Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Volunteens at my library

Since today we have a guest post from the VolunTEEN Nation, I thought I would take a moment to tell you about my teen volunteer program and why I think every library should have one.
Hooray for teen volunteers!

I did not create my teen volunteer program, I inherited it – but I love it.

In the past, I have had a teen advisory group and like a lot (though not all) of librarians, I struggled with getting teens to come to meetings, follow through on ideas and yes – show up for the very programs that they said they wanted to have.  Depending on the time and library, we have created newsletters, done programming or just sat around and looked at each other and come up with really great ideas that nobody wanted to take the time to actually implement because sometimes, the very teens who sign up to be on teen advisory boards are signed up to do a million other things that look good on their college applications and their heart isn’t always in it.  Please note, that is never true of all of the teens – just some of them some of the time.

Fast forward to last year when I came to the Betty Warmack Branch Library (in Texas) and inherited a teen volunteer program.  I love everything about this volunteer program because it is definitely very pro the 40 developmental assets, it is perfect for the teens in THIS community (more on that in a moment), and I still get to build relationships with and interact with a regular group of teens but in a way that allows them to be flexible with their own schedule.

The primary mission of the teen volunteers during the summer is to man our Summer Reading table.  I take my teens and set up a weekly schedule with two hour shift blocks.  They sign up for a weekly day and time and agree to work that schedule every day for 8 weeks, with exceptions of course for vacations and camp, etc.  I feel that this works best for everyone, having a set schedule, becuase it is easier for the teens to remember when they should show up and it’s easier for me.

BWBL has been doing their SRC for a while now and it is well organized.  Every morning I make sure the multi-drawer cart is full and wheel it on over to the sign up station that is manned by the teens.  There are 2 teens (sometimes 3) at each shift.  Here they sign up kids, receive completed reading logs and hand out prizes.  This allows the teens the opportunity to build social skills and interact with younger children, and it allows our younger children to see teens being a positive force in the community.  And as an added bonus, this frees up our circulation staff to continue providing speedy, efficient customer service during the summer without taking on the added business of SRC.  There are key times when this is so incredibly helpful, like on kick-off and program days.

Throughout the year some of my teen volunteers stay on and I find things for them to do, such as photocopying forms and checking awards lists when they come out so I can see if the library owns what we want it to.

Hey volunteers – tell me your favorite teen reads!

Because I work at a system with very little money, and the city manager has declared that no food is allowed at city functions because we can’t use tax money for it, I am in the process of collecting ARCs to hand out as a thank you to my teen volunteers at the end of the SRC.  To date, I have 54 active volunteers and I receive a new application almost every day.  Scheduling is sometimes a nightmare, but on the whole my first summer is going well.

This is the perfect teen program for the library and community that I am in.  Here, we have very education focused teens that don’t have a lot of free time because of the number of extracurricular activities they are involved in (some of my teens are involved in upwards of around 10 activities and organizations).  I have teen volunteers who are doing a variety of clubs, sports, and volunteering at other organizations.  These teens are trying to get volunteer hours for things like Avid and the National Honor Society, and they need a lot of hours.  Having regular programming has proven to be difficult here because there are very few hours that work well for the teens, but having a volunteer program allows them to interact with the library on a regular basis according to their personal schedules.  We get some of the same advantages of programming – teens are developing a relationship with their library – but in a way that works best for the teens in THIS community.

When I came to BWBL I tweaked the teen volunteer program just a little and made it a requirement that the volunteers had to meet with me on a quarterly basis so that we can touch base and they become a de facto teen advisory board.  I get feedback about the volunteer program as a whole, pick their brains about upcoming programming ideas, and then we talk books.  That is, of course, my favorite part.  In fact, almost always when I see my teen volunteers I find a way to get a book in their hands.  One teen volunteer recently read and loved Human.4 by Mike A. Lancaster.  Another was reading Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick, one of many I got her to check out one day.  I noticed the other day that one of my teens is reading Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and she picked that up all by herself, I asked her to tell me what she thought of it when she’s done (I haven’t read it yet). She thought it was fun to learn, however, that he was THE Lemony Snicket (I love it when I get cool bonus points). It’s fun, and informative, to hear what they think about the books they are reading.

So here is the basics of having a teen volunteer program:

1. Be sure to have a clearly outlined application in place.  We have both a city form and a library “covenant”.  The city form outlines the rules set forth by the city and the convenant outlines the guidelines specific to our library facility.  It includes things like you can’t wear open toed shoes and no texting while you are “on the clock”.  Make sure you have clearly outlined expectations for both staff and your teen volunteers.

2.  Get an e-mail address and make this your primary means of communicating with your teens.  It’s easier to e-mail 54 teens than to try and call them all.

3.  Have a periodic training meeting so that teen volunteers can get to know one another, you can make sure everything is running smoothly and everyone is happy, etc.  For our SRC training meeting we even did some role playing asking the teens questions we knew the public was likely to ask like, “Does it have to be a library book?” (The answer to that question, by the way, is no. Although we obviously like it if it is.)

4.  In order to keep the program running smooth, have 1 primary contact person and 1 alternate contact person from library staff.  I have a back up in case a teen calls off on a day or time that I am not there.  Having a primary contact helps minimize confusion, miscommunication and mixed messages.  Also, it allows for teens to build those meaningful relationships with library staff that are so essential to the 40 developmental assets.

5.  Make sure you have clearly outlined staff expectations.  A biggy for me is that I want them to come to me with any problems or concerns and then let me talk to the teens about it.  As I am sure you are aware, some staff are better at dealing with and interacting with teens than others and I want to minimize any potential negative interactions.  Flagrant and immediate issues would of course require staff to intervene ASAP, but other issues can wait for your teen services librarian to handle.

I love my teen volunteer program – and my teen volunteers – and I highly recommend the program.  And I have to be honest, 19 years of being a teen services librarian, I think this is one of the best ways ever I have seen a library handle the madness that is SRC. 

Take a moment in the comments and tell me if you have a teen volunteer program and what you love – or loathe – about it.

Here is an look at my training outline for staff and teen volunteers:

Objectives of the Program:

As part of our service to teens, Betty Warmack Branch Library provides teens the opportunity to earn community service hours through volunteer work. Allowing teens the opportunity to volunteer is mutually beneficial to the teen, the community and BWBL. Volunteering gives teens the opportunity to acquire a number of the 40 Developmental Assets (www.search-institute.org), which research has demonstrated helps prevent teens from engaging in high risk behaviors. In addition, teen volunteers help the library accomplish a lot of basic tasks and engage in successful library programming.

Application Process:

Teens ages 13 – 17 can sign up to volunteer at the Betty Warmack Branch Library by filling out the appropriate form as mandated by the city of Grand Prairie. The form requires teens to consent to adhere to the library’s confidentiality standards and waive liability. A parent must also sign in order for an application to be valid.

Persons over the age of 18 who wish to volunteer should see Jeanne Murdock who coordinates the adult volunteers.

By signing the form, teens affirm that:

• They will follow all policies, rules and procedures of the City of Grand Prairie and the GP library system

• Not to consume, use, possess or be under the influence of drugs or alcohol

• Represent the City of Grand Prairie in a professional manner

In addition, they covenant with BWBL to

• Dress in a clean, presentable manner

• Arrange volunteer hours in advance with the children’s/youth service librarian

• Arrive promptly or call in advance to reschedule

When handing out teen volunteer applications, please ask teens to complete both sides and write legibly. If at all possible encourage teens to provide an e-mail address as that will be our primary means of communication. If the teen does not have an e-mail address, ask the parent if they would be willing to provide an e-mail address. Please let teens know that it may take up to 2 weeks to receive an initial contact after completing their application.

The Volunteen Commitment:

As part of their teen volunteer service, I will be requesting that we meet as a group quarterly to reward teens for their service, touch base, and make sure and keep the lines of communication open. Teens wanting to volunteer must be open to being a part of these quarterly meetings should their schedule permit.

As Volunteens our teen volunteers will be asked to:

Assist in children’s and teen programming

Review books for the BWBL Facebook page

Make copies of flyers

Cut scrap paper

Sharpen pencils

And other duties that may arise throughout the year

Signing In and Recording Hours:

The Youth Services librarian will take primary responsibility for monitor hours, maintaining contact and signing any paperwork needed for schools or organizations to receive community service credit; however, teens may sign in and report for volunteer time at all times and I will endeavor to make sure all staff are aware that said teen is coming and making sure there are clear instructions for said teen to complete their assigned task successfully.

Upon arrival Volunteens should sign in to the Teen Volunteer notebook (stored in the bottom right hand drawer of Karen Jensen’s desk should I forget to take it out when a teen is coming in). Teens should also sign out to accurately reflect the number of hours volunteered.

Teen volunteers who fail to show up for their pre-set volunteer hours without calling and notifying staff will be terminated after a second offense.

Cell Phone Use:

While signed in for volunteer hours, teens need to turn cell phones off or set them on vibrate. Also, texting is not permitted while signed in for volunteer hours. While signed in for volunteer hours we need teens to be focused on successfully completing their tasks and professionally engaging with patrons if the task permits. If a parent needs to contact a teen in the case of an emergency, they may call the front desk.

Dress and Shoes:

As noted about, teen volunteers should dress in a clean, presentable manner. In addition, no open toed shoes are permitted during volunteer service.

Reporting an Issue:

Should an issue arise with any teen volunteer, please contact Karen Jensen immediately. If it is not a grievous issue, such as alcohol/drug abuse or behavior that grossly violates our code of conduct, I will first work on coaching the teen volunteer to help correct the issue. If the issue occurs subsequent that coaching, the contract signed by the teen allows BWBL to terminate the relationship at any time and we will do so.

Teens may also feel free to contact Karen Jensen in the event that they have issues they would like to have addressed regarding any element of the program.

A Final Note:

Be sure you give our teen volunteers thanks whenever you see them engaged in their service here at BWBL. This is a great opportunity to encourage teens into successful adults and build good pr for the library.


  1. Thanks for posting as someone who used to coordinate a volunteen program at library. I thought this covered all bases and offered a great starting point for libraries interested in starting a teen volunteer program.

  2. Thanks for this! I am trying to start my teen volunteer program right now. I am so excited, but I am having some difficulty with getting all of my ducks in a row. This has definitely helped me see some things that need to be established right away.

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