Cornwall Council and Surrey County Council have been working with Summer Reading Challenge volunteers successfully for years. Numbers of volunteers in both councils are growing but it hasn't always been straightforward. Jaime Dowling, Young People's Services Project Officer in Cornwall and Carol Hales, Senior Team Officer - Children and Young People in Surrey, have both reported that in the beginning, they came up against some resistance from library staff.
Jamie said: "In a couple of areas it proved very hard to get people interested in volunteering. One branch said volunteers wouldn't be any use to them."
"In the first year or two, the main challenge was in convincing some library staff of the value of using young volunteers. There was some opposition to the use of volunteers in general but also a feeling that the additional work involved in recruiting, training and supervising young volunteers would outweigh the benefit of their help over the busy summer period." Carol Hales, Surrey.
So Carol and Jaime both had to come up with a strategy to get library staff on board, and they did this in different ways. In Cornwall, Jaime made recruiting volunteers a requirement for each branch. Every branch was given a target depending on its size.
Making volunteering a requirement meant that all libraries had to get on board. One branch, who had felt that volunteers wouldn't be any use to them because of their layout, ended up recruiting eight volunteers, one of whom continued working with the branch after the end of the challenge, and the branch now says they couldn't have managed without them.
Making the most of volunteers
"Once they were told they had to use them, they started looking properly at how they could make the most of them. Although I'm not usually keen on making branches do things like this, I'm glad we did in this case." - Jaime
In Surrey, Carol had a different approach. They started small, recruiting volunteers in three libraries that were keen to have them.
"We never insisted on libraries recruiting young volunteers, but have made use of the positive feedback from libraries that have used them to enthuse more and more libraries."
So whether you decide to make volunteering a requirement for all libraries in your authority, or go for the softly, softly approach, don't be surprised if you come up against a little resistance in those early days. Once library staff realise the benefits of using volunteers, however, they will be sure to get on board.
"We couldn't do it without them, they are amazing and really help make the experience so much more enjoyable." - Library staff member, Surrey
Carol's and Jaime's top tips
- Organise group induction sessions for your volunteers and set the dates for these in advance. This gives the volunteers a chance to meet and get to know one another and the library staff, and feel part of a team.
- Try to have at least two volunteers working together at all times. This has many advantages: they provide company for one another, less confident volunteers gain support from a partner, and there is cover if one volunteer is on holiday.
- Make sure that you have plenty of things for the volunteers to be doing during quiet periods.
- Encourage branches to allow volunteers to explore their interests as part of their volunteer experience such as writing articles for the local bulletin, helping children on the website and helping to design activity sessions.
- Take the time to meet with library staff and managers to discuss any concerns and queries they may have and to ensure that they have the necessary support throughout the process.
Read more about the benefits of involving volunteers at your library.
If you have any questions or need further help with running Summer Reading Challenge volunteering, please contact Claire Styles.