By Trish Dolasinski, Ed.D.
As a parent, are you and/or your teenager frustrated by economic trends and the minimal job opportunities for young people trying to learn skills and build a resume? A possible resolution to this dilemma is to pick up and complete a “Teen Volunteer Application,” available at any local Phoenix Public Library.
The Phoenix Library Teen Volunteer Program is free and is available to students ages 12 through 18 who can work for a minimum of two to four hours a week. More than 300 teens throughout Phoenix participate in the program, but there is always room for more.
As volunteers at the library, teens have a chance to learn valuable, on-the-job skills, while building a resume and acquiring reference contacts. The experience also gives students a chance to meet other teens and have fun at periodic social events and recognition celebrations.
Tasks at each of the 16 branch libraries vary. However, student work includes sorting books, shelving returned books, preparing for library events, organizing materials and reading to younger children. Volunteers also may also assist patrons in locating various books and materials at the library.
To be a Teen Volunteer, students must participate in a two-hour Saturday orientation to learn their roles and responsibilities. They also receive training in customer service expectations, appropriate behavior and dress and attendance requirements. At the culmination of the training, teens and parents both sign an agreement to support and follow the rules as well as the policies and procedures learned and practiced during the training.
“We want our teens to have a successful and productive experience,” says Beth Van Kirk, Ironwood Branch librarian and Youth Program Coordinator. “We see how they take pride in the structure of the program.”
“We also try to connect teens on a variety of levels of involvement and see our library-teen team as a partnership,” says Alice Houlihan, Ironwood Branch manager. “They help us provided services to our communities, but they are also our customers and we value their input.”
Many teen volunteers participate in the Library Teen Council, originally formed to encourage teens’ love of reading. They also provide valuable service as advisors on teen materials and interests. This includes local author visits and arranging teen centers in each of the libraries, as well as activities during Teen Read Month, where students may win valuable prizes for reading featured books and writing reviews.
The Teen Council also works with the adult volunteer group, Friends of the Library, in annual fund raising projects. This collaborative effort often includes online book sales, scanning and boxing materials and participating in the annual book sales held at the various branches. Books are donated to the libraries for the sale, with a portion of the funds given to the Teen Council, which makes decisions about which library programs they wish to support as a group.
“This past year, our Teen Council discussed their options and decided they wanted to buy craft materials to support the preschool and elementary summer reading program all on their own,” says Kathi Cork, Mesquite library assistant and adult teen facilitator of the summer program.
The Teen Volunteers play a major role in the yearly Summer Reading Programs, motivating young children and parents with such slogans as “Smile, Encourage, Cheer—It Only Takes a S.E.C.” This builds an awareness of the importance of customer service and approachability, valuable skills for work and for life.
Teen guides for the summer program complete an additional application process, participating in a one-day training session if they are selected. Their love of reading is especially basic to this role, as they are role models in passing along the love-of-reading message to younger children who participate in the children’s Summer Reading Program. Along with supporting their main mission of cheering younger friends on toward their reading goals, teens are taught ethical behavior, how to work with a variety of clients and how to use their summer volunteer experience as a step toward future job opportunities.
“When a child learns to read for the love of the experience and that visiting the library is fun, both young children and teenagers alike develop lifetime habits of visiting the library,” says Carol Finch, Children and Teen Services Coordinator for the 16 Phoenix Public Libraries.
“We are very proud to have our teens at Mesquite and believe they are an important investment in our community and in our future,” adds Paula Fortier, East Region Manager. “We could not offer the summer opportunities that we have if it was not for these wonderful young people.”
“Volunteering at the library has been such an empowering experience and I really feel I am doing something worthwhile, says Dagny Barclay, 15. “I love interacting with the kids and seeing them reach their goals, while making new friends and having tons of fun.” Dagny has been a teen volunteer at the Mesquite Branch for three years.
“Sometimes teenagers are stereotyped as sullen or dramatic, but after volunteering for the Children’s Phoenix Library Summer program, I met many wonderful teens who enjoy playing games with the younger kids, reading stories to them and helping out around Mesquite (library),” says Carly Schmidt, 15, a four-year veteran volunteer.
“When Carly volunteers at Mesquite Library she is in her element,” says Cindy Schmidt, Carly’s mother. “The experience has given her a chance to spread her love for books while trying out the world of work. The staff and the program were flexible and very supportive. She is now considering becoming a librarian as a career.”
Many students do return to paying, entry-level jobs with the library system, or go on to study library science or other related fields of interest such as education in their college course work.
From all angles, being a Teen Volunteer at a local public library provides meaningful work, as youth learn valuable interpersonal and job skills, while building strong character and responsible citizenship. For more information contact your local public library or visit phoenixpubliclibrary.org.
Trish Dolasinski, Ed.D. is former school principal and a Scottsdale-based writer, editor and writing group facilitator. Her website is trishdolasinskiwrites.com.