Sofia – volunteer at the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania

Credits: LEAD

Young adults with disabilities from Romania, Lithuania and Portugal who have enrolled as beneficiaries in LEAD project make day-to-day progress, with the help of LEAD team, by benefiting from collaborative and partnership relationships developed by the partner organisations, accessing lifelong-learning and personal development programs available in the mentioned countries.

Sofia is a 25-year-old woman with a mental disability (50 per cent working capacity), who is able to monitor and control her health condition. Two years ago, the young woman graduated from Vilnius University, where she studied philology. Sofia has 3 months of work experience as a Lithuanian-Latvian translator. She enjoys: cooking, making handmade jewelry, reading and traveling.Sofia is benevolent, sincere, responsible and conscientious, but she lacks self-confidence. She works more slowly, it is harder to concentrate and remember things, and she finds it difficult to process larger amounts of information simultaneously.

Sofia was encouraged to look for a job after finishing her studies. She was very eager to work, and determined to learn new things. After her fixed-term employment contract ended, she has not succeeded in finding a new job on her own. Many times, Sofia searched for open positions on various websites. She was looking for an editor or a translator position, but she also used to send her CV to other jobs. She used to imagine herself working in a library or a bookstore. Unfortunately, at the time of interviews she didn‘t believe in success and often doubted her own abilities. Sofia decided to address to Valakupiai Rehabilitation Center (VRC), seeking assistance for professional self-realization.

In order to solve her issues, Sofia has benefited from services provided by our colleagues from Lithuania. Due to the fact that she couldn‘t find a job on her own for a long time, Sofia became interested in volunteering. She found out about such a possibility from Inga, Supported Employment specialist with VRC.

So, together with Inga, Sofia visited the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania (MMNLL), the largest and best known in Vilnius. There, they had a conversation about volunteering with Romualda, the chief bibliographer of the library. She talked about the volunteers’ work in the library, explained the reasons why the library is looking for volunteers, and offered them a guided tour of the library. According to Sofia, Romualda communicated very kindly, sincerely and friendly, and her attitude was favorable, not one of prejudice nor pity.

MMNLL accepts people with disabilities as volunteers for several years. The representative of the library say: “We are very satisfied with the help of volunteers, therefore we are happy for everyone who has expressed a desire to volunteer in our institution and we try to help young adults gain more experience and self-confidence. The library currently employs about 470 employees, and 25 persons (around 5 percent of them) have disabilities”.

At the beginning of the volunteering in the library, training (for example, fire-fighting training) and acquaintance with the library were held. The staff of the library was very friendly and accepted Sofia into their team. Sofia mostly communicated with the chief bibliographer. Romualda explained everything to her and answered the questions that emerged. Meanwhile, Inga helped Sofia get involved in the library activities, supported and encouraged her to become more self-confident.

After the conversation with Sofia, Romualda realized that the young woman would need to be given more time to get acquainted with the library, get involved in library activities, have longer tours of the library, get a specific and clear presentation of one or two tasks rather than all tasks at once, as well as more training repetitions. Sofia mastered the tasks slowly, repeating them, but she did it carefully and responsibly.

Unfortunately, Sofia had to stop volunteering shortly after the training ended, because of the pandemic. Some of the staff remained in the library according to a pre-arranged and approved schedule, while others started working remotely.

According to the library‘s representative, Sofia is diligent, responsible and conscientious. She handles the functions she recieves: distributes, sorts books returned by readers, takes books to reading rooms according to the book storage code, places books belonging to leisure reading rooms in place according to the book code, teaches readers how to pick up books using self-service devices.

Romualda thinks that it may be more difficult for Sofia to find a job in the context of today, when all employers want fast and multi-functional employees, because of her disability. In her opinion, it would be ideal for Sofia to work in such position where there are as few tasks as possible, which do not require a fast pace of performance.

Sofia‘s contribution to the life of the library is unquestionable – assistance to the staff when they are no longer able to distribute and arrange books. At the same time, the personnel also experienced a challenge. The team learned to accept a person who is doing everything more slowly, to repeat information several times, to remain patient and to control their rising annoyance.

According to Sofia, the people with disabilities are accepted, treated with goodwill and respect in this institution. Also, efforts are made to take them into account, to integrate them into the team and all library activities. Sofia would recommend this place of volunteering to other people with disabilities, especially those who are interested in books and want to gain experience in the field of services. During this experince she noticed changes in her personal life. “It is good to be able to help and advise a person on literature issues. Volunteering has given me more self-confidence”, says Sofia.


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