Summer Volunteers: Maintaining Momentum

I love mistakes. They might not be fun to make, but I sure do learn a lot from them. Take the structure of the volunteer program I am overseeing this summer as an example. I ran it how it has been run for years: like a summer employment opportunity. This meant having interviews and orientations at the very beginning of the summer, the goal being to assemble our “staff,” then have them volunteer on a regular basis for the next two and a half months. So far, it has been successful overall, but not nearly as successful as it could be. I have, however, started to notice a marked decline in overall volunteer availability and general work ethic.

As you can see, the total number of volunteer hours per week is steadily declining. Relatedly, we have experienced about a 28% rate of attrition (of 21 volunteers, 6 are no longer able to volunteer). This causes us to ask more of other volunteers or to go without volunteers.

So, what did we do wrong this year? We expected too much, and we didn’t anticipate attrition. Fortunately, we are still receiving plenty of volunteer applications, so finding new volunteers isn’t an issue. However, I believe tweaking the structure of the volunteer program to make it more agile could naturally preclude such issues. Here’s what we will be doing next year:

Segmenting the summer

Next year, we will experiment with hosting two volunteer sessions: May through June and July through August. We are currently treating the entire summer as a single commitment. By doing this, we are asking teens to make a large and vague commitment. Ideally, this wouldn’t be an issue, since they would have a clear understanding of their summer plans, a reliable means of transportation, and an unquenchable desire to donate their free time to the library. But life is messy and things come up.

Another approach is to break the summer down into sets of smaller commitments. For instance, teens can much more reasonably commit to volunteering for 30 hours in June than to an indeterminate number of hours throughout the entire summer. This also gives parents and guardians a clearer idea of what the commitment will be. We’re hoping that by giving teens a concrete commitment within a set period of time will make the experience more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Having a natural stopping point built into the summer will allow teens to exit the program smoothly — or to decide actively to continue volunteering. Hopefully, this will help weed out those who think they want to volunteer more than they actually do while retaining those who enjoy the realities of volunteering.

Offering multiple orientations throughout the summer

This year, we offered two separate orientations before the summer began. We were hoping that teens would be able to attend one or the other depending on their schedule. For the most part, we were correct, and having orientations just at the beginning of the summer would be fine so long as no new volunteers are added throughout the summer.

Even though we didn’t segment the summer this year, we will be offering a mid-summer orientation. This will let us formally introduce new volunteers to the program. At each orientation we talk about organizational values, discuss Summer Reading, do plenty of icebreakers, eat snacks, and get to know each other. This is an important step in building a volunteer program into a volunteer community. We will be changing our approach to orientations as well, but that is a topic for a longer post.

Hosting more events for volunteers

We have traditionally thrown a volunteer appreciation party at the end of each summer as a way to celebrate our volunteers and express our gratitude. We will be changed things up this year and threw the party in the middle of the summer. Our reasoning behind this is that the party boosts morale, engenders good will, and helps the teens bond. These are benefits we believe would help combat burnout and maintain positive momentum. It also gave us an opportunity to check with the volunteers in an informal setting.

At the end of the summer, we will host a resume and interview development course specifically for summer volunteers. However, it may be more effective to host events like this throughout the summer. The closer a non-entertainment based event is to the beginning of school, the less likely it is that teens will attend them.

There are, of course, many other ways of keeping volunteers engaged with you, the library, and each other besides parties and life skills events. For instance, one cost effective solution would be to host a book club for volunteers. Another would be to schedule a time for the volunteers to meet as a group with a high level library administrator to ask him or her questions and learn about the organization’s leadership.

 

Summer Youth Leaders @ Pearl Bailey Library: Dollar General Grant Winner

Thanks to the generosity of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and YALSA, this year Pearl Bailey Library has three summer Youth Leaders: Sari, Na’quan, and Alysse. These three will learn valuable workforce skills while helping us successfully pull off all of our Summer Reading activities and summer outreach events, as well as organizing the youth during programs and activities, and keeping the library organized as well. While in our Youth Leaders Program across the Wickham Avenue Alliance, they also receive career research training, learn teamwork skills and conflict resolution, all based on the Career Investigations Curriculum. The Youth Leaders also receive customer service training taught by experts from Starbucks, and they take money management workshops from Bayport Credit Union. 

Without further ado, let’s introduce you to the 2018 Youth Leaders at Pearl Bailey Library:

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Preparing for Teen Volunteers: Promotions and Applications

At this point, most of you who are planning on having teen volunteers help you out with Summer Learning Program have probably already started working with your volunteers. It’s never too late or too early to start planning for next year. In this post, I’ll go through how we promoted our Summer Learning Program volunteer positions and how we handle applications.

Promotions

We were hoping to attract 20 volunteers this summer. So far we have had about 40 applicants, and we are still fielding applications. It’s always hard to pinpoint causes of success when it comes to dealing with the public, so I can’t say that we received more applicants than we hoped for because of how we marketed the positions. Our marketing approach, however, doesn’t seem to have failed. The two approaches used were personal contact and flyer distribution.

Word of mouth is an effective way to promote any event. Quite a few of the teen volunteers we have this year are individuals whom I or other staff members personally recruited. These were teens who showed some of the traits we look for in volunteers (work ethic, passion for reading, interest in the library, looking for things to do), and seemed to be a good fit. We also reached out to teens who volunteered in previous years. We keep contact information for all of our volunteers on file. Then, when an event like Summer Reading is on the horizon, we reach out and invite them to return. This has the added benefit of padding a volunteer roster with experienced volunteers.
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Future Ready with the Library: The Power of Index Cards

This blog post is adapted from a Future Ready with the Library Community of Practice reflection by Amanda (Mandy) Bundy, Kaibab Paiute Tribal Library; Fredonia, AZ, Mandy is a member of the second cohort of the YALSA Future Ready with the Library project. Future Ready with the Library provides support for small, rural, and tribal library staff to build college and career readiness services for middle school youth. You can read more posts by current and previous project cohort members on this blog.

Mandy’s post is available in three parts
* Part 1 – Introduction
* Part 2 – Weeks 1 to 3
* Part 3 – Weeks 4 to 6
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Future Ready with the Library: Still Time to Apply for Cohort 3

There are still two weeks to apply for cohort 3 of Future Ready with the Library project that supports library staff in designing and implementing services that support college career readiness services for middle school youth, families, and community. You can learn more about the project and the cohort 3 application process by watching the recording of the informational session.

Cohort 3 applications are due May 15. Learn more and apply.

This project is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and is a collaboration between YALSA and the Association of Rural and Small Libraries.

If you have questions about the project contact Linda W. Braun the project manager, lbraun@leonline.com.

Future Ready with the Library: When a Snowball is More Than a Snowball

This is adapted from a Future Ready with the Library Community of Practice reflection by Allison Shimek, Fayette Public Library in La Grange, TX. Allison is a member of the second cohort of the YALSA Future Ready with the Library project. Future Ready with the Library provides support for small, rural, and tribal library staff to build college and career readiness services for middle school youth. Read more about Future Ready with the Library and apply for cohort 3.

image of teens reading snowball ideasLike everyone in the Future Ready with the Library cohort, over the past several months I have been busy with meetings and gathering information. Through this work I learned a tremendous amount about my community. So far I met with the middle school principal, middle school librarian, school district assistant superintendent, members of the community theater, parents, a local camp, teens, and the local Rotary Club. It seems that the majority of the community agrees that middle schoolers need social skills that will help them prepare for the workforce. At the same time, those I talk with note that there is little for middle school youth to do in the town during out of school time. Except for band and sports, all after school activities end at 6th grade. There is nowhere for teens to go and hang out or a place that they can feel is just for them. The entire community and the teens recognize this as a huge topic of concern. As a part of the Future Ready with the Library work, I plan to continue to meet with more community groups and businesses in the local area to learn how to and plan for ways to better support teens.
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How Student Engagement is Important for Libraries

A recent survey conducted by YouthTruth discusses whether or not students feel engaged in their school studies. Understanding student engagement is important for educators and librarians because it can give great insight into challenges affecting learning both inside and outside of the classroom. YouthTruth analyzed survey responses from over 230,000 students in grades three through twelve. The information was gathered through YouthTruth’s anonymous online climate and culture survey across 36 states. View the entire report here.

The survey targeted four specific statements, which followed with percentages of their findings. The first was that, “across all grade levels, the majority of students feel engaged.” The results to this statement showed 78 percent of elementary school students, 59 percent of middle school students and 60 percent of high school students respectively felt engaged in school work. It is interesting to see that number drop from the time a student left elementary school and finally made it to high school. However, it isn’t surprising. In elementary school students are constantly praised for the work they do and are often times engaged in more “fun programs” than those who entered the older grades.

This isn’t to say that middle schools and high schools aren’t doing their job of praising students or that they are not having fun. They are – I see it on a daily basis on the social media websites and social media accounts that the schools and teachers at middle and high school levels use. A lot happens in middle school and high school: Life changes occur, college prep begins and suddenly the fun of school is hidden beneath the requirements needed to leave and enter the real world. Students may not feel engaged, not because their teachers aren’t showing how important they are but because so much is happening that education gets lost in the shuffle.

According to the survey, “most students take pride in their school work.” This result shows 72 percent of middle school students taking pride and 68 percent of high school students. The survey broke it down even further to state that females are slightly more likely to take pride in school work than males or students who identify as other than male or female.

The last two survey findings were interesting to me, as they speak a lot to an area I feel public libraries can step in and help fill the gap.

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Engaging with the 2016 Opportunity Index

Since 2011, Opportunity Nation and Measure for America have collaborated to create the Opportunity Index. This expansive report examines economic, social, and geographical data as a way “to help policymakers and community leaders identify challenges and solutions” with regard to education and employment rates. The most recent edition of the Opportunity Index–which spans 2016–has just been released, giving the public better insight into the contributing factors that determine opportunity in a given community. Since one of the goals of this annual study is to be “useful as a tool to create community change,” we wanted to examine this as a potentially rich resource for public libraries, and explore the ways in which library workers might be able to incorporate these findings into our services (Opportunity Nation and Measure of America, 2017).

This is an infographic from the Opportunity Index.

Several aspects of the data taken into consideration for this study prove extremely relevant to library services, and can be cited in conversations of change and adaptation. The index itself is divided into three components: Economy, Education, and Community. In order to address how library staff–specifically those working with youth–might engage with this report, each component will be addressed individually.

Economy

In order to gauge the economic status of each state, the Opportunity Index gathered a wide variety of statistics including those related to median income, unemployment rates, affordable housing, internet access, and poverty line proximity. Many of these factors already affect our daily interactions with library visitors, and we are likely aware of our community’s economic standing simply by working within it. However, understanding how our state measures up compared to the national average might help us prepare ourselves–emotionally and practically–for our interactions with youth. For states like Mississippi, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Alabama, which fall on the low end of the Economic Index score, this might confirm what some library staff already know about the necessity of their services. However, a deeper understanding of this dataset–and the factors that influence it, like internet access and access to banking–might inform the programming or workshops available. Tangible actions might include increasing accessibility to financial literacy resources, introducing teens to summer work-and-learn programs and resume assistance, or forging connections between internship and volunteer opportunities. After all, a recent Partner4Work study found that “the various types of work experience [young adults] received in their program enabled them to explore career interests, identify new career goals, and even gain access to employment opportunities” (2017).

Education

In the context of the Opportunity Index, the following factors make up the Education component–preschool enrollment, on-time high school graduation, and post-secondary completion. While our youth services might already include test prep or post-secondary information, we can certainly look at where our state falls on these individual scales. This data, combined with the data collected by our own districts, might inform the workshops or resources we offer our young adults and college students. Offering continuing assistance to our patrons as they navigate the college experience might include increased collaboration with nearby academic libraries, or implementing support systems for college students in the area. According to an article published in the September/October issue of Public Libraries, “49 percent of adult Americans don’t know that online skills certification programs are available at their libraries” (Perez, 2017). This knowledge, combined with the data provided by the Opportunity Index, might suggest we increase informational sessions surrounding the rich collections of e-resources and educational tools accessible through our library networks.

Community

The third component of the Opportunity Index is the Community Score. This category is expansive, and takes into consideration factors like access to healthy food, volunteerism, violent crime rates, and group membership. Of particular interest to library staff working with young adults is the “Disconnected Youth” factor, a category describing young people who are not working or in school. Libraries in states with high percentages of Disconnected Youth might compare this data against their own patron base. If these young adults are engaging with library services, this opens up opportunities to provide information about trade programs, employment opportunities, or online education resources. However, if there is a low level of library use among this population, collaboration with community centers and neighborhood resources might be an avenue of outreach to pursue. The Community Score is only a data-based snapshot of the opportunities and gaps within our communities, but examining these factors has the potential to inform the service we provide in positive ways.

Armed with this data, library staff can find new and different ways to work with and for their young adult patron base. There are countless ways to use the Opportunity Index as a platform upon which new programming can be built, and as a catalyst for change within existing services.

 

References and Resources

Opportunity Nation and Measure of America. (2017). “2016 Opportunity Index.” Opportunity Nation. http://opportunityindex.org.

Perez, Amilcar. (2017). “Finding and Partnering with Trainers for Tech Programs.” Public Libraries 56(5): 15-17.

Petrillo, Nathan, ed.. (2017). “How Young Adults Choose a Career Path.” Partner4Work. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZOwyMd0C53F7INlgXvOYb68F-3WznswQsP_Fz9k1zko/edit.

Transforming Youth Services: Supporting Youth Through “Adulting”

About seven months ago, I noticed a new trend among public libraries of offering adulting programs. When I first saw a posting via social media about this program, my brain screamed, Where were these programs when I was 17?! I didnt know ANYTHING about adultness.If youre unfamiliar with the concept of adulting, it means to carry out one or more of the duties and responsibilities expected of fully developed individuals (Urban Dictionary, 2017, ¶ 1). These included duties and responsibilities that seem bewildering to an older teen: finding an apartment (and roommates), signing up for utilities, managing bill payments, etc. Some youth may receive this type of instruction and guidance at home, within their communities, or by participating in youth-supportive groups but this isnt always the case.

Adulting programs are generally geared towards older teens (16 -18) and emerging/new adults (19 – early 20s) and support these young patrons in developing life and college ready skills. News articles and similar commentary about library adulting programs appeared somewhat flippant and even disrespectful or disparaging of young adult attendees. Yet through such programming, libraries are providing a unique service which appeals to two underserved age groups and impacts their lasting success, health, and wellbeing.

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Future Ready with the Library: An Exploratory Lab on Kodiak Island

A version of this content was originally posted on the YALSA Future Ready with the Library Cohort Community of Practice and written by Katie Baxter. The Future Ready with the Library project is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

youth interviewing each otherI popped over to the Community College recently to meet with Libby, the professor of Alutiiq Studies, who also co-chairs 4-H on Kodiak island. Since it was 10 cents Wednesday at the local Monk’s Rock coffee shop I was able to spring for delicious homemade pumpkin spice cookies to bring to the meeting. Libby was as thrilled as I was to have a little break for creative collegiality. I started our conversation by talking with Libby about Future Ready with the Library cohort member Laura Pitts’ Building Better Leaders program model.

I also wanted to talk with Libby about the Exploratory Lab I’m working on for the Kodiak Future Ready with the Library project. I have most of the activities, learning experiences, and materials in place for our project. However, I am missing one thing, an activity grounded in Alutiiq cultural values. I am familiar with the story telling traditions and themes of Alutiiq culture that draw upon the tribal value system, but, I am not as well versed in activities. While I could have explored the online Alutiiq Word of the Week database to find out about activities, this was a great opportunity for me to sit and learn with Libby.
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