Libraries in North Yorkshire have been successfully working with Summer Reading Challenge volunteers since 2010. Numbers of volunteers have been growing steadily since they started and in 2013 they worked with approximately 90 volunteers. We spoke to Hazel Smith, Team Leader - Service Development, about her experiences.
Most of our young volunteers came via the Vinspired website. This helps us to advertise more widely and attract local young people who are away at university and would not see our local poster campaign. We also use local volunteer bureaux.
We have had some success with enlisting the help of young people who have already been on work experience via school or have done Duke of Edinburgh placements. This works well too. We also approach young library users.
The recruitment and training process can be time consuming due to the number of volunteers and their availability. The drop-out rate can be a problem as volunteers often obtain paid holiday work and have their own holiday commitments.
There can be problems with reliability and volunteers not turning up due to other commitments. It's also really useful to help keep volunteers on task by giving them a clearly defined role which does not conflict with staff and is enough to keep them occupied.
Making a difference
In 2011 we had a very shy young volunteer, who was doing his Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award. He proved to be excellent and came out of his shell tremendously over the summer. He stayed on for another year, coming in every Saturday morning as an IT volunteer and was very reliable and excellent with anyone needing help.
We have had some fantastic volunteers over the years, and their enthusiasm for the role is apparent in the feedback we've received.
"I am so glad that I took the opportunity to work in the library. I have absolutely loved my time volunteering for the library and I feel that I have gained many skills throughout the few weeks. I have gained confidence from working with the public and have been able to express my creative skills when planning Creepy House... I am grateful that I was able to help out this summer and I would happily do it again next year!" - Natalie from Thirsk Library
"Volunteering with Knaresborough Library has been an enriching experience and has helped me to gain some valuable skills. Improving my confidence when speaking to others and also enabling me to meet new people of all ages, races and genders, it has been a fantastic way to reach out to the community and show I care." - Ben at Knaresborough Library.
Hazel's tips for library services working with volunteers for the first time
- Be patient, be organised, be clear in your communication, plan a timetable for the volunteers and get them to commit to it.
- Give them some structure to their experience by delegating specific tasks, give them an ownership of these tasks, involve them and integrate them in your team. This will give them a sense of value.
- Listen to them - they have lots of ideas to offer and can be a voice for young people.
- Don't be afraid to stretch their skills - give them a challenge: they could be our future library staff.
- Don't feel obliged to take on every volunteer - the role may not be suitable for every young person.
- Make sure to put in enough support and training, especially at the beginning of the summer.
Hazel's tips for library services wishing to grow the number of volunteers in their service
- Make sure you have resources for recruiting and training the volunteers.
- Good co-ordination of volunteers at all levels is very important.
- Having a single point of contact for enquiries from the Vinspired website is very useful, as they can see the bigger picture and pass on requests for volunteering opportunities to local staff.
- Have a very clear role description so they know exactly what is required of them; and make sure all staff know what this is.
- In the libraries themselves, the young volunteers need to have someone assigned to them for their supervision and support. There should be plenty for them to do - it's no good growing your numbers if there is not enough to keep them occupied when you have them.
- Where possible it's beneficial to involve experienced volunteers in managing and training newer ones. Through good management and organisation young people will want to return year after year, and this will help your numbers grow.
- When co-ordinating volunteers, it's very important to be organised. Get a system in place for recording new applications, to track their progress and training, the number of hours they work and their final evaluations and feedback.
- Keep any paperwork short and simple.
- Make sure you ask the volunteers to come in at the busier times when the library needs them - not just to suit them. It's a good idea to get them to sign up to a rota which you can photocopy so that they all know when they need to come in and there is less chance to forget.
Read more about the benefits of involving volunteers in your library.
Download some of our resources for recruiting young volunteers.
If you have any experience of working with Summer Reading Challenge volunteers you would like to share with us, please contact Kathleen Ktorides.