Ask An Agent: How Do You Get Teen Volunteers to Participate?

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Question:  I’m a Teen Librarian and inherited my department’s Teen Volunteer Program. It’s a mess and I need help! To give you a backstory, when I inherited the teen volunteers, there was no structure in regards to a written schedule with the volunteers. They came and went as they pleased and weren’t really monitored during their time, so when it came to verifying hours the staff would use the honor system. This was before I came to the department. When I came to the department, I started having mandatory monthly meetings, implemented a monthly schedule that goes out to the teens via email and to the staff in the department and I have the schedule posted in several places. I also implemented the dress code, as well as a no show/no call policy. My supervisor and I also implemented a task box, so the teen volunteers can refer to that if they are in need of something to do. I also on occasion will send out emails featuring upcoming programs that the department will need help with so the volunteers can have extra opportunities to volunteer. As an extra volunteer opportunity, I’ve also implemented a full teen review, where a teen volunteer has 30 days to read an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), and fill out a form where they have to write an original book review, and discussion questions. I would say out of all of my teen volunteers, only a few out of the 35 I have actually take part. Most of them, if they show up, are only here to get their hour for their scholarships. Short of completely scrapping the program and starting over, I don’t know what to do. I will take any and all suggestions.

 Molly says:

I encourage teen volunteers to get as involved as possible with programming and the collection and to take charge of their volunteering experience.  To that end, on my teen volunteer task list, I ask them to visit the library website and write down any programs they’d want to go to (it’s a pretty large system) so I can get an idea of what they’re interested in.  I also have them go through different sections of library and look for books that are dirty, stained, or otherwise in poor shape.  I’ll even assign them different sections – or have them pick one themselves – and ask them to review it each month to keep tabs on what it looks like in terms of statistics (total number of materials compared to last month, etc.).  I also want them to be familiar with library databases and allow them volunteer time for that (there’s a quiz involved).  Creating bookmarks of recommended titles can be great as well, depending on what genres they’re into (and if your system has NoveList, that’s even more helpful).  Is translating library promotional materials an option if you have volunteers who speak multiple languages?  Can you help guide teens through the process of writing/designing a resume?  My hat’s off to you for all you’ve done already; it can take awhile, but with consistent enforcement and enough time, you’ll get a group of great teen volunteers.

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