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TL v63n3: Getting the Most From Your Teen Volunteers
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Getting the Most From Your Teen Volunteers


Beth Dailey Kenneth
Teen Librarian, Memphis Public Library

Originally presented at the Tennessee Library Association Annual Conference (Chattanooga, TN) in April 2013.


Teen volunteers can seem scary at first, but they are not! Here’s a simple plan to use your "VolunTeens" to the fullest: 

Your first step is to determine what you need teens to do at your library. Do you need help during storytime or during craft time? Some teens enjoy working with the little ones. Can volunteers help in preparing for storytime? Items can be cut out or glued down by volunteers. Need help laying out the crafts ahead of time? Perhaps your shelves could use some straightening? Teens can push books together and edge them to make the shelves look tidy. They can also gather up any books that are lying around your library or sitting at the ends of the shelves. Shelf reading is a great place to start teens and then move them to shelving. If you need help shelving, you'll need to choose an area in your library that teens can easily handle. I suggest going for "big name" sections--Brown (the Arthur books), Seuss, Berenstains, etc. You will need to train teens to alphabetize the books on the cart and incorporate them into the already shelved books correctly.  

Next, how old should your VolunTeens be? I feel that during the school year students should be in the 8th grade or higher, as we primarily need shelving help (which tends to require older volunteers). During the summer we ask that volunteers be at least 12 years old to help with our Summer Reading Club.  

Now that you know what your teens can do, it's time to advertise. Word will spread like wildfire once teens learn that they can volunteer and earn service hours at the library. A simple sign placed in your library and an email to local teens/school counselors/clubs will get you plenty of VolunTeens. Plan on having the teens fill out an application with emergency contact information, any allergies/illnesses that you need to know about, and permission from their parents to volunteer. I recommend handing out applications starting April 1st and have them due May 15th. This gives staff ample time to hold orientations prior to the start of summer.

Now you have your volunteers! If you attract many teens, you can schedule more than one orientation/training session. At my library we require that parents and teens attend an orientation together before the teens can volunteer. We cover attire, being on time, and other expectations. A teen cannot volunteer more than four hours per day. This keeps us from having too many volunteers at a time and ensures the volunteers get lunch/breaks.

To sign up for shifts, we use large desk calendars. A separate desk calendar is used for each activity--one for shelving, one for program helpers, etc. We write the times that helpers are needed on the appropriate days. Numbered lines show the VolunTeens where to write their name IN PENCIL for that shift. The VolunTeens can only use pencils because “everyone makes mistakes.” I ensure there are plenty of pencils and extra erasers available throughout the summer. 

During Orientation, the VolunTeens take a “Pencil Oath.” With right hands raised, the teens promise to only use pencils at the library this summer. If they are caught using an ink pen, it will be taken. All good pens will be kept by Ms. Beth, who is still using some great ones from last year. (Honestly, I only remember claiming one ink pen but the oath seems to stick. There are usually a few gasps of horror at the idea of losing a pen.) I do let teens know they can bring their own “fancy” pencils or decorate the ones provided, but they must use pencils.

At the start of the shift, the VolunTeens check off their names to show they are at the library. Names can be erased if they are unable to volunteer. When volunteers do not show up, I circle their names on the calendar in red. If a VolunTeen calls to cancel, I draw a red line through the name. This helps me when it is time to write recommendations.

At the end of the summer, the VolunTeens will need letters of recommendation to take back to their organizations and for college applications. If a volunteer has the most hours or has performed above and beyond your expectations, you may want to write a more personalized letter. It's also nice to include a certificate for the teen.

Certificates can be made with many computer programs. These can be printed on heavy cardstock and cut to size. If you are printing at a document center or office supply store, save the certificates as PDF files. I have the manager and all librarians who worked with the VolunTeens sign the certificate. I include the teen's name, the hours worked, library information, and our names/signatures. See Appendix A for a sample certificate. 

Each teen receives a file folder with: 1 certificate, 1 letter of recommendation on letterhead, copy of the volunteer's timesheets and a “thank you" gift.

More information is available in Appendix B and at my Web site:

Appendix A

Sample volunteer certificate  (.pdf)

Editable volunteer certification (.doc)

Appendix B

Presentation handout (.pdf)


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