Early Literacy

Getting Creative: Utilizing Volunteers in Early Literacy Outreach

If your library, like ours, is working with too few staff and is receiving more requests for outreach visits, it might be time to get creative. About a year ago, we attended a wonderful state library conference session presented by Deschutes County in which they described their volunteer outreach program. While their library system is much more robust than our single library, we saw potential in their model for our needs. Below is a series of questions, with some of our answers, that served as a foundation for developing our program. While this outline is by no means exhaustive, and will require customization for your organization, we hope this can spark ideas for your own creative solutions.

Government & Organizational Structure

  • What is your governmental structure, and how will this impact your decision making and workflow?

After clearing the project with our library management team, we worked directly with human resources to develop a volunteer job description with a list of duties and preferences. All library volunteers operate within an existing city volunteer program structure.

Unions & Volunteers

  • What are your volunteers allowed to do for your organization? Do labor regulations prevent volunteers from doing any of the desired duties?

Working with HR, we determined that providing outreach storytimes was an acceptable task for a specifically trained volunteer because it is not an essential service and it is an expansion of services initiated and managed by the library staff. However, it is likely that your organization will be different. Consult before, not after, you start your program to ensure you are following all laws and policies.

Volunteer Management

  • Who will be the point of contact for your volunteers?
  • How will the volunteers fit within your current volunteer program and structure?

This will be highly specific to your organization, but we have made our Youth Services & Outreach Librarian our point person for this program, with support from our Library Manager.

Storytime Preparation

  • Who is responsible for materials preparation, and how will this project be managed?
  • If you are purchasing materials to be used exclusively for your program, how will this be funded?

We are taking this opportunity, funded by a state grant, to develop “Storytime Kits” which consist of themed books, puppets, instruments, etc. in a durable canvas bag with a song and rhyme sheet. These Storytime Kits will be checked out by a volunteer to use on their outreach visit. The materials in each bag range in level from baby to late preschool, enabling the bags to serve a wide audience.

Volunteer Training

  • How will you train your volunteers?
  • How you will you determine the best volunteer-organization match?

We have three trainings established over the summer months, with one make-up session at the end of August. All volunteers are required to attend three sessions, in which they will be trained on:

  • Every Child Ready to Read
  • Structure and presentation of storytimes for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers
  • Library orientation, tour, and daily logistics of their role
  • Communication between themselves and their organization
  • Communication between themselves and the library
  • Statistic gathering and reporting

Volunteer Recruitment & Vetting

  • When and where will you post your volunteer recruitment information?
  • How many volunteers are you hoping to have for program launch?

We are beginning with 4-6 volunteers, 2 of which are currently working with the library as volunteers in some capacity and have experience in early childhood education.

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Taylor Worley is the Youth Services & Outreach Librarian for Springfield Public Library, in Springfield, Oregon. She sends special thanks to the staff at Deschutes, Eugene, and Multnomah Public Libraries for their information sharing and inspiration with this initiative.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

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