Blog—Donor Digest

Meet the Staff: Rebecca Haynes

Rebecca Haynes Tour

Manager of Volunteers Rebecca Haynes leads a tour of the Newberry's reading rooms.

Playing a critical role in making the Newberry go round, the library’s corps of dedicated volunteers are managed by staff member Rebecca Haynes. In this Library Week edition of Meet the Staff, learn more about Rebecca and the critical role volunteers play at the Newberry.

When did you start at the Newberry?

My position was created in early 2018, as the long-planned renovations of the building’s first floor began. As we anticipated the new ways that the public would approach the Newberry once the renovations were complete, the library’s leadership quickly realized that we would need a more robust corps of public-facing volunteers, with one person to manage all of them. Thus, I joined the Newberry in the new role of Manager of Volunteer Programs.

What did you do before you came to the Newberry?

I previously worked at the Field Museum, where I also engaged the public and supervised volunteers who led hands-on activities for museum visitors. I also managed the Field’s teen volunteer corps and supervised volunteers who worked with the children's programs there, including their popular museum overnight programs. I actually was a teen volunteer at the Field Museum myself.

I have always been drawn to the idea of access and how to make institutions more welcoming to all audiences, as well as how scholars and the public can learn and benefit from each other in cultural and educational settings. Early in my career, I considered focusing on specific academic areas, but ultimately felt that my skills were better suited as an interlocutor between experts and more general audiences. When I undertook my Master’s degree in liberal arts, I actually focused my graduate thesis on how cultural institutions can share scholarly learnings with the general public in ways that are digestible and resonant.

How do volunteers contribute to the work of the Newberry?

Volunteers are a vital, indispensable element at the Newberry and help with many aspects of our work. We want the library to be a place where everybody who walks through the doors off Walton Street feels welcome and engaged. The Newberry’s volunteers are a big part of removing perceived barriers of access to the library, its reading rooms, and exhibitions and programs. Our greeters, especially, help first-time visitors understand what the Newberry is, and help orient them to the building and institution before they’re ready to head to the Welcome Center and work with a member of Reader Services to obtain a Reader’s Card and explore the collection. Docents and program volunteers also help demystify the Newberry for visitors, and of course, many of our volunteers contribute their time and expertise to specific areas of our work by helping out with conservation, archiving, or by sorting used-book donations for resale.

The tours of the building and the Newberry’s exhibitions are very popular, and are run by you and volunteer docents. Can you share more about the tour program, and how it has developed under your direction?

The tours are very much a collaboration with everyone at the Newberry – curatorial staff and librarians, conservation, communications, and of course facilities and the folks who take care of the building itself. I’m always looking to update the content of tours to make them more engaging for the folks who attend. The vast majority of tour attendees are visiting the Newberry for the first time that day, so it’s essential that we both accurately represent the Newberry and its history as well as make sure folks feel welcomed – ensuring that even if it’s their first time at the Newberry, it surely will not be their last.

What’s your favorite part of working at the Newberry?

No day is ever the same! I never know what questions are going to come up on a tour or who’s going to visit. My brain works best when it’s always getting new input, and this job (and the Newberry) is great for that. I especially love introducing the Newberry to folks who would not especially think of themselves as scholars, but through their introduction to the collection and the Newberry’s mission, they realize that they belong here as much as any scholar. I want folks to feel comfortable here, to feel totally welcome – because the Newberry is for them.

What is your favorite item held in the Newberry’s collections?

I have a lot of favorite items, but one of my top favorites is the Book of Magical Charms. It is a handwritten book by an unknown author from around the 1600s. It is a great crowd-pleasing book and an easy way to show people that we have a wide variety of unusual and unique items in the collection. While the long dead author’s name is uncertain, their handwriting and the information they wrote in the book remains with us hundreds of years later. Much like how our genealogy collection can help people recover the names of long forgotten ancestors, all of our handwritten books retain something about the person who sat down and wrote the book out many years ago.

How can someone join the ranks of the Newberry's volunteers?

We are always looking to add new volunteers to the Newberry, especially people who wish to work with the public as greeters, docents, or program volunteers. Anyone interested can fill out this form or contact me directly at