Libraries and Public Broadcasting. It seems like a natural combination, doesn't it? It certainly was April 24, 2002 when several Region III librarians reported for duty at WHRO in Norfolk. We were there as volunteers, helping the station with its semi-annual pledge drive by answering calls. Responding politely and professionally to telephone calls is certainly something most librarians have a bit of experience with. Of course, we seldom get a chance to ask "How much do you want to give?" during the course of our day.
The whole thing started with an idea I proposed to my Region III Co-Chair, Collette Macin, as a good project for us. Since Collette liked the idea, I ran it past VLA President Iza Cieszynski (who happens to be my Director). She was very supportive of the idea so I got down to work.
My first task was to get in touch with the folks at the local National Public Broadcasting radio station. Region III is very fortunate in being served by two PBS stations. WHRO has an all-classical all the time format, while WHRV carries a variety of programming including public affairs and jazz. In early February I contacted the station and learned that the next pledge drive was coming up in April, and yes, they did need volunteers. Soon I was in touch with Mr. Lynn Summerall, the stations' Volunteer Coordinator. He provided me with the dates and time-slots for volunteering. Just for luck I chose April 24th (the Library of Congress' birthday) and two time slots, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 3 p.m.-7 p.m. Mr. Summerall told me that there were about 15 telephones to cover, but our group need not cover them all.
Date, time, and place set, all that remained was to gather up our librarian volunteers. Flyers sent to the libraries in the Region were one way to go, but this is the Information Age after all. A quick e-mail to our VLA Webmaster, Steve Helm, and before I knew it my e-mailbox was full of responses. In the end there were 17 of us ready, willing, and able. There was a great deal of enthusiasim expressed by these volunteers. Several indicated their loyalty to the public radio stations in our area, the match in goals between those stations and libraries, and their pleasure in finding a volunteer opportunity that could fit into a librarian's schedule. Another benefit we all saw in this was a chance to get together informally with our colleagues from around the -Region.
The few weeks remaining before the drive saw more action in my e-mail box than it usually gets in months-working out schedules. I also kept Lynn up to date. In the end I think we surprised him with the numbers we mustered.
Broadcast day proved to be a lot of fun. The first wave of librarians hit the station at 11 a.m. and took their places on the phones. Some of us stayed for the full shift, others for as long as their schedules permitted. Still other librarians arrived mid-shift and a fresh group came in for the second shift at 3 p.m.
At every pledge break the on-air "talent" made a point of thanking us and talking a little bit about VLA. Some spoke of the importance of libraries to the community, describing us as a valuable resource, much like the stations. It was the kind of publicity that cannot be bought.
All in all everyone enjoyed the experience and expressed interest in doing it again. Lynn has promised to get me information for the television pledge drive in August. This may yet evolve into a regular feature of Region III's year.
This is the sort of project any group (or VLA Region) can fairly easily organize. The hardest part is getting a working schedule together for the big day. It is important to have one person coordinate this. E-mail makes the work much simpler than it would be otherwise. Lynn provided me with directions to the station from all points and gave me instructions for arriving volunteers.
Since I had created a "WHRO" group in my address book, it was not difficult to get the information out.
This project brought us valuable publicity, strengthened the relationship between the stations and the area libraries, and gave the participants a great chance to get to know each other better.
It also demonstrated the commitment librarians feel toward the larger community and gave listener's a chance to "see" us out from behind the desk. Putting together an event like this requires a little time and patience but brings big benefits-not the least of which may be a stronger Region.