Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What do we make of this?

We have a lot of volunteers at my library. Some are boisterous and interactive, but a surprisingly large number of them are very quiet, diligent, persistent. With all these people, coming in for two or six or ten hours a week, an important part of the library's work gets done. There is little fanfare, little drama, and a good deal of steady work. Pretty much every day I come to work there are two or four or six of them emptying carts, putting things in order, collecting items from one of our various printed lists.

So, yesterday, we had a thank you brunch for them. It was very nice. There were attractive sandwiches and pastries- a nice spread, as my people say. The Director came in and talked to the volunteers and told them how vital and important and virtuous and wonderful they all are. I only caught a bit of the end of this soiree, but it looked like it all went very nicely.

And then today I came to work; no volunteers anywhere. I searched around. I thought maybe they'd come in later. No. I've been here now for 5 hours. I still haven't seen a one. I'd usually have seen about eight by now. Zero, nada, nothing. Certain things are starting to back up. There are absolutely no volunteers to be found.

There is a story I have told you about people who donate books to us, and it goes something like this:

The person who donates mid nineties computer programming books, or yellowed, smelly generic best sellers of the 1980's, that is, books that are mainly useless to us, asks much of us. They want their cars emptied of these books, they want their boxes and bags back, they hunger for our gracious appreciation, and they definitely, absolutely want a receipt for tax purposes ("So, shall I put down a value of, say, minus four dollars and eleven cents?"). But get people who bring in books we might use, or at least be able to sell for actual money, and it's all humble graciousness ("You sure you don't want a receipt for these beautiful first edition Dickens?" "Oh, please! It's you who give so much to me!").

This makes me think that perhaps we have crossed a line with our volunteers. Perhaps it was all too much for them. In fact, I think it was. All they ask is that we just not speak of what they give. They simply like to come empty bins for the library. Could we just leave it at that?

I guess not.

Ah well, what's done is done. Eventually, I am sure, they will recover from the burdens of our appreciation. It will fade far enough into the past, and they will return to their gracious virtue.

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