Volunteering Vs. Service Learning

I just got back from the YALSA conference, which was held in Portland this year. My head is still swimming with ideas and information. But of all the sessions I attended this weekend, one in particular stood out to me: “Elevating Teen Volunteers to Loftier Roles.”

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My minions. *Cough*  I mean volunteers.

I’ve been struck lately by how boring traditional “volunteering” duties can be for teens. Yes, shelving books and DVD’s can be helpful (and necessary). But, if that’s all your volunteers are doing, that makes for a pretty uninspiring volunteer experience.

Enter the Seattle Public Library’s Service Learning Program. SPL wanted the same thing I do: to give their teens a meaningful role at their library. Their goal was to help their teens develop leadership and project management skills while working collaboratively together. So they decided to put their teenagers in charge of their programs.

Yes. You read that right. The teens were in charge of programming.

There were three key requirements for the programs the teens built:

  1. Projects had to be teen-driven (and they had to be exciting to the teens)
  2. Projects had to meet a community need
  3. Projects had to meet a library need

For example: Let’s say the teens wanted to start a Animanga Club. All three of the aforementioned requirements would have to be met in order for the program to take place.

It sounds so simple but is really is profound. I love this idea of making volunteering more meaningful by allowing teens to plan and implement their own Service Learning Projects. It gives them a chance to develop real-world skills they can use later on in life (marketing, event planning, working within a budget, etc.) It makes their voices and ideas hold weight and empowers them to take ownership of their library.

This is something I hope to implement in our volunteering program going forward. Our teen volunteers give so much to the library. I want to make sure that they’re “getting something” our of volunteering too.

 

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