Ask An Agent: How Can I Recruit Volunteers?

askanagent2You’ve got questions,  we’ve got answers! Our volunteer Agents are on the job! Here’s what they have to say this week….

Question: How can I recruit teen volunteers? We really need help with shelving, especially during the summer. We just don’t have the staff. I’m starting this from scratch so any help would be appreciated. Adopt a shelf? Other ideas?



Jenni (South San Francisco Public Library) says:
We recruit our teen volunteers through the local high schools. I have the names and contact information for the high school counselors, so I email them and/or the librarians at those schools when I want to promote any library events. It does help that the teens here are required to complete a certain number of community service hours in order to complete graduation requirements, so many of the teens choose to do their service hours at the library.

Kari (Virginia Beach Public Library) says:
Teens will typically come in if you are offering them volunteer hours.  Older teens are looking for those hours to include on college applications and younger teens are looking for school programs such as National Honor Society.  If you advertise your needs at the local school you are sure to get a good response.  With that being said, the problem is getting teens who are reliable.   We have very straight forward guidelines in place for our teen volunteers and we require them to sign an agreement, along with their parents, when they first start volunteering that says they understand what is expected of them and that they will let us know when they are going to miss a shift.  We keep their morale up by telling them that they are one of the most important members of the staff because they do the work that keeps the library running.  If you have a large program or project that you need volunteers for, I recommend providing refreshments during or after to encourage participation, if your library allows that.

One way to build a group of regular volunteers is to start a teen advisory group (TAG).  These groups usually meet about once a month for 1-2 hours and the teens discuss programs they would like to see, prepare materials for upcoming displays/programs and just let loose.  They earn volunteer time for each meeting and they are given first consideration for any volunteer job that opens.  They are also the go to group for Summer Reading volunteers.  These teens are great to have because they are typically more invested in the library than teens who are simply looking to fulfill their required number of hours.  They will stick around past their required number of hours and give you 110%.    If you can get just one teen interested in the TAG, you are on the right path.  Word of mouth is our best friend when it comes to teens in the library.

If you don’t see large numbers coming through your doors the first few months, don’t give up.  It can 6 months to a year to really build up a decent number of teens who are reliable and willing to help out.  I took over a struggling teen program about a year and a half ago and I am just starting to see a consistent group of teens at each TAG meeting.

Natalie (Farmingdale Public Library) says:
If your teens need community service hours, this is the perfect way to recruit them. Check the schools if any clubs require hours and get in contact with the teacher who runs it. In my community, the middle school need community service hours for Confirmation. I don’t need to advertise that I offer it anymore as word of mouth has spread. In fact, the local middle school recently started a Junior Honor Society where they are required to do 4 hours a month. I now have a really good amount of volunteers and our shelves look great!

Nikki (Cleveland Bradley County Public Library) says:
Our high school students are required to complete 80 hours of community service over their four years and maintain a certain GPA to qualify as a Tennessee Scholar and receive some serious scholarship money from our state lottery. That incentive keeps them rolling in… but it doesn’t mean that we always get what we need or have a job available that is suited to their skills. Having a formal volunteer application and interview process in place helps us match kids with positions where they can make the most impact and by getting to know them and their skills we make sure their experience will be positive. I have kids who are NOT cut out for shelf-reading but who are fabulous and enthusiastic helpers during summer storytimes. Network with guidance counselors, the Chamber of Commerce, United Way and YMCA job shadowing programs. If your area United Way participates, there is a database that matches volunteer opportunities with volunteers. Talk to the teens who are in the library all the time. If you don’t have a Teen Advisory Board, start one! It isn’t just about what they want to see in the library, but a way to empower them to do things for themselves and for them to be stakeholders in the library’s success. Bottom line, get to know your teens, validate the skills they are bringing, and give them an opportunity to shine. We also feature an outstanding teen volunteer in the Fall FOLA newsletter and the Friends provide a small gift. It works! 

Thanks to our volunteer agents for the awesome answers. If you have a question about anything teen services related ask it here! Your question will be featured on the blog with answers from our agent volunteers or TSU team members. If you’d liked to be a volunteer agent, please submit your info here.

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