Teen Volunteer Ideas

Listed below are some great ideas shared by librarians throughout Michigan for Teen Volunteers.

a couple of things we have had them do are paint a mural on the garage door to the library, paint the crosswalks, help with the gingerbread house contest, do Teen Tech time with seniors, and organize a Teen Advisory Board.

At a former library, we had them decorate the windows of the library with window paint for different holidays, National Library Week, etc.

In a previous Library, we had our teens organize a tutoring club so littler kids could get homework assistance.  We put out sign up sheets with the topics that the teens were willing to tutor.  It became a very
popular program. I made nice certificates for the teens and provided snacks here and there.  Here’s a brief link to the program that is still going on .


This is something that we have to balance at our library as well. We love having our teens active and involved, but sometimes finding them something to work on can be difficult. The balance that we have struck is having a difference between “scheduled volunteering” and “drop in volunteering”. We also have different rules for Summer Reading volunteering and non-Summer Reading Volunteering.

During the winter, when there isnt a large amount of regular volunteering tasks that need accomplished, we require teens to register to volunteer and we cap the amount of teens that have guarenteed times to volunteer. We often get flooded with Seniors at the local high schools that need to volunteer twice a week, two hours a day, for a specific set of weeks. Unfortunately, the high school doesnt stagger those weeks at all, so we cap the participating kids at 10. We do not have a cap on “drop-in” volunteering, which teens can ask us if we have anything available, and we either do or do not. This also allows us to schedule extra help on days of large programs, but without worrying about making sure they have enough to do during non-peak times.

Our Summer Reading program depends on our having enthusiastic teen helpers, and volunteering is one of the main ways to earn an invitation to our Teen Lock-In party. During the summer we only do “drop-in” volunteering, but we have enough programs and prep-work that it is extremely rare that we turn someone away in the summer. Our opening party usually has between 30-50 teen volunteers helping us run stations, and our themed 3 day day camp for little ones usually has 40-60 volunteers each day.

What tasks do you have your teen volunteers do?

Our teen volunteers pick up outside garbage, clean shelves, sweep, help us build decorations for programs, cut, glue, run the Summer Reading table in the summer. Teens also help during programs, take photos for our Facebook page, and very trusted helpers can help me with food prep for parties.

How do you balance needed tasks with “cool” tasks?

I am very upfront with teens when they ask if we have anything to do. I will outright tell them I only have “lame stuff”, and that it is only meant if you are desperate for voluteer hours (cleaning parking lot, sorting colors of perler beads). During the summer I still assign “lame tasks” but encourage the teens to work on them as a team so that it doesn’t feel as boring. I never, ever assign shelf reading, just because I always hated doing that as a teen. 🙂

How do you train them?

In the winter, we will train our core group of teens on specific tasks, but remind them to check in with designated people when they run out of work. We show them where to sign in and get their volunteer badge, and thats about it. During the summer, we hold teen volunteer workshops and distribute packets of information about Summer Reading registration, water safety, food safety, and more. I go over the basic rules with everyone before each program begins, just as a reminder.

How do you step them up to more responsibility?

We call our teen volunteers “minions” at our library. If you are known to be a good volunteer that is flexible and responsible, you will earn “trusted minion” status with us. Its informal, but it works. Trusted minions essentially become floor leaders, work with food, and are allowed into the Youth Offices.

Do you have any rewards for them?

We get pizza before our two biggest parties that our teens volunteer for, so that they are well fed before the work begins. We have a giant teen lock-in party to close summer reading, and volunteerism is one way to earn your way into that party. We  record the teens hours and sign off on any volunteer proof forms, as well as offer to write college/program reccomendation letters for trusted minions. We have also been references for teens in job interviews.

On a side note, I find buying the giant unsorted bin of Perler beads and keeping that around for a volunteering task to be perfect. Its a job that involves being seated, a teen can listen to music, and there is hours and hours of sorting to be done. I have kept many a desperate teen busy enough to fufil their time requirement, and once its completed we do a Teen Craft Night with Perler beads. Almost all of our regular volunteers have had to sort those at one time or another, and many friendships have been struck due to a mutual loathing of those beads!

Quick thought – could use a volunteer to check for dead website links

We have a local community information directory (is posted on our township website) and as i was looking at it yesterday to double check some of the hot links it occurred to me that that would be a good task for a volunteer – click on the hot links in the doc to see if they are still valid

Your teen volunteers could design flyers and help promote too.

I often liked to work with teen volunteers on programming – give them the responsibility of helping with nametags, etc. at the start of a program, hands-on assistance with crafts, etc.

If you have regular volunteers having them enter data, organize files, etc. is super helpful.  One teen once indexed my storytime digital files in a spreadsheet!

One thing that has worked for us in the past is talking to their parents, or threatening to talk to their parents. It isn’t something I do for the first infraction (as long as it isn’t something terribly serious), but it is something that I have had to do. I have also told a few kids point blank (while talking to their parents) that their behavior shows that they are not ready to be volunteers yet, and that we will not be allowing them to volunteer again for X amount of time. (Usually it is until next summer). I feel that providing safe volunteer opportunities to teens is an important role that the library can fulfill, but not if they are creating more problems than solving, particularly if they are supposed to be responsible for the safety of others. Also, if you have a few habitually goofing around kids, that can chase away other more serious minded volunteers.

My colleague,  our youth librarian,  often has very young kids (7-9) assisting him with small projects. Those kids are excited to be treated like the teens, even though we give them separate, easily managed tasks. While they can be a bit chatty and distractable, they know if they mess around too much that next time their friend will be the one to help, not them. It tends to prevent any serious disasters.

The best thing that ever happened as far a volunteering was our Supervising Librarian managed to get the contact information of the local high school’s NHS before a large open house event. We have been able to build on our relationship with them for the past several years, and they are VERY serious about volunteers being punctual and responsible. We couldn’t manage our Summer Reading program without this group, and they like being able to volunteer in the air conditioning and with people they already know. The NHS secretary passes my information on once they graduate, and then I just send out a list of the programs that I need help for. If you have any inroads into the local high school, I strongly recommend reaching out to their NHS group.

Our lock-in is not a sleepover. I joke with the kids that, “Ms. J doesn’t hate herself that much.” We hold it the Saturday following the wrap-up of Summer Reading from 6-11. Its unlimited pizza, salad, breadsticks, chips, etc. I do grand prize raffles for everyone in the program that completed it, and then a raffle for lock-in attendees only. We usually have a henna artist, a video game room set up, and all of the computers turned on for gaming. Its alot of fun, and a good way for the teens that have made friends while volunteering over the summer to have one last “hang out” before school starts back up.

What a great problem to have! I’m the teen librarian at Shelby Township Library. I have three groups of teens who are active with the library:  my after school kids/teens who come to the after hours events; my TAB kids, and the volunteers who only need some hours for NHS/school. My after school group that comes almost everyday to the library from the middle school. Once a week we have a 90 minute hangout program with snacks and games, I average 11-20 teens coming for each meeting. Some of my after school kids are my younger TAB kids. My TAB kids meet once a month, and help me plan and lead the events for the teens and decorate, we have a very active group of 15-20. The other volunteers are active in the summer time when we need as many volunteers as possible.  Our volunteer program runs all year long, and teens in 7th-12th grade (under 18) can volunteer. All volunteers must have a volunteer application on file with us, so we have emergency contact information. TAB members must fill out a TAB application that has questions about improving services to teens in the community and why they want yo join. We have a paper sign up system right now, but there’s hopes of using a sign up program of some kind soon. I keep a spreadsheet of volunteer hours for the year in excel, and keep track of their hours that way. I’ve had a few seniors ask for all of their hours since they became volunteers for their college applications, so that has been handy.

My volunteers help me set up and clean up programs. When it’s a all ages or children’s craft event, a volunteer may be in charge of a station explaining how to make something, or help children if they need help with their activity. With larger events, we have a volunteer click the counter as people are coming in the door and help take pictures for facebook and instagram.

I may ask volunteers to help cut things for a story time craft, refill the glue bottles, and check the glue sticks, a couple of them can do that together and visit and chat.

I have one volunteer who comes in once a week to help with craft prep,and she also wipes down the puzzles and toys in the kids area, and checks the ipads to make sure the files and folders haven’t been changed to bad words.

There’s not many “cool tasks” besides helping at the teen programs, our most coveted volunteer spots are for the annual Murder Mystery in the fall, where the volunteers are suspects and witnesses. They get a run down of the whole murder mystery before hand and a chance to solve it before the night of the program, this helps me tighten any evidence. And when we had escape rooms that I made from scratch, they tested out my puzzles. They get to dress up in costume for those events.

I have found that as my younger volunteers grow in our volunteer program they can take on more involved tasks that I can trust them with.  For my newer or younger volunteers I’ll give them simple tasks to see what they can handle, and as I get to know them better and their what they can handle, they get trusted with more involved tasks.

We reward our volunteers with an annual volunteer thank you party at the end of summer reading. One year we went and played laser tag, but more recently, they have asked for a pizza party after hours with games, a pinata, and to play hide and seek in the dark. The TAB members have a Christmas party for the December meeting, and we have a farewell party for the graduating seniors, too.

We couldn’t run our SRP without our volunteers. They register the children, they check logs and award prizes, and they explain the rules to kids and parents. Before SRP begins, we have a one hour volunteer orientation. I send out an email to all of the volunteers inviting them to help us again for the summer, and encourage them to come to orientation–they get service hours for the meeting. Volunteers who cannot come to orientation get a ten minute one-on-one with me or the other children’s librarian. If possible, we will try to buddy new volunteers with veteran volunteers. We also leave a print out of what to do at the volunteer table, and a librarian is nearby if they need help.