Monday, June 11, 2012

Summer Reading Volunteers: The First Week

It was a busy first week of summer reading at my library! It's looking like this may be a blockbuster summer--tons of kids and teens signing up for and participating in the reading programs, lots of half-full displays from so many books circulating, and high demand for our variety of programs. I've been able to observe the enthusiastic chaos and interact with excited kids for one primary reason: I have great volunteers handling the bulk of the summer reading program workload.

The children's side of our
summer reading station.
I'm happy to say that the first week of summer reading sign-ups (and, toward the end of the week, prize distribution) went very well overall. As each volunteer arrived for his or her shift, I gave a "tour" of our mobile summer reading station--during volunteer-staffed hours, it has its own location and table in the library, and during non-volunteer hours it gets wheeled behind the reference desk. I made the tour a bit of a training refresher, and I noticed that many of the volunteers already felt comfortable with the program even before their first shifts. That May training really paid off!

I tried to make sure the volunteers had everything they could possibly need at the summer reading station: book logs, stickers to give to kids who signed up, prizes, program calendars, bookmarks, a stamp to mark when prizes are given... Does your summer reading station at your library have this much stuff, too? I felt like I was surrounding my volunteers with a mountain of Dream Big READ and Own the Night paraphernalia. They proved, though, that they were more than up to the challenge.

Despite the volunteers' level of knowledge and confidence, I made sure to emphasize that the reference desk was only ten feet away should they need anything or have questions. Knowing they weren't totally on their own helped put many first-time volunteers at ease. After the first fifteen minutes of each shift, though, I witnessed all of the volunteers settling into their roles and getting kids excited about the program. It was a beautiful sight.

I did make a few adaptations to my method and to the summer reading station as the week progressed, and I'm making notes to utilize the following tools next summer:

  • I printed out a slideshow handout cheat sheet explaining the core stages of the program (registration, halfway prize, completion prize), including a breakdown describing the exact items a participant of each program should get at each stage. I put these cheat sheets in some magnetic sign holders in front of each volunteer's chair. They all mentioned how helpful they found this sheet.
  • I hung around the summer reading station for the first few customer interactions of each volunteer's shift. That way I could coach and correct them as necessary, and I was able to point out any aspects of the program that I may have forgotten to mention earlier. (There's something about repeating the same information forty-five million times that makes me miss a small but important fact every once in a while...)
  • I encouraged volunteers to immediately sign themselves and their siblings up for the program. Turns out there's nothing quite as motivating as making sure you know how to earn your own prizes!
I'll be interested to see how things continue to develop as the high numbers of registrations turn into high numbers of kids collecting their prizes. I anticipate that these future interactions will involve less explanation on the part of the volunteers, but more time will go into making sure the correct prizes are given, encouraging continued reading, etc. I think my volunteers are ready!

The first week's stats:
  • Total program registrations (children and teens): 897
  • Total volunteer hours worked: 51
  • Number of volunteers helping with summer reading: 27

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