Friday, January 4, 2013

Leaving Your Mark in the Children's Room

Read Kelly Unsworth's column in the January 14, 2013 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin. Kelly is a children's librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library.

A number of years ago, I designed a program in the library known as the Jr. Friends of the Library. The idea was to give students in grades 6 and older a chance to volunteer in the children’s department on a weekly basis, doing simple tasks that would match their interests and skills. At the time, I had no concept of how quickly the program would take off, or what a large impact it would have; on the children’s room, on the participants of the program, or on the library staff.

The program was developed to fill a need for teens who were looking for opportunities for inclusion at the library, but felt to old for organized programming. Students were also looking to fulfill community service hours for school or church

requirements. While this is often still the case, the program has grown to include many different types of volunteers who are at the library for a wide variety of reasons. Some stay for a few months, some stay for years, and some continue to stay in touch on their visits home from college.

Anu Ravi, Lauren Bailey, and Jillian Goss were all examples of our first long-term dedicated volunteers. They began volunteering in 6th grade, and by 10th grade had paid positions shelving books in the library. Often steady fixtures behind the children’s desk, they would answer questions, complete projects and assist with storytimes. They still work in a variety of positions in the library on their college breaks, and the we have great fun following their college journeys.

More recently, Lauren Swank has made the leap from volunteer to paid position in the library. Lauren’s story is unique in that she began as a volunteer 3 years ago when she brought her bunny “Petey” to library storytimes. A casual visit or 2 lead to bunny storytimes, bunny care seminars, and even a bunny birthday party. Lauren and Petey still frequent the library, and provide energy and excitement.

Brian Richardson is another volunteer who I have known for years, since he has visited the library weekly since he was a little boy. Brian is now a strapping teen who volunteers at the library through his school, Westwood TEC. When asked about volunteering Brian stated that, “I clean the books. I like to check out books. The people are nice.”

That same day, Katie Hughes, a home schooled high school student, came to the library for her weekly volunteer session. Katie has been volunteering now for 2 years, and she is a great asset not only because she is familiar with the children’s room and the tasks we perform, but also because she is a prolific reader who can recommend books, DVDs, or music, for purchase in the library. In addition, Katie provides me with endless ideas; crafts for programs, cakes for Doctor Who parties, and endless creativity. Katie wrote that, “I’m always excited to show my mum the new books I check out, and tell her about the things I do. Because of this, my younger brother started volunteering too! And he loves it. It’s become something nice that he and I can do together, just the two of us.”

Celia H. is one of my youngest volunteers, but regardless of her age, she works with younger children at the craft times with great maturity. Celia had been waiting for a number of years to be old enough to volunteer, and is thrilled that she can finally be a part of the library team.

QianQian Lin is one of our newest volunteers, a pleasant 18 year old young woman who recently moved to the United States from Southeastern China. QianQian volunteers each week after her English and GED study session through the Literacy Department. She is enjoying volunteering, and I am enjoying the challenge of finding books for her to read.

Joey is a Norwood High School student who volunteers on a weekly basis simply because he is interested in reading and enjoys the environment of the library. Joey writes that, “There are also many creative tasks that I am asked to do, and this is the most fun part of the job. I get to design signs, set up display cases, and hunt for books that relate to special themes throughout the year. Other times I even help visitor’s in the children’s department find books, and helping people is always a rewarding experience. Everyone here is very nice and has a mutual interest in literature. The library is actually surprisingly festive in addition to being peaceful. There are always seasonal decorations, art projects, and craft groups. Anyway I can help this stimulating, positive atmosphere I know is a worthwhile way to spend my time.”

George Price recently spent some time with us to earn hours for his senior year church/school community service experience. George always arrived with energy and enthusiasm.

Each and every volunteer leave their mark on the children’s room and influence the children’s room staff in their unique way. We can only hope that we have an equally positive and lasting effect on these young adults, and that one day, one of these faces may be the one behind the desk asking, “Hello, I’m the children’s librarian, may I help you?” (George Price, as well as many other volunteers, wrote a wonderful pieces about their volunteer experience. You can read them online at under Kids and Teens, Teen Page, Volunteer Experiences.)