On Friday, March 13, the King County Library System (KCLS) closed its libraries to in-building public access in response to Covid-19 public health mandates. Schools closed too. Libraries being closed rocked everyone’s world, including Teen Services Librarians such as myself, who use library spaces to connect with young patrons. I was sad not seeing teens flooding into the Newport Way Library every day after school, but the day that most changed the way I worked didn’t happen until May. That is when teens decided to take things into their own hands and showed me a whole new way a library could engage with youth.
The week after the library closures, volunteers from my existing Teen Council started meeting with me every Wednesday on Zoom, and then one day the two ambitious co-chairs asked if I could stay a little longer. They started a slideshow, and I was introduced to their proposal to start a new virtual Teen Volunteer Program. They knew that youth were facing a summer without jobs, sports, hangouts with friends and connections. They proposed to help me create an online community where local teens could volunteer to learn how to create fun, teen-produced, online events for KCLS. I accepted the challenge, they became "Executive Leaders," and we started planning online recruitment and digital spaces where teens could work together.
In their words: "The Teen Volunteer Program (TVP) is a teen-led organization collaborating online since June 2020. Working with the King County Library System, we strive to build relevant programs that benefit kids, teens, and families in our community. We connect and empower teens to plan, create, and lead a wide variety of events and workshops while gaining valuable leadership experience and community service hours!"
Thirty teens joined the TVP in June, and we spent the summer together learning to develop online project ideas, plan, and co-produce original programs for kids and teens over Zoom. As the Supervising Librarian, the most challenging part of this project was overseeing the online infrastructure where our shared work could happen and asking the teens to slow down. They are very creative and motivated to take action, and their vision for structure, leadership, and project management is amazing, so I’ve had to find ways to explain the value of skills I’ve learned over the years. Key pieces have been providing opportunities for everyone, taking time for considerate communication, asking for feedback, and knowing that we are working on a living project that needs continuous improvement. Most of all, I have had to help TVP members feel okay with the disequilibrium of this pandemic year. Not always having answers during this pilot project is okay, because we’ve living in a grand experiment.
The teens have exceeded my expectations! I have loved seeing the TVP leaders analyze a need we identified together, then create new leadership opportunities when they find someone to fill it. Virtual work means I can work with a far larger number of teens than when they all had to get to the library for in-person meetings. Fall recruitment doubled TVP’s size and their reach keeps growing. TVP has offered 21 programs to the community since June (see list below) and they have also started offering internal workshops just for TVP members. Their 2021 vision includes expanding to partner with more KCLS librarians and reaching out to collaborate with other teen groups.
Overall, their favorite thing about the TVP seems to be that it gives them a chance to make friends in an environment where they can work on meaningful projects together. My favorite thing is that the teens recognized this is a year for innovative thinking, and they have demonstrated to me that trust in the ability of creative young minds to cooperate can improve our community. We often get teens attending a program that TVP has created and then asking, “How can I join this group?”
If you know a high school student who’d like to hear about TVP’s next open applications, tell them to fill out the TVP Interest Form or email KCLS Librarian, Rochelle Brown, email@example.com.
|Newport Way Library Teen Volunteer Program (TVP Programs created June 2020- November 2020|
|Engineering Around the House: Paper Bridge Challenge|
|Art Around the House: Origami Paper Stars and Gift Bags|
|National Ice Cream Day! Make Your Own Ice Cream|
|Teen Creative Society: Mystery Cookies|
|Engineering Around the House: Fling It!|
|National Hot Dog Photo Contest|
|A Teen’s Guide to Investing|
|Teen Creative Society: Act it Out|
|Career Panel: Life After School|
|Teen Creative Society: Gizmos and Gadgets|
|Teen Creative Society – First Meeting|
|Write to Win: College Essays that Work|
|Teen Creative Society: Speaking Poet-Tree w/ Bitaniya|
|College Scholarships: Secrets to Success|
|Teen Creative Society: Dumplings 101|
|STEM Career Panel|
|Teen Creative Society: Calligraphy|
|Teen Creative Society: D-Eye-Y Halloween|
|College Life Panel: Real Stories from Real Students|
|The Cursed Dungeon – Virtual Escape Room|
|Teen Creative Society: NaNoWriMo Write-In|
|Internal workshops: Resumes, Communication Skills for Networking, Linked-In, Public Speaking 101, Social Media Strategies, and How to Lead A Workshop.|