Meet the Volunteers: Aaron

Meet the Volunteers: Aaron


My name is Aaron. When I first heard about the Prahran Mechanics’ Institute, it was 2017 and I was studying a Certificate IV in Library and Information Services at Box Hill Institute. It was one of the examples that a teacher of one of my units had found, as an example of a library and possible services they might offer.

What first piqued my interest was in fact the colour of the PMI website, that distinct orange colour. After that, I noticed under one of the drop down menus was an option for volunteering and the associated form. I sat on it for a few days before deciding to submit my name and contact information using this form, feeling that it would be good to have some hands on experience in a library.

I was promptly contacted by one of the staff members of the library and decided to meet on a Friday afternoon for a chat on what I could do as a volunteer there. Since then I have been helping around the library when I can, initially on Fridays, but now on both Thursday and Friday.

One of the first things I was asked to do was to assist with shelving library resources. At the time, I was learning how to properly file resources according to the Dewey Decimal Classification system as part of my studies, and this task really helped me to reinforce these filing rules into memory, which I am quite thankful for.

A few weeks later, I was doing shelf-reading, or making sure that the resources are in order so they can be found by members. This took a couple weeks, as it was from 0 all the way up to the 990s. I continued shelving/shelf-reading for a bit, until I was asked to start indexing back issues of Australian Geographic, from when Aus. Geo. was first founded in 1984. There were a few interesting articles, and some very dated advertisements.

After this, I was taught how to cover new books to the library collection, and what I have to attach to the books so that they’re shelf-ready, which for PMI includes attaching a spine label, a due date slip (PMI is one of the few libraries that still makes use of these slips) and a security strip.

Lately, I have been helping the library to catalogue new resources. From changing the holdings record of a resource on Libraries Australia to indicate that PMI has a copy available for loan if you search for an item on Trove, to assigning a call number using the collection policy document and the Dewey books, it is very satisfying to complete the “word picture” of a resource so that it can be found by patrons using the catalogue. Occasionally, the library software has conniptions, most often showing lines of text in the wrong order, but otherwise cataloguing is a worthwhile and very enjoyable task.

Most of the time I am cataloguing at the front desk, where I also loan out resources to members and help them to find them where necessary.

Volunteering at PMI has been worthwhile and enjoyable, and has given me useful experience for when I manage to get a job in a library.


Meet the Volunteers: Marie Pernat

Meet the Volunteers: Marie Pernat


A chance meeting with a PMI Library staff member resulted in my visiting the library and kindly being given a guided tour. I immediately thought that I would love to volunteer in such a fine library with great historical as well as current collections. As my lengthy career in librarianship had been spent in academic and special libraries and archives, I saw an opportunity to apply my skills and contribute to the PMI Victorian History Library.

As a retiree, I can indulge myself and participate in activities of my choosing. I have five delightful grandchildren aged five to 12 to entertain me. I am a volunteer tour guide at the MCG and in the MCC Library. Tennis, cycling and walking keep me physically fit and, hopefully, the brain is ticking over when I play bridge and mahjong. My husband, Fred, and I travel within Australia and overseas and enjoy fine wine and food. I will always, however, make sure I reserve time for the PMI Library!

I commenced volunteering at the library in early 2017. As it is a lending library, it is important that members can readily retrieve information and locate wanted items on the shelves. In support of this, my first project was to assist in expanding the classification numbers of the art collection. It had grown over the years to some hundreds of titles, but the catalogue had not been revised to reflect such growth.

Most titles were catalogued to the Dewey 700 art call number, with the result that works by the same artist, art periods and styles could not easily be identified by browsing. It was my role to suggest revised call numbers in accordance with the library’s guidelines and Dewey principles.  Ellen, collections librarian, checked my work to ensure consistency with library practice. Re-labelling and changing the item record in the catalogue were also in my brief.

This was a most interesting project, partly because the books contained numerous paintings by Australian artists and because it was finite, and I had the feeling of satisfaction upon its completion. I not only gained insight into Australian art, but also learnt something about the library’s classification and cataloguing systems.

Subsequent projects were to similarly expand the call numbers of education, churches, fiction and most recently, the indigenous Australians collection to accord with new guidelines devised by Ellen. You can imagine my delight when, working with the education books, I came across information and photographs of my father that I had never seen. One photograph pictured my father, then a young teacher at University High School, as coach of the football team, which included Essendon legend John Coleman.

Soon I will move onto another project. The beauty of volunteering at the PMI Library is that there is a range of tasks to suit volunteers’ skills. The staff are most helpful and patient and recognise the contributions of volunteers. There is onsite parking, working conditions are pleasant and I have enjoyed meeting fellow volunteers. Being a Stonnington resident, I am very pleased to give back a little to our local community library.


Meet the Volunteers: Book Carers

Meet the Volunteers: Book Carers

book carers

Kevin Powell, Irene Robinson, Jill Irvine. Not pictured: John Merry

The PMI is one of the only libraries that still does the end processing of our books in house. The fact that we can do this, is entirely down to our dedicated team of book carers. Irene Robinson, John Merry, Kevin Powell and Jill Irvine come in every Thursday and process and cover the week’s books. Every book you see go into our recent additions has been processed by these four dedicated volunteers. As part of the book processing they handle all the books donated including bequests and they re-process donations from other libraries so that they can become part of the PMI collection.

They are also some of our most long-term volunteers. Irene has been volunteering since 2008, Jill since 2009, John since 2013 and Kevin since 2017. I’d also like to acknowledge the hard work of Margaret Dunn who volunteered as a book carer from 2008 until she resigned in 2017. They are the core of the PMI’s essential volunteer group and we’d be in real trouble without them. Book caring is also a social event, with much conversation and discussion over the processing and afternoon tea, often accompanied by the Age quiz. They are always a delight to have in the library and their hard work is greatly appreciated.

But what do book carers actually do?

The books are waiting for them on the shelf, they are catalogued, barcoded and donation plaques are inserted, but the rest is up to the book carers.

The process begins with laying out the required material including: scissors (they have their own special scissors), adhesive covering, solid plastic covering, tattle tape, date due slips, rulers, double sided tape and glue sticks.

Kevin call numbers all the books, which involves printing off the labels with the assigned call numbers and sticking them to the spines or the back of the books using a little metal ‘dooverlackie’ (we had a discussion as to whether it was a dooverlackie or a thingamabob) that a member made for us about twenty years ago. It means all our call numbers go in the same place on all the books.

The carers then decide the best sort of plastic to use on each book, it depends on the type, and they begin to cover.

Each book must be covered, have a date due slip inserted in the back and tattle tape applied (so they beep if they go out the door without being deactivated).

Books are then stamped with the PMI stamps: title page, table of contents and the fore-edge of the books (if possible).

All through this, each book stays with their original piece of paper which has all the information on it for the book to find its place on the shelf.

The books then come back to staff to be checked and sent out onto the shelf.

It can be a convoluted process and our experienced book carers make sure that all our books are protected and as the PMI loans 90% of its collection and, very rarely removes material once it is in the collection, this protection is essential. As we said above, we couldn’t do it with out them.


Meet the Volunteers: Wendy Eldridge and the Friends of the PMI Library

Meet the Volunteers: Wendy Eldridge and the Friends of the PMI Library

This year we are going to be introducing you to our hard working volunteers. We begin with Wendy Eldridge the indefatigable leader of the Friends of the PMI Library. We asked her to write about her work at the PMI and the role the Friends play. As Wendy makes clear, the Friends are very much a team and we acknowledge all their dedicated work. 

book sale

The Friends setting up a book sale

wendy clunes

Wendy at Clunes Book Fair just having finished setting up

I was asked if I mind writing about being a volunteer at the PMI. I joined the PMI around 10 years ago, I was so excited to find a library that allows you to take home Family History reference books. Coming from NSW I had never found a library to equal the PMI.

In 2016 I attended a meeting with a group of PMI members and Christine Worthington was proposing to organise a “Friends of the Library group”. After some thought I put my hand up to volunteer.  Christine then informed me that the PMI thought I should be the coordinator of the Friends of the PMI Library and with a bit of encouragement from Christine I accepted the role.

Nearly three years on and I have had the most enjoyable fun. We started with a group of four and organised the first duty of the group, to hold a book sale.  At the moment we have about eight of us who assist with the book sales and many other activities, and I have found lovely friends. I am technically their leader, but many a day I can be the coffee maker, we have created a team and welcome each other’s input to improving the book sales. We have also developed a good association with the Cinema group and the Railway group that both occupy areas in the library.

Many that know me say I am passionate about Family History, some would say I am obsessed (I think I’ll stick with passionate). In 2017 the PMI Friends Group began organising Family History lessons, thus forming a teaching group. I was so pleased the Friends Group was growing and among us we are developing a group of members happy to bring and share their time and talents.

I have always believed the PMI to be a gold mine for researching ever since I first discovered it. I have been doing my own Family History for over 20 years, publishing books on my family and helping others to design their family story. Family History is very much a sharing of knowledge and family information. I hold a certificate in Family History search and the other ladies from our Friends teaching group have very valuable knowledge and skills to share.

From the lessons the idea came to form a Family History Social group to meet once a month on the 1st Monday of each month. We started last November, and we hope that many members take advantage of having Volunteers in the library that can help them travel the exciting journey of unraveling their ancestries. There are so many gems to be found in the library.

I am very fortunate that my work as a Managing Sales Representative is only three days a week, and enjoyable, allowing me two days if I wish to come in to PMI and volunteer. It always takes me an hour and 10 minutes to get there and going home can take two hours, but the rewards of the people I volunteer with, the staff and committee and all the members we get to meet and know is so worth it.

My goal for 2019 is to encourage members to come and help The Friends of PMI Library Group, to grow in volunteer numbers and to encourage many new people to join this gem of a library as it is unique. Thank you to everyone who works alongside me you are the reason you often see my name in print, without you I wouldn’t be having the fun I so enjoy.