Sunday 22 June 2014

Blog Every Day in June Day 22 : A tribute to our wonderful local family and history volunteers

I work in a public library in a country town. We have the usual suspects of resources and programs in the library and cater for all manner of community members. I get paid to do a job I absolutely love. However this is not about me, but about the volunteers who come in and do their jobs religiously and do an almighty job for nothing but the love of it. So for all those who keep the pieces of the libraries ticking quietly over, I would like to tip my hat off to you and pay tribute to the volunteers in my library.

What I see in my library very rarely gets much attention, as the people who work in the local family and history room are very retiring (excuse the pun) and humble. They come in and quietly get on with gathering their bits and pieces of history which can be scattered all over the globe and answer some very obscure requests and find pieces of the family history jigsaw puzzle for patrons. We call our Family History lady "our Little Terrier", as she will dig and search until the piece of history is found to the satisfaction of the patron. This is a very hard job as it requires tenacity and a love of finding pieces that may or may not fit in the overall picture, it is a very specialised job.

I stand in total admiration of these awesome people who hold the history of our town in their heads, and books and newspapers and stuff, lots and lots of stuff, which they have accumulated over many years. I am doing a degree at uni, and the amount of students, who work in libraries constantly say, “when we ask our family history volunteers about a certain person in the community, they start nattering about that person, where they used to live, who they married, what their maiden name was, how many children they had and who they married, who their parents were and what they used to do and, then, their parents and their history and to top it off, where they are buried and when, where and how they died and, sometimes who turned up to the funeral, and then they would produce birth and death certificates and a couple of photos.” So wow, this is just in a five minute natter. I have never encountered such dedication to a job and it is totally unpaid, and sometimes they dip into their own pockets to donate something to the cause. It seems that they have turned their passion into an art form and it is a sight to behold.

So as younger person (relative to who you are talking to and about) I would like to thank them, for without our volunteers in the community we would be a poorer society, and we should all take the time to listen to what they are saying because we might miss something of importance. I can see myself in a few years saying "I wish I could ask so-and-so what they thought about this subject/person/place". My greatest fear is that we will lose this great asset to our community, as many people are so time poor that they may not be able to dedicate to libraries as much as this generation of ‘older’ people have done. Just think about the volunteer organisations in communities today and how much they are shrinking in patronage, as members are not being replaced as they once used to be.

When I started thinking about what to write for this post, I thought about the Local and Family history people and thought about them as individuals and what they have had to do and learn over the years. These people are not a “young” bunch", mostly they are over 60 years of age, non-professionals and usually female, doing a job they had to learn on the job, and in some instances, the first job they have ever held outside the home as they were homemakers and mothers. These people have moved from the pen and paper, to typewriters (and not many would have had access to one of these), to computers (and many don’t have access to one of these); the letter to the telephone and now social media. I think about how courageous they are, as they have had to embrace these new technologies with very little knowledge about them and with the younger generation saying things like, “it’s not hard,” and “I don’t know why you can’t do it?”. Can you imagine how you would react at some new-fangled technology, a never even dreamed-about invention, being thrust upon you and now being told these are the tools you have to use to do your work and the tools you used to use are no longer relevant? This older generation have once again embraced and faced their fears and taken on the challenge with a can-do attitude that we younger generation can take pride in, and perhaps learn from, as they strive to learn in a fast-paced ever evolving environment.

Old blokes, you rock.

-Norma Reid is a library assistant at a wonderful regional library

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