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Using The Tools At Hand

   July 15th, 2008

Chelmsford Volunteers logoA project we've been kicking around at my library for a long time is creating some kind of town-wide centralized volunteer listing. The library is a natural place for such a resource, but it's a big project.

To fill this need, we just launched ChelmsfordVolunteers.org. The end product was not really the goal we set out with - and I don't think it's the last version of the resource, either.

Originally, we wanted a tool that would list groups in the area that need volunteers, and also a calendar of upcoming events with volunteer opportunities. We also wanted the local organizations to be able to update their listing and event information themselves, without any library staff intervention.

As part of a grant, a local high school student explored a few different software options. We started with a WordPress version, then a Drupal version, then a WebCalendar version, but we kept running into the same problem: the tool did either the database part well, or the events calendar part well, but not both. Each solution also had other pros and cons, which is why we kept looking at different options.

The current iteration of volunteer listing actually uses two existing tools, which are combined under one domain name (chelmsfordvolunteers.org). From a single web page, we link to each tool, but tried to make it look like it was all integrated together.

The two tools are the Community Information database, which is run by the consortium and is (supposed to) list all non-profit groups in all communities of the consortium. I edited the records of the Chelmsford organizations to make sure they all had a reference to "volunteers," and these records provide all the contact information for the groups.

The other tool is the Calcium Calendar from Brown Bear. The library has been using this as our main events calendar for years, so it was easy to set up another one just for volunteer events.

Between these two tools, we've got both an events listing and an organizations database, although they are not connected. Using Comm Info is nice in that we don't need to maintain two records for each organizations, but we are limited at the same time to only non-profit groups - which excludes some hospitals and other businesses that offer volunteer opportunities.

Another drawback of the current setup is that the organizations do not have direct access to update their information and events. We set up two web forms to handle submissions and updates, but it's an extra layer and more of a hassle for everyone involved than it needs to be.

But it works, and it's better than nothing until we find the ideal solution. So if anyone knows of a tool that will fill this need, or another library doing something similar, I would appreciate hearing about it.

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3 Responses to “Using The Tools At Hand”

  1. Laura Says:

    It looks as though they’re using a national program to run the site, but you might be interested in looking at what Serve Wyoming is doing. I’m planning to write them about your project, too, as they’re undertaking new initiatives to deal with a volunteer shortage.

  2. Carleen Says:

    I don’t really have any suggestions to offer but I just wanted to say what a wonderful project this is. I’m working on a similar project but it’s a much smaller scale and we’re not making a database out of it. We already have several non-profits in the community who have done that, but the only problem is that they don’t always keep them up to date (http://www.volunteerbartlesville.com/), ie, contact people have a high turn over, etc. We’ve also been wanting to do something similar with book clubs in the community. We probably don’t have more then ten or fifteen that are active in our town so we could just list them on our website somewhere but I would imagine how neat a database of local/active book clubs for a large urban community would be.

  3. Swiss Army Librarian » On Maintaining Extra-Library Websites :: Brian Herzog Says:

    […] be the first to admit that the Chelmsford Volunteers site isn't a marvel of design. We created it a few years ago to be a centralized listing of organizations in town that have volunteer opportunities, because […]