Super teen volunteers

AT THE LIBRARY

Before we know it school vacation and summer will be here. Yes, yes, I know that spring has barely arrived but as I’ve told you before, in Libraryland we are always living in the future. Program planning, pre-publish books to order, goal setting, and new technologies make us think ahead most of the time.

This is also the time when teens begin searching for a summer job and/or a volunteer service opportunity to fill an academic requirement for graduation. Perhaps I should rephrase the statement to say, it’s also the time when parents/caregivers decide it’s time for their teen to plan for a summer job or volunteer work.

Just as I was reminding myself of this yearly phenomena, my e-mail dinged to let me know I had a message. Sure enough, it was a parent inquiring if their teenage daughter could volunteer at the library. I sighed and thought to myself, “Here we go again.”

I generally like teenagers and work hard to understand their behavior is often driven by inexperience, experimentation and hormones. Yes, they do seem to live in the moment, think they are immortal, have a bit of difficulty setting goals, and generally fly by the seat of their pants. If they were mini-adults we wouldn’t call them teens. I admire their unique individuality trying to operate with a herd mentality. Because of this craziness, or maybe despite it, we generally have our best experiences with teens in one-on-one interactions.

The e-mail I received disturbed me on several levels. My immediate concern, and from past experiences, made me wonder why the parent was making the initial contact? If the teen wanted to work at the library why didn’t he/she send an email to express interest? I’ve learned it’s often the parent, not the teen, who wants the teen to volunteer at the library. That’s a no-win situation all around because the teen isn’t motivated and we spend time training someone who won’t take the job seriously, or doesn’t come during their assigned time.

My second concern was I didn’t recognize the teen’s name and when I looked in our database, he/she didn’t have a card. In some cases, the teen will have a card they haven’t used in the past three years, have overdue materials, or hefty fines for late returns. These situations certainly don’t instill much confidence in their accountability and reliability.

The third concern is that ALL volunteers need to have clearances, even teens. This is not to imply that teens have criminal records but it can sometimes be an issue because minors need a parental signature on the forms.

I expressed these thoughts in my reply to the parent and asked the teen to contact us directly about volunteering. As I expected, I’ve not heard back. This is not the first time this situation has arisen nor will it be the last.

Mifflin County Library has been fortunate to have had, and currently have, the best two teen volunteers it’s ever been my pleasure to work with. Joey Rupert and Francesca Zannino.

I first met Joey six years ago, shortly after I became the director. He arrived every week with a smile and a cheerful willingness to do just about anything from shelving books to being the videographer for our YouTube storytimes. Joey was and is still a reader who loved to shelve books. While shelving, he’d browse the books and often checked out more books than he actually shelved. He liked to suggest books to other children and teens, and like Miss Susan, is a fan of the Skulduggery Pleasant series.

During his senior year in high school we didn’t see Joey very much because he was so busy. But just this past December, in walked Joey, fresh from his first semester at the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology. He was back and he volunteered during his break, helping the young children make crafts and attending a technology meeting with Susan. Thanks, Joey, for making the library an integral part of your life.

Francesca recently announced that she was going to get her undergraduate degree, then her Masters in Library Science. What made her decide on this career path? Volunteering at the library. Francesca is very technology savvy and recently helped us with the Stem Day event. Children flocked to watch her use littleBits, a kit to build and code games. Wow! This will be a librarian of the future.

Francesca, fondly known to us as Frankie, has been passionate about the library since she attended Miss Susan’s preschool storytime. She could hardly wait until she was old enough to volunteer, and on her birthday she came in with her completed application and asked if she could start volunteering the very next day (which she did). We require teens to volunteer one hour a month. Francesca comes in to help at least one hour a week and for special programs, too. Francesca is a voracious reader and Harry Potter fan. We applaud her excited enthusiasm, commitment and dedication to the library. Who knows, maybe in a few years she will be the library director and write this column?

Here is your takeaway message. If your teen needs to fill an academic requirement with volunteer activities, they need to do the work, not you. Don’t waste everyone’s time (including your teen’s time) forcing them to do something they don’t want to do. If they do want to volunteer at the library, they can express their interest in-person, over the phone, or via electronic mail.

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Molly S. Kinney is the director at the Mifflin County Library. She is currently reading “Leverage in Death” (In Death #47) by J.D. Robb.

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