April 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Fresh Paint: Teen Volunteers—Priceless

Volunteers are a critical component of the public library organization. At my branch, nearly 20 percent of the shelving is completed by adult and teen volunteers. Each month teens log an average of 125 volunteer hours, which is comparable to having an additional staff member. We have volunteers at work nearly every open hour during the summer, and on evenings and weekends during the school year. Their dedication is tireless. Their value? Priceless.

The new Gum Spring Library in Loudon County, VA, will need volunteers to shelve materials, organize the book sale area, discard old materials, prepare crafts for the children’s department, help with the Summer Reading Program, and more. In addition to these daily volunteers, we will need Opening Day volunteers, with special training, to help direct patrons around the building and wear the mascot costumes, among a myriad of other tasks. It might seem tricky to collect names and contact prospective volunteers by February 23, 2013 when we don’t have an operational building yet, but, as it turns out, the volunteers have taken care of that problem, too.

Through our library Facebook page, Friends group (FROGS), library website, and school and outreach visits, we have a list of over 65 teens interested in volunteering at the Friends of Gum SpringGum Spring Library. I have received emails and calls from teens interested in helping the library. I was even approached by a Girl Scout wanting the library to be the beneficiary of her Gold Award Project. A high school librarian I met at a meeting between local educators and public library staff recently contacted me regarding the Interact Club’s interest in helping with Opening Day activities, as did a middle school parent liaison who leads a group of student leaders. This outpouring of interest is more than helpful; it is imperative to our success as a functioning library. We are fortunate to have these individuals and groups as future volunteers. Now that we have an ever-growing list of volunteers, how and where do we train them so that they are ready on opening day?

Training volunteers can take as little as 30 minutes and should include a tour of the building, a review of the sign-in/out procedure, and a walk-through of tasks they may be asked to complete. In a perfect world, we would host volunteer orientations at the new branch in the weeks leading up to the opening. With the branch still incomplete, this isn’t possible. Instead, we could lean on our partnership with the local middle and high schools to host shelver orientations in their libraries. I could show my Introduction to Shelving PowerPoint, distribute handouts, and assign the teens “homework” of completing an online shelving test, or given enough time, give each teen a cart and test them on how accurately they ordered those materials.

The downside is that volunteers would not be learning to shelve in the building where they would be volunteering. Gum Spring Library’s 40,000 square-foot, two-story layout will take time to get used to. It Gum Spring Libraryhas separate areas, spine labels, and rules for shelving in adults, teens, children, and media.Training in 400 square feet of school library space will not give any idea of the scope of the task. Furthermore, the school library might not use the Dewey Decimal System (DDS), leaving the teens without experience sorting by number, author’s last name, and title. Approximately 25 percent of the teens I train as shelvers do not ever return to volunteer, or, upon completing the online quiz or the slip test tell me they did not like the attention to detail and/or the monotony of sorting and shelving. If the volunteers were trained without hands-on practice of DDS, would they be turned-off or overwhelmed when they finally did experience it?

All this leaves me still solving the problem of how to orient this valuable volunteer force by Opening Day. I hope we can train them inside the new branch, but we may have to call on school libraries and/or other public library branches to lend us some space. If so, we’ll make the best of it, but the teens will need even more flexibility than we usually expect of them.

Fresh Paint traces the development of teen services for a new public library in an underserved community.

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April Layne Shroeder About April Layne Shroeder

April Layne Shroeder is a Teen Services Librarian in a Northern Virginia public library system, and loves it! One of her favorite job duties is reading/being knowledgeable about YA literature, and discussing/recommending it to young people (and open-minded adults).

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  1. P. Joy Webster says:

    As a School Library Tech, I know what it is to live with being underfunded, to try to do a full-time job in part-time hours. However, I have gotten to the point where I no longer accept volunteers. As Ms. Pavis pointed out, volunteers soon quit after being trained, and I got tired of re-doing their work after they left, or having to leave behind more important work to get work ready that volunteers can do. Worse yet, volunteers don’t show up, and often aren’t interested in doing what needs to be done!

    I think we library professionals do ourselves a disservice by going along with the status quo and taking the attitude that we just have to manage along as best we can. We need to do a better job of making people aware that schools wilth 400+ students deserve to have a full-time technician in the library, and that the place can’t be run by students doing the shelving and teachers doing the circulation. School principals understand the value of a secretary, and even small schools have at least one full-time secretary, so why not a full-time library tech? We must start refusing to depend on volunteers, and help the people in charge understand that library work is technical, and requires training. It is not something that just anyone can do.