Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

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.

Middle Grade Monday: There’s always next year: Things I’ve learned coordinating middle school volunteers (a guest post)

Tween-Volunteer-Page-1024x768Our 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:

christineChristina 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.

To My Second Family, a letter from a teen volunteer

I spoke earlier about my library’s teen volunteer program (read about it here).  It’s one thing for me to tell you how awesome it is (and it is), but what if I let a teen volunteer tell you how awesome it is.  You see, earlier this week our teen volunteer came in and dropped off a letter.  This is only way in which libraries make a difference in the lives of teens.

Dear Second Family,
I would like to start off by saying this: I prefer to write a letter to each and everyone one of you, but since I literally have no time, I think this is a good alternative.  Now that I got that off my chest . . . you guys really are like my second family.  You guys are my fun family.  I come to you guy to be entertained.  I come to you guys because you all make me feel wanted. You make me feel like I’m doing something noticeable that isn’t bad.  And I just wanna say thank you.  Thank you for being great people.  Thank you for allowing me to be your volunteer. I actually learned something from each one of you that will stay with me for the rest of my life.  I hope I’m not the only life you guys have touched. You guys are wonderful.
Then it is signed by this amazing teen volunteer, but I am withholding his name for privacy issues.  I can tell you that he has been a teen volunteer for several summers in a row now and that this summer he logged in over 90 hours working with younger children and library staff to promote reading and more.  We could not do it without volunteers like him . . .
My favorite part of the letter, however, is this:

Here are some of the 40 Developmental Assets that Teen Volunteer Programs help meet:
Other Adult Relationships | Young person receives support from three or more nonparent adults.
Community Values Youth | Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth.
Youth as Resources | Young people are given useful roles in the community.
Service to Others | Young person serves in the community one hour or more per week.
Adult Role Models | Parent(s) and other adults model positive, responsible behavior.
High Expectations | Both parent(s) and teachers encourage the young person to do well.
Youth Programs | Young person spends three or more hours per week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school and/or in community organizations
Caring | Young Person places high value on helping other people.
Sense of Purpose | Young person reports that “my life has a purpose.”

VolunTEEN Nation

Today we have a guest post from Simone, a founding member of Volunteen Nation.  Volunteen Nation is was created by teens, for teens to encourage volunteering and help teens find places to volunteer.  Then, stop over and read about my library teen volunteer program here.

If every library had a young adult librarian like Betsy Simmons, we truly would be a nation of readers.  At a young age, my passion for reading and exploring the library was ignited and sustained by our incredible children’s and young adult librarian.  Ms. Simmons and her staff find ways for every teen to get the most benefit from the Richmond Heights Public Library.  She creates captivating displays and offers outstanding summer reading programs, workshops and programs to attract youth. And she offered me my first volunteer opportunity at the age of 12.

Every week, I would volunteer a few hours helping with a variety of tasks in both the children’s and young adult sections.  As I got older, I searched for additional organizations where I could volunteer on site in my community. It was tough for me to find non-profit agencies that offered youth (under the age of 16 and often with minimum age requirement of 18) due to safety, security and liability concerns. Through word-of-mouth I learned about other facilities that welcomed teen volunteers. Yet, I was frustrated that there was no on-line resource for my peers to easily find local volunteer opportunities, so with the help of my brother I created a simple regional website as a resource for area youth, schools and non-profit agencies.
Since it is tough for teens to find summer employment and few recreational opportunities exist for this group, volunteering provides a great way for youth to gain work-place skills while giving back to the community. Often, volunteer work can transition into paid employment. Our all youth-led volunteer organization is dedicated to promoting service learning opportunities.

With limited funds, we utilize social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, to promote local and national volunteer opportunities. Social networking allows us to connect with organizations throughout the world. To our surprise, we had numerous requests for a national volunteer website dedicated to youth. So in March of this year we launched http://www.volunTEENnation.org to provide a resource for youth and nonprofit organizations throughout the  nation focused on youth. In addition to our online services, each spring  we host an annual youth and family volunteer fair in the St Louis  community at The Magic House, St. Louis Children’s Museum  offering youth  the opportunity to meet and speak directly with organizations.    Our goal is to encourage non-profit organizations to involve youth.  We

want every library to offer a teen advisory board and for non-profits to  create junior boards for youth, to not only volunteer, but  to also  have  a voice and an active role in supporting the organization.  We believe that all schools, non-profits and local government agencies can and should give youth the opportunity to change the world.

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.