and a recipient of a 2018 Web Seal of Excellence.
While we have the occasional student who simply wants to spend time helping in the library, the majority volunteer because community service is a graduation requirement in Needham. Still, many choose to continue volunteering in the library long after the mandatory sixty hours are completed. We are always on the lookout for new volunteers. We chat with students who spend their free time in the library and connect frequently with the Guidance Department. This dual approach means some of our volunteers love the library and some of our volunteers don’t have other options. We have had seniors volunteering everyday in a frenzy to fulfill their community service requirement. All students must complete an application that includes a brief teacher recommendation form. This provides insight into what extra supports the student may need as well as individual passions that could be a benefit to the library program. We accept all students which sometimes means an unwieldy number of volunteers. And yet, every year, this hodgepodge of teenagers from different grade levels, social groups, and backgrounds come together like family.
Students have a wide range of interests and talents. Our goal at the library is to equitably share the mundane jobs while also providing the space for students to showcase their strengths. Each volunteer is taught the library organization system and must correctly arrange carts of books before ‘graduating’ to shelving. They are each responsible for a unique portion of the library collection. Every week, they ensure that the shelves in their section are clean and that the books are in the correct order. In addition to reshelving material and maintaining their assigned sections, volunteers enjoy creating book displays, assisting with special events such as author visits, and working on personal projects that range from creating posters to shifting collections.
We appreciate all that our volunteers do, even if they are sometimes late or misshelve the occasional book, and we want them to know they are a valuable addition to our library program. Since the students volunteer on different days and at different times, we conduct training together as a group in the fall and periodically throughout the year as needed. This encourages them to better get to know each other and usually includes food for the perpetually hungry adolescents! We also host an end-of-the-year party for the volunteers to celebrate the work they have all done and honor the students who are graduating.
What’s the worst that could happen? Sometimes students are so eager to work quickly that they forgo accuracy and we lose a misshelved book for a few weeks. Sometimes volunteers connect so well with those on the same schedule that they spend more time chatting with each other than completing their work. Sometimes individuals become so interested in the books they are reshelving that they bring most of them back to the desk to check out for themselves. In all honesty, these are good problems to have. These students are eager, friendly, and passionate; they just need intermittent redirecting and some training reminders every now and then. We have attached small, laminated cards to the book carts to remind students to avoid common pitfalls in reshelving. We allow students to reshelve in pairs and then assign them sections in different areas of the library to maintain. We encourage avid readers to make lists of books to read rather than check out everything at once. Our biggest frustration is poor communication. Even the most responsible students will forget to inform us that they will miss a shift or neglect to respond to our emails. Rarely, we will have students who seem to disappear entirely. Nobody’s perfect and we understand that our students face a number of academic, social, and personal burdens. In these instances, we simply hope they are earning their community service hours elsewhere and warmly welcome them back should they choose to rejoin us.
Ultimately, we have found hosting student volunteers in the library to be incredibly rewarding for both the students and the library program. So try it! Find even one student who you believe is responsible and enjoys spending time in the library. Think about when exactly you would like to host a volunteer in the library. Consider what responsibilities you would want this student to have. Ask the student what they would enjoy doing in for the library. Work backwards to figure out what skills this student will need in order to be effective in these tasks. Start with basic expectations and build over time. Make the experience rewarding for the student as well as beneficial for the library. When you are ready to grow the program, ask the student for recommendations. Talk to teachers and counselors in your school for suggestions. It isn’t easy, but it’s completely worth it!