with members of your team, both employee and volunteer, you make your goals their goals. You give volunteers a sense of ownership that only amplifies their desire to work effectively and efficiently. You create an environment where your team is excited to volunteer as well as to work with you and other staff. And you establish a safe atmosphere where your team feels comfortable talking with you, sharing ideas or concerns, and helping one another. Creating bonds with those who may work with you temporarily and may not have the same expertise as you have has its own set of challenges—but can reap great rewards. Here are some simple steps I’ve implemented to help my team be successful. Assign a Team Lead I find myself continuously multitasking and am not always available to answer every question from my volunteers. To solve this, I appointed a team lead who receives extra training from me, including direction on how to train others. Their responsibilities include training all new volunteers, ensuring that communication is shared among all team members, and taking the lead in all volunteer responsibilities. Your team lead can then answer most questions on your behalf, especially those concerning how to respond to patrons. They can also create the schedules of on-call volunteers who help reference archivists when patrons drop in. My team lead has become my right hand. Her leadership leaves me time to focus on planning, working with IT professionals to improve our online request tool, researching, and other time-consuming tasks. Hold Regularly Scheduled Meetings Schedule a regular meeting, at least monthly, with your volunteers. During these meetings, have an agenda and follow it. Our typical agenda is outlined as follows: welcome new volunteers, provide training, express recognition and appreciation for their hard work, and allow time for questions and concerns. Include your volunteers in the bigger picture. Explain the mission statement of your organization to them and how their work fits in. Include them in goal setting to help you—and them—achieve success. Ensure that you listen thoughtfully and take the time to answer your volunteers. If you don’t know the answer, make sure your team knows that you’ll research one. If your archives collects this information, share statistics so that your volunteers can see what they are accomplishing and how they are improving. Be Inclusive My team is currently moving to a brand-new computer system. While they have not been a part of long-term conversations with IT, I have kept them in the loop about the type of changes being made. I have shown them prototypes and asked for their thoughts. When we began testing the new program, I included my volunteers in the testing and training process. These few steps have created a sense of ownership with the new program and provided me with important feedback for planning and decision making. The volunteers are excited about the system rather than perceiving it as a difficult change. Their insight has provided valuable information in helping me develop training for the current and potential members of the team—and they’ve even found some bugs and elements that I’ve missed. Celebrate Take time to celebrate. Celebrate your team’s accomplishments. Celebrate birthdays. Go to lunch together. Get to know your volunteers personally. This last step creates emotional bonds that not only inspire your volunteers to be more diligent workers, but creates loyalty in you toward your volunteers, driving you to fight for your team, if needed. This continuous circle of loyalty, support, friendship, and hard work only serves to create positive working experiences that strengthen with time. While each of these steps may take a little more time in your day, they will benefit you and your job. I have a team whom I trust to do their job and do it well. They have a sense of ownership of their work that increases efficiency and thoroughness. My volunteers have developed bonds of love and friendship with each other that extend past work hours. Because I have taken the time to get to know my volunteers and work closely with them, they’ve become my friends. Work can be busy and stressful, but having a strong team behind you makes it worth it.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.