Teens are a valuable and often underestimated force of contribution for public libraries. I am all for taking advantage of this potential. It gives teens who hang out at the library after school something to do, it lets them feel valued and useful, it can teach them new skills and prepare them for the workforce and gives a helpful impression to your colleagues.
Really all you have to do is ask your teens if they want to help out. If you have some teens you see all the time, your regulars may already be helping you out with programs. Take it a step further. Ask if they want to help with program planning or preparation, not just setup or cleanup. Gauge their interest, and go from there to determine how much involvement they should have. You can also advertise teen volunteer opportunities on your library’s website, facebook page, and by emailing local schools about it if you don’t already have a core group of teens.
Does your library already have adult volunteers? Have the teens go through the same process. Make sure they fill out an application if necessary, and sign all the right forms, and glance at the handbook/manual/policies, and get a little tour of the library behind-the-scenes, and all that orientation-type stuff. Introduce them to your colleagues, and maybe send out an email to the staff so they recognize the teens who are volunteers and don’t think they’re creeping around the library stealing things or something strange.
When I talk to my teens about volunteering I do it mostly through Facebook. I send a group of them a fb message about what I need help with, and then they get back to me faster than if I email them. Also, when I see them face-to-face in the library they often forget what we’ve talked about the next day or once they get home, so using facebook is a good way to keep it in the front of their mind.
So what will you have your teens do? There are so many possibilities. Here are a few:
- Pull stickers off books. This is one of my faves. The books with the “New” stickers have to have those taken off. My teens like doing that. I don’t know why. I hate it :D
- Organize your supplies. Like that box of random crafting stuff. That shelf of inherited supplies. That stack of possibly weeded books.
- Weed the collection. Seriously. Give them some guidelines, and let them go to it. You can review their choices and give them feedback after.
- Help your colleagues. Does someone have a big program they need help with? Someone need help weeding the adult fiction? Or putting up a display? Or helping with a kid’s craft? Your teens can do that.
- Help adults/seniors with computing. Teens at my library can help adult patrons download e-books, update their iTunes, work their Nooks, iPhones, make a resume with a template in MS Word, stuff like that. I find the teens that have the expertise already, give them a little talk about helping seniors, and then I sometimes schedule appointments for one-on-one time, or I just go over and ask them if they can help someone for half an hour or so. We do this a lot on the weekends; it gets busy at the reference desk and instead of denying patrons one-on-one time we pull teens from the teen area and computers to help them out!
One you get teens who start volunteering somewhat regularly you should keep track of their volunteer hours and the kinds of things they help with. You can from there write letters of recommendation for them, report the volunteer hours to your managers/administration, and use your experience to recruit more volunteers or change the program around to suit your needs. Making their volunteering more official, by scheduling times and specific projects, and then keeping track of their hours, is a great way to recognize their contributions. Teens are a valuable part of a public library’s patron base, and having a teen volunteer program has so many benefits.