Middle Grade Monday: There’s always next year: Things I’ve learned coordinating middle school volunteers (a guest post)
Our library has two different volunteer programs that I have run for two years now. One is offered for two hours a week, five week sessions, four times during the school year; four weeks of work, the last week is an appreciation party. Registration is maxed at ten. They gather as a group, and act as our middle school advisory board. Then they splinter off to complete assigned tasks. The summer volunteer program is a different animal. In previous years the library has limited to the first ten kids to sign up. I tripled the registration limit to accommodate the needs of our community. Both years had close to 30 middle schoolers interested helping out in the library. I tweaked it to fit the needs of the community as well as myself. It’s been a crazy evolving experience, with still more to edit. If you are thinking of incorporating middle school volunteers at your library, you might learn from my two years of progress.
I had this brilliant idea where I would get all (most) of the prospective volunteers for a group training. The first year included a tour around to find out where everything was and where to use it. I had to do multiple “make up orientations”. This summer, I made a really cool and detailed PowerPoint. I had one make up orientation. Both years included me having to give personal one-on-one reminder sessions with nearly every volunteer – at least once.
Next year: Giving up on the orientation altogether. It takes time to coordinate just for them to forget everything I told them.
My first summer of volunteers, I had kids come in whenever they could, and trying to reach a minimum amount of time over the summer. Unfortunately, what happened was we had 15 kids coming at the same time each day for the first week, and virtually no one at the end of the summer. While the distribution of summer prep is more in demand in the beginning, we had no way of organizing volunteer duties for the rush, and needed more help wrapping up. The following summer, this summer, I had a new plan. I had created a document asking for volunteer availability. That way, I could not only control the flow of volunteers, but know exactly when the next one was coming. This worked to an extent, but I still scheduled more volunteers than we had work for.
Next year: I will be scheduling each volunteer for one hour shifts rather than two, once a week, and only one month for each volunteer.
Volunteer duties were a little sloppy the first year. The volunteers had a list next to their sign-in sheet with duties that they needed to check every day when they came in, but with so many kids coming in at once, the list wasn’t really effective. I also naively assumed that staff members would be eager for extra help and come up with duties on the fly. It did not work out very well. The second year, I made a Google Sheet accessible to all youth staff members. Staff members were asked to list duties for volunteers to complete for them as well as an explanation of the job, where the necessary supplies would be found, and when the job needed to be completed. Volunteers were coordinated by me. On days that I was not there (vacation), there was an assigned person in charge. Things went more smoothly, but after hearing feedback from fellow staff members, I know it still needs work.
Next year: I’m still on the fence about it, but I’m debating if I shouldn’t schedule volunteers on days that I know I won’t be in the library.
When I first inherited the volunteer program, the kids got to graze on candy while in the advisory board portion of the meeting. There were only asked to come in for 4 weeks. There was no appreciation party. There has always been an appreciation party for summer volunteers, but had smaller attendance due to the registration cap. In the summer of 2014, because volunteers were able to make their own schedule, I added a volunteering minimum to attend the party. Very few kids made the minimum of ten hours in two months. This minimum was removed this summer. Anyone who volunteered at all this summer was invited to the appreciation party. We had a higher attendance of kids throughout the summer and at the party.
Next year: I’m not changing much about the party aspect next summer. I think anyone who helps is welcome to come to the party.
It is important to acknowledge the fluidity of the middle school volunteer program. As time passes, the needs of this age group and the community may change slightly, and you will need to meet their needs. Don’t get too attached to any idea, or you may not notice when it stops working.
While sometimes it can be trying, seeing the friendships build between kids that need this social outlet is uplifting and beyond worth it.
Meet Our Guest Blogger:
Christina Keasler is the Middle School Librarian at Glen Ellyn Public Library. When she’s not making edible R2D2s with middle schoolers at the library, she’s out picnicking with her husband and toddler, eluding her cats with a laser pointer, or at the drive in seeing some cool movie probably about dinosaurs.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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