A couple of weeks ago, we were approached by the fourth grade teachers at one of our local schools wanting to know if they could bring their classes in for a day of volunteering at the library. Never one to turn away a partnership with a school, we quickly agreed and worked out a plan for the day. The kids would come to the library, eat their lunches in one of our meeting rooms, get a tour of the library, and then spend some time volunteering.
Our typical volunteers are middle schoolers who need volunteer hours for school, for scouts, for confirmation, etc., and we limit them to two-hour shifts. They help us prep craft materials for our craft table, pull books to consider for weeding, etc.
But what could 16 kids do to volunteer that would be helpful and not add a ton of work for my staff to prep activities for them to do?
We had a brainstorm and asked the kids to spend some time making Valentines (or Happy Day or Enjoy Your Books) cards for the patrons in our Walking Books program. Walking Books delivers books to patrons who are in nursing homes or who are homebound and can't make it to the library themselves. Each month, a selection of books is delivered to the patrons who participate.
We spoke with our librarian who is in charge of Walking Books and she thought it was a great idea. She provided us with a list of names so the kids could personalize their cards.
We provided the materials: construction paper, crayons, markers, colored pencils, crazy scissors that cut different patterns (recently donated by a retired teacher!)
And the kids went to town. The messages they wrote were so sweet and the cards were colorful and fun. Lots of kids took special care, making elements that popped out or utilizing the pattern scissors to make their cards look really neat.
This not only gave us an easy project for a dozen or so kids to tackle at once, but it allows our volunteers to connect with their community and to learn about a service that the library offers. And it allows us (the library) to provide something a little special and different for our patrons, hopefully something that will brighten their day.
This is definitely a project that we will repeat in the future, and it's nice that it's one that we can pull out of our back pocket if we have a sudden surge in volunteers. As the deadline for the middle school's service learning project looms, we will often have more volunteers contact us than we have tasks for. Problem solved!
You could do a similar project even if your library doesn't have a Walking Books program. Have kids decorate cards that invite people to get a library card or say why libraries or books are important. Pair the cards with information about the library or library card applications and take them to your next outreach event!