Friday, December 14, 2012

Help! We have too much help!

I really hate to gripe about this and so please don't take this as a complaint, but I have too many teens interested in volunteering!  Or maybe it is better to say “I have all these teens and not enough work!”  Before I start in with my story, let me just say that I LOVE my teen volunteers, they are amazing hard workers and don't know what I would do without them.  I suppose this post is exactly what the title implies, a cry for help, maybe some advice from my experienced teen/youth services librarians.  I’m also wondering, do other Youth Service Librarians struggle with this issue?


Currently, I have about 30 teen volunteers.  I have about 3-4 volunteering at any given time after school and on weekends.  They help with tutoring, leading and assisting with programs, shelving, preparing for crafts, stamping books, folding monthly calendars, and of course, they are a huge help during Summer Reading Program with sign-ups and handing out prizes.  30 is a good number.  It suits our library's needs.  There are times where I am scrambling, trying to find something for them to do, but generally it works.  But I certainly cannot handle more.

iStockphoto,raised,hands,answering,students,professionals,humans,voting,palms,fingers,teamwork,volunteering,conceptsThe "problem" is that I have about 40 applications in my desk from teens that are dying for a volunteer opportunity at the library.  I have been receiving them since I began my position in May, 2012.  When I started, we already had the summer volunteers picked and the applications that were turned in after that were put aside for the fall.  Many of the applicants from June are still waiting to volunteer.  They (and their parents) check in with me every so often asking when a spot will open up and I tell them it may take a few months and that I'll get back to them.  Once, a parent told me that the rejection will severely hurt their child’s self-esteem.  Ugh!  I created a handout for them which offer other volunteer opportunities in the area.  They thank me, but they still keep checking back. 

My current procedure is that once a volunteer comes onboard, is trained and is working out; they can stay as long as they want.  When one drops, a new one can be added.  So it is very difficult to estimate when a new applicant will be able to volunteer.  My branch manager suggested that I limit their time to only one semester or season, such as fall semester, spring semester and summer.  Then when it is over, they leave and I train a whole new group.  I see 3 problems with this:
  1. Time commitment -  Training takes a lot of time and patience and I would hate to send a volunteer away once they are independent and knowledgeable about the collection. 
  2. Shooting myself in the foot - While I have a lot of applicants, I don't know if I would have enough to have new groups every semester.  Let’s say only 20 applicants apply for spring semester and then who do I choose from my old semester to fill the remaining 10 spots?
  3. Teens have an agenda -  They need to fulfill a certain amount of volunteer hours, which may not be able to be completed in one semester. 

Too much of a good thing: that is my problem.  Any advice?


Joanna said...

We have the same "problem" at my library. Our volunteer coordinator is inundated with phone calls from parents and teens looking for volunteers opportunities. During the summer we take on about 50 teens, but throughout the school year we can handle far fewer.

I decided to create a program where teens could earn community service without ever stepping foot in the library. It provides a much needed service to the community without any additional staff time or need for training. It also addresses the issue of teens not being able to attend in-library programs when our Branch was closed down 2 years ago.

The Review Crew enables teens to earn community service credit for writing online book reviews. This helps me by creating online content for the teen website as well as serving as a useful reader's advisory tool for staff and other teens.

If you have control over your library's website, it's a really easy program to run. All of the information is available on the webpage if you want to start your own program. I'm also happy to answer any questions.

Joanna said...

Or if you don't have control over your website you can just direct your teens to my website and they can join my Review Crew. :) The only time they have to physically come into the library is to select their free book (after 3 reviews) and to pick up any monthly prizes they might win.

emderry said...

Thanks so much for that advice Joanna! You've got my mind spinning in all these directions now of ways they can help out without physically being here. I do not have control over the website but maybe I can start something else, like on Blogger or FB.