Building a Better Library for and with Teens: Dollar General Teen Summer Intern Grant

The Teen Summer Intern Program funded through the generosity of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and YALSA provides libraries with a unique opportunity to implement the practice of building programs and services around the concept of for and with teens. Hedberg Public Library’s teen volunteer program and Teen Advisory Board (TAB) have given teens the opportunity to offer ideas, creativity and service to the library and its customers for many years. The Dollar General Teen Summer Internship Grant awarded to our library has magnified and expanded the many positives of the teen volunteer and TAB programs and has more fully demonstrated the value of providing rewarding experiences and support for teens in useful leadership roles with the goal of increasing teen engagement. Teens have reached further by mentoring their peers and by planning and carrying out activities in their own space at our library for the first time.

To get started, intern position descriptions were posted on the library’s teen web and Facebook pages and were announced during TAB meetings and Teen Volunteer Training sessions. Posters were positioned in the teen area at the library and were distributed to high school librarians. Our main local radio station broadcast an interview with library staff promoting the positions and the opportunity for teens to gain paid work experience. Applications were posted and in-person interviews were held with the Young Adult Librarian and Head of Youth Services. TAB participation or library volunteer experience was preferred for the positions but was not required. Two teens were hired to work an average of four hours per week during the summer learning program. Payments were made through two stipends paid over the summer.

Teens gained important career and workforce development skills through the application, interview and training process. Interns took part in the summer learning and summer lunch program intern/volunteer training sessions conducted by librarians and library workers. Additional training for interns covered basic library policies and procedures, safety and emergency guidelines, a full tour of the library and detailed instructions for the teen summer learning program. Following training, interns assisted teens as they registered and completed check in for the teen summer learning program at iPad kiosks in our teen area using an online tracking system. They also distributed prizes and mentored peer volunteers working with the baby/toddler and school-age programs in the children’s area.

Teen interns held a Kahoot! practice session for a middle school team preparing for our library system’s Battle of the Books competition. They guided participants as they chose a team name and team captain and helped facilitate the design of Sharpie Tie-Dye T-shirts. Senior Moments Tech Day brought teens, seniors and families together to showcase some of the cool gadgets used by teens like robots, 3D printer and more.

One of our interns traveled to a nearby state in the path of totality of the recent solar eclipse. Prior to her trip, interns created a Sci-Fi book display and Lucky Stars origami project in the teen area to connect their interest to a fun learning project. Teens and volunteers helped make stars and guessed the number in the jar at the volunteer/intern reception at the end of the program. One winner measured a star and the volume of the jar to guess close to the actual number of lucky stars. Interns also helped teens make ice cream by combining and shaking the necessary ingredients in large zip-lock bags.

Our teen interns increased youth involvement in our library’s decision making. They created a teen survey for use in our Transformation Project which involves a remodel of the adult area and relocation and doubling of the teen space. They also calculated current and proposed shelving needs and plan to advocate for their new space when they return to school in fall. They also provided input for staff at various levels within the library for an upcoming Growth Mindset display for teens and adults about building resilience in the face of failure. By sharing how teens would define or express failure, they provided valuable teen perspective.

Teen interns gained confidence by leading their peers and working alongside staff. Comments on a survey completed by interns at the end of the program showed that some of their favorite moments were helping kids and teens and sharing their love of reading and getting to know the other people who work and volunteer at the library. Our interns are now interested in continuing or joining TAB or becoming employed as shelvers by the library. Interns and staff sincerely thank Dollar General and YALSA for providing the funding and support for the Teen Summer Intern program.

Laurie Bartz is Young Adult Librarian at Hedberg Public Library in Janesville, Wisconsin, where she oversees the library’s teen program and facilitates the Teen Advisory Board and teen volunteer program. She enjoys partnering with youth-serving organizations to provide services, programs and outreach for teens in the library and community. 

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