Friday, December 7, 2012

YA Friday: Teen Volunteers in the Library

I've talked before about using teen volunteers to support our annual summer reading program. Now, for a bit of a change, let's talk about using teen volunteers during the academic year. Because that whole shebang is a horse of a different color.

When I started my position at my branch in August 2011, I took on the responsibilities of the volunteer coordinator as well as the children's librarian. That fall, I had a volunteer corps of about 7 teens, totaling an average of 10 hours of help each week. Fast forward to today, when I have a group of 11 volunteers putting in 17 hours each week. That's seventeen hours each week when volunteers show up at my library in order to help us get things done. They come to me looking for their tasks. And I increasingly don't have much for them to do.

You see, in our library, volunteers help with small tasks that are not at the core of any staff person's job description. Our regular volunteers do any and all of the following:

  • Alphabetize carts of returned items
  • Prepare items reserved by customers to go on our reserve shelves
  • Prepare craft components for programs
  • Withdraw items that have been weeded by staff
  • Cut scrap paper
  • Help set up the program room for events
  • Pull items on lists prepared by staff
  • Check in books that were recently used in programs
  • Stock materials displays
  • Assist with special one-time projects as directed

Now let me ask you a question: would your library (considering it is medium-sized like mine with an average of 5 programs per week) have seventeen hours worth of these tasks each and every week? I think you can start to see my problem: I have lots of volunteers, and not enough tasks to keep them all occupied.

That's why I'm reorganizing how we work with our teen volunteers. We're shutting down volunteer operations for the weeks of Christmas and New Year's. Then, when volunteers start to come around again the second week of January, a new schedule will kick into place. Volunteers will have one shift every other week instead of weekly. Ta-da!

I know that modification doesn't seem huge, but it will cut in half our weekly job of frantically organizing volunteer tasks. The demands on staff will be fewer as we have reduced weekly volunteer traffic. Also, by reducing the ratio of volunteer hours to volunteer tasks, we'll be able to give each of our volunteers more substantial and meaningful work. Whereas under our current schedule the weekly Friday afternoon volunteer always gets stuck helping us wrap our reserves, in the new schedule she'll get more variety in her assignments. It's a win-win for everyone.

Or at least I hope. I'm interested to hear what volunteers have to say about the overall reduction in their volunteer hours; after all, some of them volunteer in order to fulfill service requirements for honor societies and youth groups, and spreading out their shifts means it will take longer to reach a volunteer hour goal. I am trying to take that concern into consideration, however, by providing opportunities for interested volunteers to earn extra hours. Many of our children's programs throughout the year benefit from having a few volunteers in the room to help things run smoothly; I have started sharing these program volunteer requests on our library's volunteer Facebook page and at Teen Advisory Board meetings. Additionally, volunteers are welcome to work as much as they want during our summer reading program. Thus, if a teen needs 30 hours of volunteer service, he or she can get those hours no problem with a bit of planning.

I'm looking forward to debuting this new volunteer scheduling in January--I think it will really make for more enjoyable interactions for both volunteers and library staff. I'll be sure to report back.

In the meantime, do you have volunteer tips, tricks, or stories to share? Sound off in the comments.

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