July 13, 2018 by Dr. Robbie Barber
I volunteered at two conferences this summer. One was the Georgia Library Media Associations’ Summer Institute. I serve on the board (volunteer!) and was part of the committee for Summer Institute, so helping during the actual conference was a given (in my mind). Then I went to the national American Library Associations’ Annual Conference, where I serve in no particular function at all except for member.
And, I volunteered. To be sure, I only volunteered for one hour of my time. I stood in the booth in the exhibit hall representing YALSA and greeting people. I was sent a list of rules for my volunteer hour, which would have been funny if I didn’t agree that some people needed to see that list (see below).
Why bother at all for just one hour?
Because in one hour, I spoke with a colleague (another high school teacher-librarian) for most of the time while she volunteered next to me. Because in one hour, I helped direct no less than 20 people. Because in one hour, I helped a colleague solve a problem – I did not know the answer, but would not let go until I found the answer. Because in one hour, I know that I helped the people who came by, the organization I support, and myself in making more connections.
When you go to a conference, you can be overwhelmed with the choices, sessions, exhibit halls, posters, etc. You can allow yourself to float with a current. But if you take just one hour to volunteer, you will feel more of a connection with the organization and the process may help you focus more than you expect.
So when you go to a conference, volunteer! Be a part of the community. You may find yourself sitting on the floor making friends or at least common acquaintances. Try it. I dare you.
List of Dos and Don’ts for a Volunteer (via YALSA):
- Show up on time.
- Dress professionally (but wear comfy shoes, since you’ll be standing).
- Stand in front of or next to the booth, not behind.
- Greet everyone who passes by the booth.
- Know key services and products.
- Assist all attendees who approach.
- Hand out the brochures and freebies. Please don’t be stingy!
- Be enthusiastic and confident.
- Be ready to talk, demonstrate, and most important, listen to questions or concerns.
- Know the conference basics, so you can answer common questions.
- For example “can you please tell me where the restroom is?”
- Share personal stories when appropriate.
- Be nice to everyone!d
- fdIgnore any attendee.
- Drink or eat.
- Leave the booth during your shift.
- Be rude or overly aggressive.
- Stand in front of or block another exhibitor’s space or display.
- Tell someone “I don’t know.”
- Instead, tell them, “I don’t know but I will find out for you.” If you can’t find out, have them write their question on the back of their business card. Let them know that you’ll pass this on to staff who will get in touch with the answer.
- Tell someone “no.” Say “We don’t have exactly what you want, but try this instead.”