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Volunteers can play a critical role in the learning community.

person on shoulderVolunteer parents, volunteer community members, and volunteer students can have a tremendous impact on your program. When funding for paid support staff is not available, the daily operation of the library media center may be supervised by volunteers. Volunteers often make reading tutorial programs, after school clubs, and books fairs possible.

Occasionally students are assigned in a school library media center as paid workers through a “school-to-work” or vocational education program. More often, student workers are children or young adult volunteers.

How can a volunteer program be developed?

Keys to effectively administering library media volunteers involve planning, promotion, placement, training, and appreciation.

Planning. To insure that you identify the needs to be met by volunteer workers, a good plan is essential. Consider the different types of volunteers that are needed. What roles will they play?

Promotion. Promote your need for volunteers as an ongoing program. For example, you might give your volunteer staff a team name and matching T-shirts, buttons, or badges. Give them a sense of purpose and identity. The more visible they become, the easier it will be to recruit more.

Placement. Not all volunteers work well independently. In some cases, they cause more problems than they solve. As a result, they should be carefully selected and placed into positions that fit their skills and personality. For example, one person might work best alone and would be happy shelving books. While another person might be most comfortable reading to a group of children.

Many volunteers come with special skills. Be sure to ask. Volunteers are often retired teachers or skilled computer operators. Make use of their expertise. Volunteers have assisted in writing grants, creating hardware budgets, and designing marketing strategies.

Training. Many tasks require specific skills. Mini-lessons can be used to teach basic skills such as checking books in and out or using the electronic databases. It's most efficient to keep these directions in electronic files or create a notebook of "how to" tutorials.

Another approach is to create self-running PowerPoint Presentations containing your voice talking through a process. Regardless of the approach, volunteers feel much more comfortable when they are confident in their task.

Appreciation. Be sure to thank your volunteers. Insure that volunteers know that their contributions are needed and appreciated. Genuinely show that your appreciate their work every time you see them.

Recognize them and include them in special celebrations. Make them feel that they are a part of the library media center.

What types of people make good volunteers?

People of all ages and background can be successful volunteers.

Parents. Parents often enjoy volunteering in their child's school. However before making a commitment to a parent, check with the classroom teacher. In some cases, the teacher may have experience working with this person. Keep in mind that some parents aren't interested in volunteering once their child leaves the school, so their volunteer work may be short-term.

Community Members. Some community members have not had experiences working in the culture of a school. They may not be aware of "no gum" rules or think about things such as appropriate language. It's unlikely that a criminal would choose to join your volunteer staff. However be aware that this can happen.

Many schools have successfully involved older people, sometimes grandparents and persons from retirement communities.

Students. Students often have great skills to share. For example, a student “techie” may be knowledgeable of computers and could troubleshoot equipment/software problems, assist in the lab area, or complete vital repairs. Older children enjoy reading and working with younger children.

Many schools develop entire programs for student volunteers. At the high school level, cadet librarian programs are a great way for students to learn about the profession.

"A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different, because I was important in the life of a child." A young learner.

Adapted from words of Forest Witchcraft.

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What is involved with supervising volunteers?

Volunteers can perform routine but necessary tasks freeing up library media center staff for other tasks and duties. But in order to be effective, volunteers must be matched with appropriate assignments and instructed or guided to meet performance requirements. Typical tasks often performed by volunteers are creating bulletin boards, checking out materials, shelving materials, reading to students, completing routine maintenance tasks, greeting students and teachers, and adopting a shelf.

eye means readRead Shipman, Mavis (Nov/Dec 2006). It's Cool to Work in the Library . . . Student Library Aides (Access requires login). Library Media Connection; 25(3), 26-27. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
Article discusses qualities that are required in a student library assistant.

Next read Helen, Laurie (Nov 2001). Volunteer Magic: Finding and Keeping Library Volunteers (Access requires login). School Library Media Activities Monthly; 18(3), 22.
Contains suggestions for establishing a successful volunteer program in a school setting, including recruitment strategies, training, retention, and rewards.

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Check Your Understanding

School libraries have a long tradition of working with community volunteers; however in recent years, a new paradigm of community participation has been extended; the idea that volunteers can run a school library. The economic recession and budget deficit will in the short term continue to have major impacts on schools and school libraries. In a few instances, schools have taken the unfortunate step of keeping the center(s) open with parent / community volunteers.

eye means readRead Barack, L. (2010). Are There Any Volunteers? (Access requires login). School Library Journal56(12), 40-43.

Also read Barack, L. (Dec 2101). Are There Any Volunteers?: A Pain-free Approach to Getting the Very Best Out of Parents (Access requires login). School Library Journal

Use of volunteers in school libraries for specific purposes is acceptable, encouraged . . . but never compromise the quality of the school library, nor replace professional employment with volunteers. We need to maintain librarianship as a profession; we should not allow non-professionals to replace teacher librarians. "Would you let a volunteer teach biology or algebra to students?" Teacher librarians are qualified and certified to do their jobs. Volunteers may be able to keep the doors open, but they cannot guide students to becoming information literate citizens who are creative problem-solvers, critical thinkers, and active citizens who are ready to meet the challenges of the future.

info powerInformation Power - Program Administration: Principle 3.

An effective library media program requires a level of professional and support staffing that is based upon a school’s instructional programs, services, facilities, size, and numbers of students and teachers.

Your predecessor preferred to work alone, so never developed a volunteer program. You believe your program might benefit from volunteers. Develop a program for recruiting, training, and supervising volunteers. In your plan, identify specific purpose(s) and activities of volunteers.

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Make It Real

bulletin boardWhat policies do you need to handle issues that might arise relating to volunteers?

Use the following resources to help you create policies and guidelines:
Media Center Volunteer Manual (PDF document) at Russell Elementary School, GA
Media Center Volunteer Handbook (PDF doc) at Holy Family Catholic High School, MN
Volunteer Guidelines (PDF doc) from Joint School District No. 2, ID
Volunteer Manual (PDF doc) at Bridge School Library, MA
Volunteers from the Alaska School Library Handbook(2008)

More About It

School Volunteer Application from the Los Angeles Unified School District, CA

Volunteering in the Beaverton School District (Brochure, PDF doc), OR

Volunteers from Alaska School Library Handbook, AK

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