Summer Volunteers

Throughout the year, teens in my branch come in, check out their things, and leave. Not many hang out in our teen area, maybe because our other branch has a way cooler teen room. Our stats show that they like our collection, but programming-wise, the numbers are never there. This is why I love summer. We see more teens during the summer than at any other time, and they all want to volunteer.

This year we’ve had to turn away teens and send them to other branches because, for once in as long as I can remember, we’re fully staffed with teen volunteers. They run our Summer Reading Club table and completely take care of registration, logs, and handing out prizes. We pull them into help with programs, especially ones where we need another set of hands. We’re getting another problem, though. We have so many teen volunteers that we don’t know what to do with all of them, and the natives get restless during the slow time of the day. We’ve had to get creative in coming up with things for them to do.

When we have more than two teens at the SRC table, and it’s slow, we’ve given them tasks like entering the SRC forms into our tracker software, or labeling the many, many, many pieces of our early literacy station activities. They shelve and straighten and pick up in-house, but we don’t want them doing that all the time (mostly because we don’t like doing it all the time either). They help set up for programs, especially ones that have crafts, but when all of this is finished, there’s nothing left. A lot of them are happy to read at the SRC table until someone needs help. Others are more…boisterous, shall we say, and when they don’t have a task, they’re getting into trouble.

Does anyone else have the problem of too many volunteers and not enough to do? Leave your solutions in the comments!

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3 Comments

  1. I have a very similar problem with my volunteers. My library is on the smaller side of a medium sized library and we have (at last count) 74 volunteers. It is a pretty diverse group in terms of backgrounds, ages, and personalities. I had to put into place a few controls so it wouldn’t end up being total chaos.

    1. I divided up the day into 6 different 2 hour shifts and initially limited them to 1 shift per day 4 shifts per week. if we still had gaps to fill in the schedule after the first week of sign up they could then sign up for more spots with a limit of 2 shifts per day and 6 shifts per week. 90% of my volunteers work just 2 hours a day which is prevents burnout and restlessness.

    2. I intentionally mixed up the schedule so volunteers would work with a variety of different people, not just their friend groups. That is not to say that they would never work with friends. I explain this to each volunteer. This has worked out well since if we are slow often volunteers who don’t really know each other will ride out the 2 hours getting to know each other.

    3. about 35-40% of my volunteer staff returned from last year. Around 80% of all my volunteers signed up in the three days before SRP. As such most missed the training sessions. So i just made sure to pair Veterans of the program with newcomers. I instructed the newcomers to shadow the vets and for the vets to teach the newcomers how to run the SRP desk (I did provide some basic training first). Often even my more…energetic…veteran volunteers took the responsibility very serious and would spend the two hours running the newer volunteers through scenario’s.

    4. I made a check list for the volunteers to check once every shift. some of the items include doing face-out’s on shelves in the teen section, making sure everything is stocked at the srp desk, ect. it is about 20 minutes of works total (10 if they split it up) but this often means that it is 20 minutes where i have them working apart.

    5. Our teen programs in the summer were also abysmally attended so i just took that budget and moved it into “volunteer exclusive” events like pizza parties, gamer parties ect. My best attended program last year had 4 kids show up. my first “volunteer exclusive” party this summer had 34 kids show up. Volunteers where told they could bring friends and we advertised it to both current volunteers and “open to anyone thinking about volunteering” these events not only are better attended, it brought the volunteer force together and gave me a chance to show a different side of the library to many of the newer ones who i didn’t know as well. clean up also only took 5 minutes since everyone there was a volunteer 🙂

    so far we have had almost no issues.

    hope this helps.

  2. I’ve had this problem at my library as well. Although I haven’t found enough solutions to the problem, here’s what we have tried so far:

    1. Research. I have asked our teen volunteers to conduct research on anything from books to add to our booklists to local schools’ reading summer lists. I also like this idea for our teens because it gives them some practice searching online and using our online catalog. Some of them even had excellent recommendations for books based on what they had personally read.

    2. Craft projects. I searched and searched for something more “fun” for our teen volunteers to do. Since we had a big final party for our vacation reading program, I asked our volunteers to create parts for our homemade games and make personalized thank you cards for people who donated time or things to our party.

    3. Ideas. Although this only took a few minutes in between other projects, I would often chat with my volunteers while they worked in the staff room that doubles as my office. I would ask them what they had read lately and what type of programs they would like to attend. This really helped me get a better sense of how to plan for the upcoming school year and it killed some time here and there. The teens were also able to give me feedback on what we were currently doing. For instance, I would run game ideas by them for our final party and they told me if they thought they would work or be fun or give me new ideas we hadn’t thought of yet.

  3. Summer volunteers running a summer reading sign-up/info table?!? Such an awesome idea.

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