The only time I have volunteered for more than a few hours in a professional capacity was prior to gaining library experience. I wanted to start work as a HIPPY tutor (Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters). This is a programme aimed at raising the skills of preschoolers from lower socio-economic areas, so that they are as ready to start school as their more advantaged peers. Tutors teach parents how to work with their child on a daily basis, teaching basic skills such as listening to a story, recognising colours and shapes and working with pencils and crayons. Each centre had to find funding to cover the cost of the programme, including the tutors' wages. As a low-income family, the irregular payment schedule of a HIPPY tutor was problematic, as it interferred with payment of the accommodation supplement we were entitled to. I decided it would be easier to work for nothing (which helped to alleviate some of the funding that required raising by the HIPPY coordinator), than to jump through the hoops put up by Work and Income each week. I worked for nothing (about a year) until my husband landed a better paid job and we no longer required the accommodation supplement. I continued working as a paid HIPPY tutor for about another nine months, before I embarked got my first job in a library.
In the situation I was in, and the position I was volunteering, I do not think I was devaluing the position. However, given the current global economic environment and the treatment that some public libraries are currently undergoing, I can see that allowing people to work in libraries as volunteers provides a temptation for the powers that be to consider why qualified librarians are required at all, and why they should be paid. Few people outside the profession understand what it is that librarians do. I belong to a book circle. We would be considered a fairly typical book circle for Auckland, being white, middle-class, middle-aged women and all fairly well-educated. The question of qualifications came up, with members of my group asking why I needed a masters to work in a library, as they assumed that a librarian is someone who issues and shelves books all day. I explained that (and I speak from a NZ perspective here) a librarian is the equivalent of a manager, and, unless they worked in a very small library, they would probably have very little contact with the books or the patrons of the library. Library assistants are usually the staff responsible for manning the loans desk and shelving books. They asked me what my typical day was like. When I explained my job to them, they were surprised. I think we need to become better advocates for what it is we do, the service we provide to the greater scheme of society and why we deserved to be paid just as much as any other profession.
Looking back, this probably doesn't really address Thing 22 very much, but it is something that I think is relevant at the moment. I guess if I look at the question posed, then I do think we are in danger of devaluing our profession by working for free. It is a two-edged sword - we believe in libraries and the service they provide and want to see the job done, as well as gaining experience ourselves. When I worked as a HIPPY tutor for nothing, there were benefits to me, my employer and the programme. Perhaps we need to make those in control of the budgets more aware of the type of tasks in libraries that could be done for nothing and the type that require qualified, professional people.