Volunteering in a library

 14 May 2012

People all over country volunteer in public libraries. They support the work of library staff, helping to extend the range of services available in libraries within their local community.

Alvin Hickling runs family history workshops at his local library in Wath Library, Rotherham.
Alvin Hickling runs family history workshops at his local library in Wath Library, Rotherham.

Getting into volunteering

Alvin Hickling runs family history workshops at his local library in Wath Library, Rotherham, where Carly Spark is the principal library assistant in charge.

Alvin started looking into his own family history about 10 years ago and found that family and friends were asking him for help and advice.

In 2011, Carly asked if he would run some workshops to help other people who were interested in their family history, but who did not know where to start. "We’d had a lot of interest in family history. I knew Alvin had the expertise."

Alvin was, "happy to help, so Carly and I set up a series of workshops last summer. We decided to offer the workshops at different times of day to try and suit as many people as possible. We included evenings and lunchtimes to help people who work."

Running library workshops

Volunteers give up their free time so their volunteering has to fit in with their own work and other commitments.

"I work part-time myself, so I know how hard it can be to fit your interests round your work. Obviously the workshop times have to fit round my hours."

Alvin worked alongside Carly. She did the organising, put up the posters and collected names.

"In family history, a lot of your initial research is done on a computer so we had to be sure that the library PCs would be available.

"Numbers varied, always small groups though, so everyone has access to a PC. Sometimes they were even one-to one. That works very well."

The workshops last about an hour and a half. "That’s long enough to tell people everything they need to know to get started." Alvin prepared a handout for people to take away and use at home.

"I show them how to use www.ancestry.co.uk and www.findmypast.co.uk. These are sites that you have to pay to use, but Rotherham libraries has subscriptions so people can use them for nothing."

Carly says, "We want people to know that they can come and use these sites free in the library."

Using libraries for family history

Although Alvin volunteers in Wath library, he also tells people about using the Archives and Local Studies Service, based at Rotherham Central Library.

"Or, of course they may need to use another local archive – Doncaster, Sheffield or Barnsley – or somewhere further afield. I tell them what’s available in our archives:

  • registers (of births, deaths and marriages)
  • documents
  • maps
  • criminal records
  • wills."

"The increasing popularity of local and family history means Alvin’s workshops are always popular and well-received", says Carly.

Alvin sums it up, "Really what I’m showing people is how easy it to trace their family history."

Librarians are always looking for ways to encourage more people to use libraries and use them in different ways.

Carly says, "There is no doubt that Alvin’s workshops have brought in people who may not otherwise have been regular library users."


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