Volunteers Are Back

Volunteers are a vital part of the Newberry community. By offering their time, labor, and enthusiasm, they introduce new audiences to the many resources and services that the Newberry offers, bring collection items to life for visitors, and help further the library's mission. We are deeply grateful for their work.

For much of the pandemic, volunteers worked online, contributing to projects like Newberry Transcribe and Postcard Tag, which aim to make our important archival and postcard collections more accessible to researchers. They also participated in virtual learning sessions designed to deepen their understanding of the many facets of the library. Even as volunteers continue to advance our digital resources from home, we are thrilled to welcome part of our volunteer corps back into the Newberry.

“Volunteers are excited about returning to their roles in the building,” says Rebecca Haynes, the Newberry’s Manager of Volunteers. “Many of the people who volunteer here are very involved in other ways too, whether that means they’re donors, researchers, or frequent public program attendees. The Newberry is a place to make connections, to encourage learning—it’s a real community, and volunteers contribute to that in significant ways.”

On the first floor, volunteers support staff in the Herget Welcome Center, the Rosenberg Bookshop, and at the Greeter Desk in the lobby, often serving as a crucial first point of contact for anyone walking into the building. Adding volunteers to the first floor came with the renovation of the lobby in 2018, and is a key factor in making the Newberry a more inviting place, especially for first-time visitors.

Haynes points out how easy it is to approach a volunteer at the Newberry. “Volunteers are there to help people when they need a friendly person to give them a nudge in the right direction. They listen to questions from visitors and are eager to help everyone find the perfect way in which to engage with the Newberry."

Some volunteers work behind the scenes, assisting in everything from conservation work to organizing the archives. “When you think about all the services we provide, the Newberry’s staff is actually pretty small,” Haynes explains. “Volunteers take a lot of important and time-consuming tasks off staff members’ plates, allowing them to focus on more specific projects in their areas of expertise.”

Other volunteers serve as docents for tours of the building and exhibitions. “Tours are particularly impactful,” says Haynes. “People come back from building tours with a new appreciation of the Newberry, when they may not have known much about us when they walked in.”

Haynes recalls a recent tour of Chicago Avant-Garde: Five Women Ahead of Their Time, on view at the Newberry through December 30. “The exhibition features Katherine Dunham, a dancer and choreographer and the creator of the Dunham technique. A visitor who had studied the Dunham technique but didn’t know much about Dunham herself had come in for a docent-led tour. She came out nearly in tears. Seeing the videos of Dunham’s performances and the material objects related to her life was really meaningful.” The docent then suggested that the visitor get a Reader’s Card to further explore Dunham’s life in the Reading Room—and she did.

“Having volunteers to facilitate beautiful moments like that is important. Those moments can be really valuable to people, and they couldn’t easily happen without the volunteer,” says Haynes.

To all of our volunteers, past and present, thank you for your commitment to the library. You help make the Newberry the thriving community of learning that it is.

And to our donors, thank you for making it possible for us to provide the programs, exhibitions, and research opportunities that draw people to the Newberry. If you are looking for ways to support the Newberry beyond your philanthropic contributions, we encourage you to consider joining our invaluable troop of volunteers. Visit our volunteer information page to learn more.

Interested in taking a docent-led tour? Click here to learn more about upcoming building and exhibitions tours.

This story is part of the Newberry's Donor Digest, Fall 2021. In this newsletter, we share with donors exciting stories of the work made possible by their generosity. Learn more about supporting the library and its programs.