Volunteer Tips

As we move into spring, librarians around the country are starting to think about using teen volunteers over the summer. Talk about YOUTH PARTICIPATION! I had the privilege of working with over 100 teens in the six years that I supervised a computer signup program. Teens to manage Internet signups for up to 26 computers and assist users with non reference transactions such as attaching files, printing, typing in a URL or setting up an email account. Even if you have software that manages your computer signups, consider using technology savvy teens to assist users with computer tasks.

It was a great program that met the needs of the library, gave teens community service credit, and built the following developmental assets as defined by the Search Institute:

Other Adult Relationships: Working with library staff and developing a relationship with YA librarian.

Caring Neighbors: Librarians were like caring neighbors – they grew to like kids and become concerned about their success and well-being.

Community Values Youth: The program itself demonstrated that we appreciated teens who provided this useful service. Volunteers were also invited to suggest web site links.

Youth as Resources: Teens brought computer expertise of their own to the job.

Service to Others: Teens earned community service hours for work.

[Library] Provides Clear Rules and Consequences: We gave volunteers the library rules and volunteer tips in writing and explained them in person; teens were held accountable in evaluations each semester as well as through supervision during their shift.

[Library] Monitors Behavior: Teens were supervised and expected to follow library rules and set a good example for peers.

High Expectations: Every teen who wanted to try being a TCC volunteer was allowed to get trained and try it. We expected a 20-hour commitment, and got parent buy-in – parents had to sign the volunteer form. I did train teens who dropped out after 4 or 10 hours. I also had one boy perform over 200 hours! He is a college senior now – and we’re still in touch.

Caring: Volunteers often came to work for us to help people.

Honesty: Teens had to treat all customers the same and be truthful and accurate about who was on what computer at which time; also, I didn’t work every shift and they had to accurately track their hours of service.

Responsibility: Managing 26 machines was a LOT of work! Just showing up was a responsible act.

Planning and Decision Making: Determining who to put on which computer, how to let someone know their time was up and learning when to get a librarian for help involved problem solving and critical thinking skills.

Interpersonal Competence: People skills were very important in this job, more than the computer skills.

Cultural Competence: Our busy city library allowed teens to interact with people for a variety of backgrounds, ages and situations.

High Self-Esteem: There were many opportunities to feel good about volunteering.

Sense of Purpose: For that 2 hour shift, that volunteer felt both expert and needed. We thanked teens for working at the end of every shift, praised them when they did well, and let them make mistakes to learn from. Most years we had a gathering of some kind, and teens were invited to the annual volunteer luncheon. I wrote many letters of recommendation for job and college applications.)

These were my volunteer tips when I ran a volunteer program. In an initial 45 minute training session, teens got an introduction to the reference staff, a quick library tour, and we went over the Internet policy, the behavior policy, the job description (they were computer volunteers) and computer signup procedures. I showed them lots of things in the volunteer manual and explained it was a resource, but I went over each of these tips in detail.

VOLUNTEER TIPS

Sign in/Sign Out. A sign-in sheet for each volunteer is located in this manual. Please keep track of your hours and check for notes from your supervisor on your page. (I totaled hours and did certificates for 20 hours, then at the end of each fiscal year; the number of teens and number of hours was counted in the annual report.)

Wear your volunteer pin. Pins are located on the desk. Pins let the staff know you are authorized to do signups and let patrons know to see you for help. (everyone hated the pins. Hats or t-shirts would have been nice. The pins didn’t have names unless the kids wanted to write them in – just s logo and the word volunteer. They always forgot to take them off. I lost a lot of pins.)

Introduce yourself. Make sure you greet the staff you are working with and remind them who you are. (this was important for helping me do evaluations. Also, staff members always thanked the teens for working – good for teen esteem – and allowed the staff to see teens in a positive light.)

Be friendly, polite and professional. This is a customer service job. You might be the only library person a patron talks to, so smile and speak clearly. (I reminded kids not to say WHAT? but to ask patrons to spell their names or write their own names, to make eye contact, etc).

Treat volunteering like a job. If you are scheduled to be here, be here on time ready to work. If you cannot make your shift, please call the library so we know not to expect you. (I told teens they didn’t need to ask permission to miss a shift, it was simply a courtesy.)

Users first. Get in the habit of looking around every 5 minutes to see if people left or sat down without signing up. When a patron comes over to you, STOP whatever you are doing. Smile and make eye contact THEN ask how you can help them. (This was just a reminder not to get completely engrossed in your own computer when volunteering.)

Ask for help when you need it. Don’t be shy! If you have a question you can’t answer or a computer you can’t fix, get a librarian right away. (I showed teens where to find answers to questions like how do I attach a file, but reiterated they could ask the same question every day and we would patiently show them/give the answer.)

Know when to get a librarian. It is not the duty of the volunteer to monitor peers for appropriate use, enforce rules, or discipline those who break the rules. See “When to get a Librarian” on the next page. (This was VERY important – I also encouraged teens to get an adult ANYTIME someone made them feel uncomfortable.)

Keep visitors to a minimum. It is okay to greet people you know, but please be brief. Friends and family should not pull up a chair and hang out, or even use a computer next to yours. Get a librarian to gently remind friends that you are working. (This was a question I treated with a little humor “You’ll see lots of people you know, but no one should pull up a chair and hang out like I am doing right now. If your friends are a distraction, let a staff member know and WE can be the bad guy and explain that you are working.)

Volunteering counts as your Internet time. Please do not sign up before your shift. If you need more time after your shift, you may sign up for an hour. (Teens who volunteered were guaranteed a computer while they were working. We had a 1 hour time limit, so getting the computer for 2-4 hours was a nice perk.)

Remember you represent the library. Please dress neatly — whatever you can wear to school you may wear here — and take care of personal hygiene. (Teens usually laughed at this one, but I addressed issues like low-cut blouses and short-shorts here – we did have an instance of an adult hitting on a teen volunteer who looked older with her dress and makeup. I encouraged them to carefully consider the messages they sent with the clothing they chose, and sometimes it could result in unwelcome attention. Again, reminded them to get an adult ANYTIME someone made them feel uncomfortable.)

Headphones are not allowed when volunteering. They are distracting and make patrons think you are unapproachable. (we sold headphones for a $1 at the desk for patrons.)

Thank you for not eating and drinking in public areas. Drinks and snacks may be left in the Reference Office. (Teens could get up anytime to get a drink or snack from the office.)

If you work 4 hours, you get a 20-minute break. This is MANDATORY. See a staff member to get to the staff room. You may, of course, use the lavatory or water fountain whenever you need to. (The break is a state law – anything that applies to working teens applies to volunteering teens, including hours they can work. We asked that if teen would be gone for more than 5 minutes, s/he let a staff member know so the area could be monitored.)

Talk to your supervisor. If you are unhappy or have questions or problems, please contact Beth Gallaway at the library, on AIM, or via e-mail. (Contact info followed.)

I am happy to send the volunteer manual as an attachment to anyone who would like a copy – many of the procedures may be out of date, and the library has gone to an automated sign up system. E-mail informationgoddess29@gmail.com for a copy.

~posted by Beth Gallaway

About Beth Gallaway

Beth Gallaway was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2006 for her work in advocating for videogames in libraries. She is an independent library trainer/consultant specializing in gaming, technology, and youth services, and is a YALSA certified Serving the Underserved (SUS) trainer.
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