April 26, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Struggles of Summer: Volunteers and Guests | Fresh Paint

You’re in a room with 65 teen volunteers waiting to be trained on the Summer Reading Program. You thought of the perfect icebreaker for the group: “What is your favorite memory of the summer reading program?”


And it hits you. They don’t have any favorite memories of a summer reading program. They don’t even know what a summer reading program is, save the fact that it’s a volunteer opportunity. Why? Because they’ve never participated in a Summer Reading Program (SRP). Because the only libraries they have ever known are their school and Gum Spring, the one that has only been open four months.

“Let’s start over. Welcome to the Summer Reading Program!”

This is a unique problem, but (as I have said about every problem I have faced at this new library) a good one to have! This is my opportunity to start fresh, and an even better opportunity to squelch any bad habits before they form.

Opening Day, SRP 2013

So as to not re-create the wheel, I modeled the Gum Spring SRP volunteer program after those established at other branches in our system (including my previous branch), and tweaked it to include Gum Spring-specific items and to incorporate my own rules about volunteering. This was the perfect opportunity to make big changes to the volunteer program, because there is nothing the teens can compare it to. Some of those rules are:

You must register for, and attempt to complete, the Teen Summer Reading Challenge Card. (Teen volunteers should be setting an example for our younger patrons and supporting the very program they are volunteering for.)

If a patron asks you a question to which you do not know the answer, you should walk them to a librarian. (Volunteering in the library is a perfect opportunity for teens to learn job and life skills. Admitting that they do not know the answer, and subsequently looking for the answer, is a learned skill and a sign of maturity.)

With over 100 volunteers to coordinate, I went high-tech in scheduling the volunteers. I set up a Gmail account to send and receive email correspondence with the teens so as to not clog my work inbox, and established a blog as a one-stop-shop for information, schedules, and last-minute notifications.

Every Thursday afternoon I post the scheduling holes I have for the upcoming week (Sunday-Saturday). The teens then email the Gmail address, requesting 1-2 shifts in addition to their usual shift, and I respond only if they were the first to request that time. This was the most unbiased way I could think of to allow volunteers to pick up extra hours. Furthermore, I limited the number of shifts each teen could work per week to three (no more than six hours). Teens (especially in this region of over-achievers) tend to spread themselves thin, and I did not want the library to become a place—like school, work, or, (unfortunately, for many) home—that made high demands of them. Teens have an opportunity to gain workplace experience at the library, but should not be held to the stresses that are inherent of the workplace.

In addition to the volunteer program and the few dozen programs we have scheduled, we have also set high expectations for the Teen Center. The Game Center will likely be utilized every minute of every day, and we will offer lots of reader’s advisory to teens looking for fun summer reads and mandatory assignments, and for parents looking to keep their teens entertained on long car rides and rainy days. Unfortunately, we will also have the recite the requisite “You are not quite old enough to use the Teen Center” speech with children, and the “We have designated this as a safe space for teenagers only, so parents and other adults are not welcome to hang out for extended periods of time,” with reader moms and gamer dads. It is not an easy conversation to have, to exclude people from the most inclusive of places, but it is one the entire library staff is committed to reciting in order to motivate teens to return to the Teen Center.

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

SLJTeen header

This article was featured in our free SLJTeen enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a month.

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).

Empowering Teens: Fostering the Next Generation of Advocates
Teens want to make a difference and become advocates for the things they care about. Librarians working with young people are in a unique position to help them make an impact on their communities and schools. Ignite your thinking and fuel these efforts at your library through this Library Journal online course—April 24 & May 8.
Maker Workshop
In this two-week online course, you’ll create a maker program that aligns with your budget and community needs, with personal coaching from maker experts—from libraries and beyond—May 23 & June 6, 2018.