On a Shoestring: Teen Volunteers and Your Library

19 Apr

A volunteer programme can bolster your teen offer, but the process of establishing volunteering hours. Here are some tips that will help you set up a volunteer service for young people and decide what type of volunteering is appropriate, and how to manage it.

What type of volunteer work should my library offer to young people?

Teens may receive volunteer hours a wide variety of activities. You could also establish a programme in which teens work with children (mentoring, reading, etc.) or the elderly. Young people may also receive volunteer hours from participating in a reading group, Teen Advisory Group, or other youth-related library project. Contact your local youth volunteering representative (probably someone from vinvolved) to find out more.

Some activities you could do with pre-existing teen groups: a reading group could write reviews and post online, and/or help come up with new ideas for displays, and/or plan reading-related events for children. A teen writing group could publish their work, or write stories for local children; an art group could illustrate library materials.

What are the benefits of teen volunteering?

Benefits to the library may include input and help with teen and other events, teen leadership (which means supporting projects rather than always leading them), building a positive profile with local young people, greater role in the local community, building a better offer for young people and, importantly, creating positive associations with the library, reading, and information.

Benefits to teens include a voice and greater investment in their local community and library, new experience/skills to add to their CV and university applications, positive adult mentors (librarians!), and positive attention and encouragement for skills and input.

How do I make a volunteer programme official?

Coordinate with a local volunteer group like vinspired who can give teens certificates and other vetted rewards for their hours. Contact a local representative and request information on their volunteering requirements, such as the minimum age to volunteer, and what types of roles are suitable or unsuitable for young people.

Once you have established the rules of the volunteer programme, collaborate with colleagues and local teens to come up with list of duties, responsibilities, rules. It’s especially useful to consider specific skills that your library’s volunteer programme can offer to young people. Will they improve their writing or speaking skills? Perhaps they will learn to lead projects and make important decisions. Or they will make use of communication or teaching skills.

How do I register teen volunteers and keep track of logged hours?

The teens will usually need to fill in a registration sheet. Once they have filled this out, you should create a sheet with their name that goes into a binder in which you record individual teen volunteer hours (and a brief list of activities done – two or three words should usually cover it). When teens reach certain landmarks (20 hours, 50 hours – these depend your local volunteer organisation), send a copy the teens’ volunteer hours sheet and obtain a certificate to award to teens for their service.

Remind teens that skills they’ve learned can go on their CVs and possibly in applications for uni (have a list ready is they’re not sure how to phrase them). For example, helping to plan a local event or applying for a grant for a teen-led projects both yield desirable skills.

How do I interest young people in volunteering?

I don’t have a magic bullet to recommend. The best way to get teens involved is to appeal to a few who are interested in the activity and then make the volunteer experience rewarding enough to keep the young people coming back.

Speak to young people who already use your library service and/or attend teen library groups about volunteering. They are a built in “user group” and some of them are likely to be keen.

Make local volunteer coordinators aware of your most interesting/enriching programmes. When they council young people on finding volunteer work, they will also recommend yours.

Put up posters in the library, in schools and at youth centers. List your volunteer opportunity on local websites and, if appropriate, in local magazines or papers.

Whenever engaging in outreach (at schools, youth clubs, etc.) be certain to give a good “elevator talk” about the library’s volunteer opportunities.

How do I keep volunteers coming back?

If you can, hold “thank you” parties once or twice yearly. Rewards like this make teens feel special and appreciated and keep them invested. They ARE doing a great service for your library. Say thanks.

Consider other rewards that be appropriate to the volunteer activity. At the library where I used to work (I miss you, Southend!) the teen reading group used to go on yearly “book buys” to London. It was a fun day, and the books they selected were allocated a special space in the library. (Aside: this collection always circulated brilliantly.)

As you get to know some of the young people involved, you will also build a positive relationship with them. You may feel comfortable offering to write job recommendations or helping them in similarly appropriate ways.

A few important notes:

Running a volunteer programme is not a quick fix to short staffing or other issues. Volunteer programmes require time and energy to establish and maintain!

Due to health and safety regulations, library staff members need to be present when volunteers are working. Libraries cannot hold events that are volunteer run.

Although it’s not necessary, I highly recommend that you a course about managing volunteering programmes.

One Response to “On a Shoestring: Teen Volunteers and Your Library”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. On a Shoestring: Reaching Teens in a Few Hours Every Week (or) How to Use Time Effectively When You Don’t Have Any « YA Library UK - April 19, 2012

    […] help run events that you would never be able to put on without their ideas and investment. Read Teen Volunteers and Your Library for more […]

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