Wednesday 28 October 2015

The best places to volunteer in Sydney for aspiring Librarians

In the years that I was studying my way through high school and university, I’ve had a number of different part time jobs. I’ve worked in fast food, supermarkets, retail, hospitality, call centres, teaching, office support, data entry, public events and even (briefly) housekeeping. This year, I was finally able to put all of this behind me - for the time being, at least - and have found my dream job as a News Librarian with SBS World News. It’s a truly wonderful position, and a fantastic organisation, and I couldn’t be happier in this role.

But it wasn’t an easy path to get there. For many years, while working and studying, I’ve also been heavily involved in volunteering for a number of different organisations, all doing amazing work in local communities and across Sydney. Whether I stayed in a particular volunteering position for only a few short months, or for many years, I believe that these experiences are the ones that have truly shaped me both personally and professionally today. It’s through volunteering that I have been granted the privilege of meeting some inspiring, passionate and diverse people throughout Sydney, and have developed a much better understanding of the issues affecting this community today. It’s also through volunteering that I’ve learnt many important skills related to working as a librarian, including communication, organisation, negotiation and problem solving.

I would like to share a list of places I have volunteered with in and around Sydney, as well as how they have helped me in my career as a Librarian, in the hopes that it may help others to have similarly awesome experiences with volunteering too!

The Japan Foundation Sydney

If you only have time to volunteer at one place, make this your pick! I’ve been a loyal volunteer with JPF since 2011, and keep coming back to help out with events because I always have a wonderful time there. The volunteer coordinators are very friendly and approachable and are eager to get everyone involved in assisting with public events. In addition, there are plenty of opportunities to mingle with fellow volunteers and I have made some fantastic friends this way. JPF volunteers can have any level of Japanese language ability, so you are welcome to volunteer even if you don’t speak Japanese at all! As a librarian, volunteering with JPF gives great insight into organising public events and working with multilingual, multicultural communities. JPF also has its own small library dedicated to Japanese language studies. The library staff are incredibly kind and no doubt would be willing to have a chat about what they do if you’d ever like to stop by!

By signing up online as a volunteer, you will receive regular emails about upcoming volunteering opportunities throughout the year. This normally involves assisting with gallery exhibitions and public talks by providing information to guests, distributing flyers and promoting the event to the community. The highlight of the JPF volunteer year is the annual Japanese Film Festival, held at Event Cinemas George St and in Parramatta. This involves performing the same types of duties for normal events, and features an after party at the end of the festival. You also get a few free and discounted film tickets to check out any of the screenings you choose.

You can find out more about volunteering with JPF at:

Volunteering with refugee communities:

Between the end of 2012 and the start of my study abroad year in 2013, I volunteered with an organisation called the Australian League of Immigration Volunteers (ALIV). This was my shortest volunteering experience, yet in many ways it has also been the most memorable and inspiring. As an ALIV volunteer, I worked with young girls aged 7-15 from recently resettled families in Australia. Within a small management team, we put together a summer camp for these girls that included loads of fun activities, such as arts and crafts, a water balloon fight and a trip to Luna Park. The best part of this work was being able to spend time with these young women and learn about them, and being able to make them happy was a hugely rewarding experience. I particularly enjoyed working with this organisation since they were non-political and non-religious, meaning that all people, regardless of their personal views, were welcome. Aspiring librarians who are interested in the Education sector, or in working with diverse communities in public libraries, would enjoy this work.

ALIV is no longer operational, but the organisation Australia Refugee Volunteers (ARV) operates similar programs. You can find out about these at:!who-we-are/crcc

Sydney Story Factory

I have only been with Sydney Story Factory since the end of 2014, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the time I have had there so far. Based in Redfern, the SSF provides children from all backgrounds with the opportunity to develop their creative writing skills with support from a team of workers and volunteers. As a volunteer, you are given the opportunity to work directly with the kids and to offer them encouragement and guidance with their stories. The volunteer coordinators are extremely passionate and dedicated, and offer an excellent training program to all new volunteers when signing up. This work could appeal to any librarians, but may be particularly enjoyable to those who love working with children, enjoy reading and aspire to a career in the Education sector.

You can find out more about volunteering with Sydney Story Factory at:

Hurstville Library, Museum and Gallery

Obviously the most directly related to a career as a librarian, Hurstville Library, Museum and Gallery offers a fantastic volunteer program for aspiring librarians as well as anyone in the local community seeking to become involved. I began volunteering in the library at the end of 2014. The staff and volunteer coordinators are dedicated, helpful and encouraging, and will endeavour to provide you with a range of different opportunities depending on what your interests are. The best part about volunteering in Hurstville Library is being able to learn all the ins and outs of working in a public library whilst in a supportive environment, and being able to interact with a vastly diverse and rich local community. I strongly encourage anyone interested in public libraries to investigate volunteering here!

You can find out more about volunteering with Hurstville Library, Museum and Gallery at:

ALIA Sydney

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my time volunteering with ALIA Sydney! As a newbie to the committee this year, I have been welcomed with open arms by fellow members, who have been willing to offer helpful advice on my future career and have been very encouraging of my involvement and ideas. It has been an excellent way to develop myself professionally as well as to expand my network of dedicated librarians. I strongly encourage you all to get involved with the committee next year!

I hope that some of you might consider some of these volunteering opportunities that relate to you and your career, especially if you are like me and are brand new to the profession. The path to success isn’t always clear and straightforward - but it is definitely what you’re willing to make of it!

Eleanor Gerrard
ALIA Sydney Event Officer
Follow me on Twitter at @gerryy91

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