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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Cultivating Teen Programming at the Library

When someone wants to start their own garden, there are a lot of things they have to think about–location, climate, soil, and maintenance to name a few. It is important to know what kind of soil you are dealing with before you start cultivating the ground. Determining the quality of your soil allows you to utilize the ground to produce the best crop possible.

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”  -Audrey Hepburn

What does this have to do with having a teen presence and programming at the library? I have found the same principles and practices used in having a successful garden can be applied to cultivating a teen presence at your library.

I am the director of Bolivar-Hardeman County Library in Bolivar, Tennessee. We are a small and rural public library serving a diverse community. When I started nearly two years ago our teen attendance at our programs were at an all-time low—basically zero at our library. The demographic of our patrons is increasingly getting older. It was and is my passion to revitalize the library into a place where teens want to come. Shortly after I started, I became of a member of YALSA (Young Adult Library Service Association) and ARSL (Association for Rural and Small Libraries). You can become a member by going here for YALSA and here for ARSL. I was starting from ground zero on developing any type of teen programming at the library. YALSA and ARSL has and continues to provide invaluable information and resources regarding teens and young adults with little to no budgets. One example is the Future Ready with the Library grant I received to be a member of the second of cohort. 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. I highly encourage you to read more about Future Ready with the Library. The past several months I have been very busy with gathering information about my community, schools, and youth for the Future Ready with the Library project. Because of my recent research and community engagement it has given me a fresh perspective on Bolivar. One thing that stuck out like a sore thumb was the lack of teen involvement in the library.

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Gimme a C (for Collaboration): Collaborate to Stop Summer Slide

As the school year wraps up and Summer Learning approaches, now is a perfect time to collaborate with your local school and public libraries. We all know how important it is for students to maintain literacies, math and other skills during summer vacation. It’s time to reach out and work together to give kids the best summer opportunities, especially those who need the most support.

For schools with summer reading expectations, providing summer reading lists to public libraries can help to ensure that they have listed books on hand for students. School library staff can help to facilitate the connection by reminding teachers to prepare and share lists in spring. Having reading lists early helps public libraries to purchase books before Youth Services Departments get too busy with summer programs.

Public library staff who serve youth can contact their local schools to promote summer learning opportunities. At the elementary level, visiting library classes to encourage students to participate in summer programs can get kids excited about the public library. They should have a flyer or brochure ready to send home with elementary students. Some libraries issue public library cards to students through school, and this can help kids take ownership of their library and strengthen the relationship between school and library.

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Teen Services Competencies for Staff: Ensuring Equity of Access in Your Library

This spring, many students have walked out of class to call attention to the need for greater gun regulations in the wake of the Parkland shooting and on the 20th anniversary of the Columbine massacre. Seeing these teens’ bravery woke up many of my favorite memories of working with passionate and idealistic young people.


By rmackman [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

But this sort of activism shouldn’t been limited to those in positions of relative power. I know librarians around the country were embracing these walkouts as teachable moments and punctuating students’ rights to demonstrate.

Like the ability to protest, access to information is a constitutionally protected right. These protests dovetail well with one of YALSA’s identified Core Competencies for Library Staff, ensuring Equity of Access, defined broadly as “access to a wide variety of library resources, services, and activities for and with all teens, especially those facing challenges to access.”

Equity is one of the most critical roles that libraries play in the lives of young people, helping to level a playing field that increasingly seems to depend upon consumer buying power.

As with all of YALSA’s competencies, these can be viewed in terms of developing, practicing, and transforming the work of libraries working for and with young people. The progression of these skills begins with recognition of this critical role in the lives of young people, progresses to taking action to work with others in the community to ensure equitable access, then culminates in sharing your work so that others can learn from it.
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Using ASCLA Toolkits for Autism Awareness Month

As the YALSA ALA Liaison, I communicate with many different groups whose member composition varies. One of the many benefits of working with so many diverse groups is being privy to the latest developed resources created by them that are also relevant for a library staff member serving teens. One such excellent resource I want to share with YALSA members comes from the Accessibility Assembly. The Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) heads the ALA Accessibility Assembly, which is comprised of many liaisons from other ALA divisions and round tables as well as ASCLA members.

Several months ago, ASLCA updated their online toolkits that target easy ways in which library staff can make their places and services more accessible to “populations that are underserved such as those with sensory, physical, health or behavioral conditions, those who are incarcerated and more.” There are fifteen toolkits in total and many of the recommendations are applicable to teen library services. As April is nationally recognized as Autism Awareness month, the Autism Spectrum Disorders toolkit might be a good place to start in improving library services to your community’s youth and better meet their needs.

Consider this resource share as an opportunity to improve your status and knowledge in Competency Area 1: Teen Growth and Development and move further through the stages of Developing-Practicing-Transforming.

Amanda Barnhart is a Teen Librarian for the Kansas City Public Library and the current YALSA ALA Liaison.

Celebrate Creativity during National Library Week

(Image courtesy of American Library Association)

This week (April 8th-14th) is National Library Week. Celebrating its 60th anniversary since its inaugural year in 1958 with the theme “Libraries Lead!”, libraries across the nation will be observing the week with activities, programs, and more. This week also celebrates National Library Workers Day (April 10), National Bookmobile Day (April 11), and Take Action for Libraries Day (April 12).

To lead the celebrations is Misty Copeland, author and American Ballet Theatre Principal Dancer, who serves as the 2018 National Library Week Honorary Chair. As described on the American Library Association page about National Library Week, Misty Copeland, an advocate for “youth to pursue their dreams regardless of what challenges they may encounter”, invites everyone to “discover your passions and achieve your goals at the library.” (American Library Association).

(Image courtesy of American Library Association)


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Research on Competency Content Area 7: Cultural Competency and Responsiveness

Authored by the YALSA Research Committee

This post is part of the YALSA Research Committee’s efforts to shed light on some current research related to the Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff. Here, we’ll briefly review some scholarship that addresses competency content area number seven: cultural competency and responsiveness, described in the standards as “actively promot[ing] respect for cultural diversity and creat[ing] an inclusive, welcoming, and respectful library atmosphere that embraces diversity.”

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Research on Competency Content Area 6: Community and Family Engagement

Authored by the YALSA Research Committee

Throughout the current term, the YALSA Research Committee will be looking at YALSA’s new Competencies for Teen Librarians through the lens of research.  Through our posts, we will attempt to provide a brief snapshot of how scholarship currently addresses some of the issues put forth through the standards.

March 14 will never be the same for thousands of young adults who, in response to the high number of recent school shootings, found their voice in the streets of America during the National School Walkout, demanding adults and public officials pay attention to their call for gun control. So my question to our YALSA members “For those that are directly serving our YA population…How were you serving them on March 14 and how did you serve them during the March for Our Lives on March 24?” or “What skills have you helped the young adults in your community develop over time to assist them for this kind of action?”  How are our YALSA members committing to competency #6: “Community and Family Engagement: Builds respectful, reciprocal relationships with community organizations and families to promote optimal development for teens and to enhance the quality of library services”?

The research committee zeroed on three relevant recent studies describing how YA library staff in the field develop or need improvement with developing Community and Family Engagement for and with their teen populations by Harlan (2016), Hughes-Hassell and Stivers (2015), and Froggatt (2015).

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