Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What They Didn't Teach in Library School: The Library & Community Service

'What They Didn't Teach In Library School' is a series of guest-authored posts,
written by YA Librarians from around the country, highlighting situations or skills
that were never addressed in formal Library School, but that are integral to librarianship.
The Library & Community Service
by Martha Mikkleson

I never took a course on the Public Library as Community Service provider. No one warned me when I was in library school, that someday a major part of my job would be finding volunteer opportunities for teens to satisfy church and school requirements. Today, an important part of my job as a YA Services Librarian is responding to phone calls and email messages from parents desperate to find an agency that will sign off on 3, 8 or even 20+ hours of volunteer service. I also get calls from teens themselves wanting to volunteer to gain experience for job and college applications, and some who simply want to give back and be of help to their community.

When I began as a new librarian at my large suburban library, there were 2 volunteer opportunities we could offer teens seeking to satisfy confirmation or participation in Government class requirements: dusting the A/V materials (open to any and all interested teens) and Book Buddies  (open to tweens in grades 6 though 8). The first option - dusting - was boring, simple and completely meaningless for the teens performing it. Book Buddies, on the other hand, was fun, useful and meaningful. Teens provided a valuable service for their community and learned something about themselves and younger children. They felt that their service was important and had an impact on others. But both of these options fell short of meeting the demand - there were simply not enough hours of service available for all those needing to volunteer.

After picking the collective YA programming brain - listserves, books, websites, and YA librarian colleagues, I began to model new programs on the Buddies model - Craft Buddies, Tech Buddies, Music Buddies and Study Buddies. Some of these have been wildly successful. Study Buddies meets for 12 hours and serves an average of 100 kids and 20 teens per week. Others are limping along, still trying to find their audience. Each month I spend more and more of my work day monitoring, evaluating and attempting to improve the volume and value of community service programs at out library. My administration encourages me and gives me every opportunity to experiment - to try, to  succeed and sometimes, to fail. Coordinating volunteer opportunities for teens is now the majority of my job. Without support and demand from the entire library community for meaningful community service opportunities for young people this would not have happened.

If I were teaching the course on the Public Library as Community Service provider, I would stress this - read your Library’s vision and mission statements. If they profess a dedication to providing educational, cultural and recreational opportunities for their community - you must hold the administration, Library Board and/or Directors that promise. Community service opportunities for youth clearly fall under this banner. You must make it your personal mission to create those opportunities for your young people. Your community will flock to you and make your Library a model for others to follow. And at the end of the day you will be tired, but happy.

About Martha
I have been a YA services librarian since 2001, and have never been happier. Prior to that I worked at many jobs, but most notably for a daily newspaper - NEWSDAY on Long Island - in the art, photo and prepress departments for a total of 18 years where I developed an expertise in layout and paste up, darkroom work, photography and electronic prepress. My passions include walking, nature photography, animals, hand bookbinding and sharing my passions with the teens I serve. I currently serve the YA Services department of the Patchogue-Medford library on Long Island, NY as coordinator for programming and community services. I love getting up (but not too early) for work - which seems, at most times, more like play!

Want more posts on issues not covered in Library School?
Check out Teen Librarian Toolbox's series Behind the Scenes @ the Library.
What They Didn't Teach In Library School Post Schedule
January 1, 2013 - Overcoming the Pied Piper Syndrome
January 16, 2013 - Finding Balance - The Enforcer vs. The YA Librarian
January 23, 2013 - Dealing with Peeps Not Like Me
January 30, 2013 - Mousy & Mild Won't Cut It
February 6, 2013 - Community Service and the Library
February 13, 2013 - Dealing with the Angry Folk
February 20, 2013 - Mistakes as Opportunities
February 27, 2013 - Librarians as Social Workers
March 6, 2013 - Adapt or Perish
March 13, 2013 - No Do-Overs
March 20, 2013 - Promotion & Programming