Teen Volunteer Training

I am incredibly lucky to have a large base of teen volunteers to help at Westerville Public Library. Part of that is because of school requirements.; high schoolers and middle schoolers have community service time as a graduation requirement in Westerville City School District. I also have many teens who are actively seeking scholarships or involved in extracurriculars that require or encourage helping out in the community that they live.

All in all I have a little over 350 active teen volunteers every school year. (This the monthly archiving of teen volunteers that have aged out of the program as well as those that have not volunteered at the library for a year.)

On the third Monday of each month, I can be found leading a one hour training session for teens ages 12-18. During the school year training covers how to help out at library programs and how to shelve materials in designated areas. Teens that attend training can begin selecting desired shifts and putting in some hours at the library for whatever their community service needs they have the very next day. (I really love how streamlined it has become.)

The training session is really simple. We lightly touch on the types of programs that teens can help at (storytimes, parties, special events, etc.) as well as special assignments that can become available throughout the year (making buttons, cutting out crafts, placing stickers, etc.). Because each program and librarian requesting the help is unique and the needs vary we do not spend a lot of time on this subject. However the basics of what is expected for helping at programs is covered, as well as talking about the general personalities; i.e. if you aren’t a fan of little kids….storytimes might not be your best fit. The WPL website also provides a link to a Google doc I maintain listing descriptions of more specific tasks that volunteers would be doing at each event.

The majority of the hour is focused on shelving training. Teens are able to help return materials in 3 locations: J Fiction, Teen Fiction, and DVDs. Spine labels and call numbers are explained, examples of different stickers that may be seen on books are shown, and then we get into the nitty gritty of the ABCs.

Like most fictions sections, our books are organized alphabetically by the author’s last name, then first name, then within that specific area the title of the book and/or series. I annoy my kids with several slides showing exactly what I mean by “author’s with the same last name” and that no matter how awesome you are about know series order they still go alphabetically. And then I up the ante and make them move and do things.

I start out getting groans and mumbles because I have us all sing the ABCs together and will stop or slow down if I don’t get participation from attendees. 

When teens show up at the beginning of the training I have the attendance sheet for sign-in* and everyone receives a beautiful paper with their last and first name on it. This paper comes into play after our lovely a capella, because it is actually their spine label featuring their very own call number. Each teenager is now a book and collectively they need to alphabetize themselves as if they are being placed on a shelf. 

Then comes the next physical movement and moment where teens will have to intereact with each other. Basket sorting! When setting up for the program I pull 10 items from each designated shelving area mix them up so they are out of alphabetical order and place each grouping in a basket for the trainees to sort and alphabetize while working together. Each team of teens will wind up sorting each basket of materials so that they can work with the items in a controlled environment. I, of course, throw some curve balls in the mix to make sure they all understand the order of author’s last name > author’s first name > title alphabetical system that we use and can correct any missteps along the way.

Then we get to do the super happy fun times tour and visit the areas where they get to shelve items! Starting in the Teen Dept. I show volunteers where to collect items needing to be shelved, where they get placed, and how to move book ends around. Most of the shelving in this area has bookends that are connected to the stacks and I teach them how to not only move the brackets back and forth along the track, but how to get them back in when they come out. Everyone get to “break a shelf” and practice moving the brackets and replacing them back properly.

DVD land is next with the same start as Teen, showing where to collect materials they get to re-shelve as service. Bonus time though because I sneak in one more round of alphabetizing training and have everyone select a DVD to shelve, let them loose in the stacks, and follow behind checking their placement to ensure we have it down. While they are winding through the stacks with DVDs in hand I remind them that shelving is not a race and that accuracy is key and what we are really looking for. If they need to sing the ABCs to themselves or take a minute to make sure it is being placed right, then do so. An item not in the correct location is as good as lost until it someone finds it.

After DVDs have been explored the last stop on the tour is the Youth Dept. We learn where materials to be shelved are located and have a look at the unique layout of the stacks in the area and I explain how to shift shelves. Because of our checkout rate and pages staying on top of things, very rarely do our volunteers need to know how to shift materials, however I’d rather have them armed with that knowledge than stumble across over packed shelves later.

At the end of the tour, we go over how to sign up for shifts using our system (which will be explained in a post on another day). And I implore them to please ask any questions and to make sure that they have things spelled correctly on the attendance sheet before I let them escape to the outside world armed with new knowledge, a pocket-sized handout on shelving basics, and my business card.

*Note: I try to keep registered programming to a minimum, however Teen Volunteer Training is one of those I do ask for sign-up. It helps me more easily check for applications and have the spine labels printed beforehand, as well as foreshadows IRL to the teens that they will need to sign up for things…like shifts. Teen Volunteer Training is also the one registered program that is the exception to the rule that only registered individuals can attend. I keep blank spine label forms in case I have kiddos wandering in to go through training so that they can be books too and we talk about responsibilities and signing up for things at the end of the training.

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