Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Teen Volunteers - How much is too much of a good thing?

Volunteers are wonderful and many of our libraries would struggle to operate without their committed service. Most of our volunteers throughout the year are senior citizens but come summer we get a huge influx of teen volunteers who sign up to help exclusively with our summer reading program. In the past, we've taken everyone who has applied and fit our criteria of being between the ages of 14-18, and our largest group topped out at 50. This year, we expect to register close to 2500 children and 500 teens and have taken on 70 volunteers. Unfortunately, I've turned away about 20 more. I attribute this increase to three factors:

  1. The economy is struggling and whereas before many of the older teens would've gotten part time jobs, now they are competing against (and losing out to) adults with work experience.

  2. The 2nd largest teen volunteer organization in Escondido, Education COMPACT, lost its funding and was forced to disband their summer volunteer groups.

  3. We throw a fabulous thank you party at the end of the summer complete with lush goody bags, delicious food, and letters of recommendation verifying their hours that they can use for scholarship applications and school requirements. :)

I want to provide as many teens as possible with volunteer opportunities, but at what point does the program become more work than it's worth? Recruiting, screening, training, scheduling, and evaluating volunteers is a huge task. On top of attending a training session, teens often need to be reminded of the basics over and over again before it truly sinks in, and it often feels like once they finally get it their parents take them away on vacation or their summer band camp begins and you never see them again. So here are my questions to you YA librarians out there:

  1. How do you screen your applicants to make sure they will be an asset, not a detriment, to your program?

  2. What is your scheduling procedure? Do you allow teens to choose their own shifts or do you work with their availability and then create a schedule for them? If you allow them to choose their own schedule, do they do it for the whole program at once or just a few weeks at a time?

  3. Do you guarantee them a minimum # of hours over the course of the summer?

  4. Do you require that they commit to working a minimum # of hours in order to participate?

I appreciate any comments or feedback on this as I'm always looking for ways to improve the program for next summer.


Monica said...

We've struggled with a lot of the same issues you've mentioned here, and we have spent the last four years trying to fine tune our volunteer process. This year we are using 99 volunteers for tasks as disparate as performing Reader's Theater at local daycares, populating our teen website with new digital content, making promotional videos about our community, and doing traditional things like assisting with children's programming and shelf reading.

This requires a huge outlie of time and energy from our staff, multiple library school students working as unpaid interns, and lots of organization. I'd be delighted to talk to you more about our program. I think its terrific! Monica Harris, Oak Park Public Library, Oak Park, IL

Joanna said...

Thank you Monica! I would love to talk to you more about this. I have some ideas for how to streamline things more next year, but it sounds like you've got things running pretty smoothly already. Can you please email me at joanna.axelrod@gmail.com so we can continue this convo?


Shelsie17 said...

Wow. You guys both have a lot of volunteers. I am imagining your libraries are bigger than mine. About 5 is enough for me. What do all your volunteers do? I am taking a few extra and giving them to the YA librarian to do the oral history program.

We give them a choice of hours that work with our programs and they can pick the ones that are best for them.

We been pretty fortunate with our volunteers. They are pretty good teens and a number of them had either volunteered with book buddies or came to summer reading themselves as kids.

I do have training too and stress during the training that I understand that they do have vacation and other commitments over the summer and they must give me notice if they are not able to attend for some reason. We do have some volunteers in reserve as backup.

Michelle @ http://litchatkids.blogspot.com