Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Cindy Crushes Programming: Teen Volunteering During a Pandemic, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

At the White Oak Library District, we have been trying to provide virtual volunteer opportunities for all teens during the pandemic. Faith Healy has been in charge of our program since we switched to all virtual hours.  I interviewed  Faith about volunteering for teens at the White Oak Library District. If you have any questions please email her at fhealy@whiteoaklib.org

When during the pandemic did the library start offering virtual volunteer hours?

 We came up with the virtual volunteering while in quarantine and wanted to offer the volunteer opportunities to our teens as soon as we reopened as a way to give teens something to do when they couldn’t go anywhere.

What types of volunteer hours are available  at White Oak Library District?

As of right now, we are only offering virtual volunteering. With the pandemic and social distancing, there is no safe way to have volunteers in person. But we have several virtual volunteering options and have recently added more. We created a google form that teens use to let us know they completed the volunteering and it helps us keep track of who volunteers and what hours they have.


Teen Blog Post: Teens get to write about what matters to them. This is my personal favorite and we have had several teens write about what happened during the pandemic and it is so nice to give them a platform for their voices to be heard. We do double check before adding them to the library’s blog, but all the submitted blog posts have been amazing! It is a great way to hear from your teens when you can’t see them in person


Book Review: We have teens write a review of a book and tell us why they love it. We have gotten some great book reviews and some that I have added to my need to read list.


Video Post: For this one we did have to create a permission slip for parents to sign since we did want to use any videos teens created for social media. We offer teens to create a short video as long it is book or library related. That was the only condition. We did get some interest, but no videos, at least not yet.

Those are the three we started with and we recently added four more. Alot of them were ideas of my wonderful co-worker.

Video Reviews: With the pandemic the library has been posting more YouTube videos, so we wanted teen feedback and figured offering volunteer hours for feedback would work. All they need to do is watch any White Oak Library District YouTube video and write a mini review that is at least three sentences long.

Artwork Submission: This was an idea I had when looking at other library’s virtual volunteering. I believe it was Naperville, asking teens to create sidewalk art and take a photo. I thought why not just have them create any art and we can share it on our social media. I did limit it to library, book, or fandom related, but I figure teens can have fun with it and I look forward to seeing their submissions! I did ask if they would like to be credited or anonymous if we post their art as some teens might be shy about sharing artwork under their name.

Librarian Pen Pal: All the teens have to do is email a teen librarian. We get to hear from them and get feedback, and they get volunteer hours. A Win-Win for everyone. Plus during the pandemic we rarely see teens, this is a great way to create that personal connection.

TAG Survey: So at the beginning of reopening, my library did try to do a virtual tag that, got no one. So now to correct that we greeted a TAG survey via a google form and linked it with our virtual volunteering form. We offer volunteer hours in exchange for feedback we normally get from our TAG groups that we can’t have now as virtual doesn’t work and in person is not possible. TAG Survey: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScQVRIiz0UCPRi1tgkHvj7XrLV8VphzfQJWVhi-6LmkZHE3KA/viewform

We are exploring another option that a lot of libraries in the area seem to be doing. #TheWeWereHere project found at: https://thewewerehereproject.org/index.html. They have been partnering with libraries to collect teen voices about living through 2020 as it seems that everything happens in 2020. They just want the library to offer volunteer hours in exchange for teens sharing their story on their website and naming the library as a partner. I recently reached out to them and am waiting to hear back. It seems like a good option to give our teens a wider platform to have their voices heard and recorded for future generations

What options have been the most popular?

 Our most popular option for right now is definitely the Book Reviews. We have received a lot of those that we posted on our White Oak Blogs. I love reading their posts about what books they love and why!

Our second most popular is definitely the Teen Blog Posts. The most popular topic has been life during the pandemic. I am glad to give teens an option to voice their opinions especially in a time when they feel they might not have a lot of options to do that.

How do you keep volunteering going during the pandemic?

Virtual volunteering does offer us an easy option to offer patrons a link to go to. We have gotten a few emails from parents about volunteering and it is simple just to send them a link. We also noticed an increase in requests via email, phone, and even in person for volunteering which got us to shake up what we were offering and add new ideas and options. We also try reaching out to schools as some do require volunteer requirements and that helps.

How do you keep track of volunteering

One great thing about google forms is it keeps track for you. You can view each submission as an individual which helps you break down what a single teen has done. You can also get an overall summary which helps you notice what is the most popular option and what is not. When teens come into to get a sign off on hours, I simply check the google form to see what they earned and can sign off on.

What is your favorite part of running the volunteer program?

I would say the teens are my favorite part. Volunteering helps me connect with teens that might not come in for a book or a program. Plus I love how many teens just want to give back in this world. Teens are the best!

What advice would you give other librarians who are running virtual volunteering?

I would say try new things! When I created the blog post option, I hoped to have at least one or two, but we got more than that blowing my expectations out of the water. If you are not sure it would work give it a try!

Also feel free to use volunteering to benefit your library’s needs as well. A majority of our new volunteer options are created just to get feedback. We have so few teens coming in and a lot of teens that need volunteer hours that we decided to combine the two. We don’t know if it will work, but we are willing to give it a try.

Last thing I would say is check out what other libraries in your area are doing! We are all part of a larger community and feel free to take any ideas you want from me. I am happy to share. Feel free to contact me with any volunteering ideas! I am always on the lookout to increase our options!.

Thank you Faith for sharing with us about teen volunteering. If anyone has examples of how you are doing teen volunteer programs during the Pandemic please let us know.

Cindy Shutts, MLIS


Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

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