Wrapping Up

Summer Reading is officially over (at least for our library). The numbers are in, the prizes are gone, and the time has come to reflect on how things went. For the Teen Volunteer Program, this means looking at quantitative and qualitative data and coming up with a way to evaluate how it went.

We collected a few different kinds of information to help us evaluate the program. First, we kept track of how much each teen volunteered and the number of missed shifts. This quantitative data lets us make certain claims with confidence:

  • We only had three no-call no-shows, which was just under 1% of all scheduled shifts.
  • Teens showed up for a total of 298 volunteer shifts throughout the summer.
  • On average, five teen volunteers helped us each day.
  • Teens volunteered at the library for over 1,100 hours this summer.
  • At least one teen volunteered for 100+ hours this summer, qualifying her for the Presidential Volunteer Service Award (check this out if you are looking for a way to recognize exceptionally dedicated volunteers).

Feedback from the teens suggests that using an online calendar (we used a Google Calendar) for scheduling was successful. We also emailed them regularly and made sure that they felt comfortable letting us know if they couldn’t make it in for a shift. Teens were never punished or treated differently if they couldn’t make a shift — volunteering, for all its similarities to a job, isn’t a job.

Towards the end of the program, we collected qualitative feedback using exit surveys. The teens’ responses were anonymous, and all answers were ‘long-form.’ (See the survey.) We gave these to the teens during the last two weeks of Summer Reading. In retrospect, it would be a good idea to have a midsummer survey ready. Only giving the survey at the end of the summer missed the teens who had to stop volunteering before then. We still emailed the survey to all of them, but only a few responded.

These feedback surveys (or “Exit Reviews”) provided not just solid information for how to adjust the program next time, but it also gave us insight into how to market the program. I’m glad that we didn’t use any ratings-based questions. Saying that scheduling was a 4 out of 5 is much less helpful that a description of the experience. The downside, is that it requires much more time to process long-form answers. Here are some examples of the feedback we received:

  • “It is usually a challenge for me to interact with patrons because I don’t have a lot of experience with customer service, so I enjoyed having an opportunity to practice those skills.”
  • “[After volunteering] I feel I am much better with children; my social skills have grown; I am more organized; I can be more mature and professional; I am getting used to working in the same environment for 3+ hours.”
  • “It was an amazing program that gives teens experience for future jobs!”
  • “I must say, the most frustrating thing was when there wasn’t a lot to do for long stretches of time. This most often happened on my 5-8pm shifts.”
  • “I enjoyed almost every second of it. I enjoyed shelving and cleaning the books, and I loved organizing and alphabetizing the books… I could do volunteer activities all day long.”

Well, you get the idea. Many of the teens felt that they gained professional development skills from volunteering. Of course, none of them learned high-level skills like database management, but they learned valuable skills nonetheless, e.g., customer service, time management, communication skills, patience, etc. This has prompted us to incorporate more focused messaging on what the library will do for volunteers into our marketing for next year. For me, however, the most important message I got from their feedback was that volunteering was meaningful on personal, social, and professional levels.

We also collected staff feedback using surveys (see the survey.) The responses to these surveys are valuable for a number of reasons. First, they make sure that staff opinions are heard and, being anonymous, can be completely honest. Second, they will help us tweak the program and engage staff in the program next year. For instance, we learned that a special orientation would be beneficial for staff members who will interact with volunteers regularly. This year, we also realized just how important staff buy-in is for a volunteer program. We heard form volunteers and staff members that they got a lot out of working with and getting to know each other. We will continue to foster these interactions in the future.

After his shift, a teen volunteer attends a karaoke event at the library.

Teen volunteers are more than free help

While the main selling point for a volunteer program within an organization is probably the free help provided by volunteers, we came to learn that a volunteer program is much for than that. For the teens, it is a chance to meet people and make friends. For many, it is their first job-like experience and can provide valuable professional development that they don’t get at school. For some, it is akin to a summer camp and can be the highlight of their summer. Teen Volunteer Programs should be treated like any other library program for teens.

It can be an amazing chance to get to know teens who don’t normally come to the library. Many of them will become regular library patrons — or can at least become unofficial library ambassadors to their friends and family. They have fresh ideas and perspectives, and many of them are eager to get involved or at least give their opinion. Since we put time and effort into building relationships with our teen volunteers, we now have a network of teens we can call upon when we need input, volunteers, or advice in the future.

Say thanks

If you haven’t already, find a way to thank your volunteers. You could give them a certificate of completion, host a small party, write a blog post in their honor and share it with them, or even add books to the collection in their honor (with bookplates saying as much). Saying thank you gives closure, reminds them you care, and helps maintain a relationship with them.

A volunteer helps with a craft project.

About Sam Stavole-Carter

Sam is the Teen Services Coordinator for Mesa County Libraries and a member of YALSA.

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