Abe’s army of volunteers
More than 500 help out at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
Museums of all types and sizes rely on volunteers for a myriad of activities, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) is no exception. ALPLM has a robust volunteer program with 540 active volunteers. Jeremy Carrell, director of volunteer services, says the number, quality and passion of volunteers far exceeds early expectations. Volunteers are critical to providing an outstanding experience for visitors, and it is hard to imagine what a visit to the museum would be like without the many friendly and helpful volunteers.
Since October 2004, volunteers devoted 485,000 hours of service with an estimated value of more than $11 million. ALPLM Director Alan Lowe says, “The dedication of our volunteers is simply extraordinary. Every day they demonstrate a tireless devotion to our institution and to the legacy of President Lincoln. I am deeply grateful for their service.”
The mission of the ALPLM volunteer program is to assist in providing a superior guest experience through a knowledgeable, well-trained volunteer work force. Volunteers interact with visitors and are also engaged in behind-the-scenes activities in the library. People as young as 16 volunteer, but currently 83 percent are over 60. Nearly 100 have volunteered since the library first opened. Thirty percent are retired educators, and 70 percent have a bachelor’s degree. There are even volunteers from Champaign, Decatur and St. Louis. Anyone with an interest and passion is welcome.
Ninety percent of volunteers work in frontline roles at the museum. These highly dedicated individuals share their passion with visitors from around the world. Volunteers are not tour guides; they greet school groups, welcome and direct visitors, answer questions, engage with children in Mrs. Lincoln’s Attic and are stationed at exhibit galleries throughout the museum. Volunteers also help with evening events, facility rentals, social events and holiday decorations.
There are many benefits of volunteering beyond the personal satisfaction of helping visitors and meeting people from all over the world. Volunteers are invited to ALPLM public events. Additional educational programs and field trips on a wide range of topics are offered specifically for volunteers. Consequently, volunteering is a rewarding experience for individuals interested in lifelong learning. Many friendships have been forged, and there is a tremendous spirit of camaraderie. ALPLM volunteer Kathy Rubinkowski from Springfield says, “I love working with the outstanding community of volunteers within this organization and greeting visitors from around the world. I also enjoy the educational programming for volunteers where I am always learning something new.”
The first step for prospective volunteers is to attend a no-commitment orientation. Sessions are held twice each year, and the next one will be Sept. 12. Those interested complete an application and meet with Jeremy Carrell. By learning more about why people want to volunteer and what they want to get out of the experience, he is able to match volunteers with a specific assignment. Volunteers participate in three training programs to learn more about the museum and library. To ensure a quality experience for museum visitors, 12-15 volunteers are needed during all hours the museum is open. Volunteers must commit to eight hours/month; shifts are 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 1 p.m.-5 p.m.
Volunteers also make significant contributions behind the scenes at the library and can apply any time during the year for these positions. Volunteers assist in the Oral History program by transcribing and editing interviews. The Papers of Abraham Lincoln project uses volunteers to transcribe documents. Volunteers in the Reading Room assist in accessing information for researchers. Other volunteers organize and sort audiovisual records and manuscripts and assist in the Conservation Lab. Volunteers play an important role in helping the ALPLM make its extensive collections and records more accessible to the public. Bonnie Parr, historical documents conservator says, “Volunteers working in the ALPLM Conservation Lab have learned how to do basic cleaning and repair of historical documents and books, make custom boxes to house fragile books, and have assisted in preparing and matting artifacts for exhibits. They have been an absolute joy to work with, because of their enthusiasm and total engagement in what is very exacting work.”
Tom Rozanski, a volunteer from Champaign, sums up the volunteer experience: “I especially enjoy sharing the Abraham Lincoln story whenever guests ask questions and want to know more. It’s all but impossible not to be captivated by the life and times of Abraham Lincoln. After 10 years as a volunteer, I still get excited working there.”
Anyone interested in volunteering at the ALPLM should contact Jeremy Carrell at email@example.com or 217-558-8984.
Karen Ackerman Witter was associate director of the Illinois State Museum for 14 years and is past president of the Association of Midwest Museums. She is a part-time museum consultant, freelance writer and volunteer, with an emphasis on getting museums more engaged with advocacy.