Friday, May 3, 2013

YA Friday: Why I work with teen volunteers

Lately I've been thinking about why, specifically, I dedicate work time and energy to working with teen volunteers. Ask many a library person and you'll hear that teens don't always have the best image in the library: they can be loud, unprofessional, unreliable, late, unmotivated. And I can see how that reputation can turn some libraries off from working with teen volunteers, even when they have tasks that could be aided by volunteer hands.

Me, though? I think it's worth it. And not just because teen volunteers can do the cutting, stickering, and scanning that aren't high on staff's list of priorities. No, I work with teen volunteers for other reasons.

Why I Work with Teen Volunteers
  1. Teens need to see that their communities value them. And the library absolutely does value teens. We value the passion they bring to the things they care about. We value their dedication to their friends, families, and beliefs. We value their input about what they like to read, watch, and do. And we value the contributions they are able and willing to make to an organization they believe in.
  2. Teens need a chance to develop their work ethic and skills. So you think teens are late, loud, and unprofessional? How can they learn to act otherwise in an appropriate environment if we always ask them to leave the library? I am a firm believer that teens need mentoring, even informally, to see that they are worthy of respect and recognition for their work.
  3. Teens need to feel that what they do is important. I remember being a teenager with stacks of homework assignments and other tasks that seemed pointless; who were they going to help, really? It is entirely within the power of the library to give teens meaningful work, and to allow them to see the positive impact their work has.
  4. Lots of teens need service hours for school, clubs, and applications. And while I recognize that not every teen who submits a volunteer application is gung-ho about the library, I strive to give them the benefit of the doubt. Sure, maybe they're just volunteering because they need so many hours for NHS; but hopefully they can have some positive interactions with adults and other teens in the process.

  5. And one of the biggest reasons I work with teen volunteers is...

  6. Teens can be tireless advocates for the library. If teens care about something, they will talk about it--to their friends, their families, their acquaintances. I've seen volunteers telling anyone who will listen about the books they "must read." I've had volunteers offer to put signs on their lockers--even wear a sandwich board sign at school--to promote programs and author visits they care about. I've overheard some of my volunteers talking about summer reading at local restaurants, and they don't even realize I'm there. If teens love the library, feel it is a place of value, they will spread that message far better and to more diverse populations than our traditional marketing can do.
Teens really are a vital part of the operation of my library. It may take some work and time on the part of staff, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

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Do you work with teen volunteers in your library? Why?


1 comment:

  1. Your observations are exactly right . . . teens WILL support and be enthusiastic about their library, but only if we allow them to be active and contributing members of its larger community. I do a lot of my research and writing in three different public libraries, and the teen volunteers at two of them are ardent advocates of their branches and very knowledgeable about books, e-readers, periodicals, etc. Thanks for sharing this post on a very important--but frequently overlooked--issue!

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