By Shriya Jamakandi
Shrewsbury High School
Shrewsbury – Walking into the library around 11 a.m. on a recent Wednesday morning, everything seemed quiet. Librarians were busy checking in books, and a pleasant breeze blew in through the sliding doors at the entrance. However, just a floor below, teen volunteers were ?already busy sorting through the shelves of books.
According to Dan Barbour, volunteer coordinator at the Shrewsbury Public Library, teens “can do a lot for the community.” And this summer, over 70 local teens did quite a bit. From putting books up on display to answering questions about summer reading books, the teens volunteered for a minimum of two hours a week. However, according to Barbour, many exceeded the minimum. At any time in the library, there would be at least three to four volunteers present in the young adult section.
Before the summer reading volunteer program was initiated, the front desk was overwhelmed by requests from patrons. Many, who had been visiting the library for the first time for their summer reading needs, had questions regarding the location of the books in the library. And after receiving 20 to 30 calls a week from parents asking about volunteer opportunities at the library, Barbour decided to make the best of both dilemmas by starting the program.
“It's fun [you'se not] a couch potato [at home],” said one volunteer, Soumya Potu, of her experience at the library. Her brother Sreeharsha, also a volunteer, (and called the “graphic novel expert” by Barbour), agreed with her.
Each volunteer was enthusiastic about the opportunity. First, they had to pass a rigorous test, which examined their knowledge of everything from labels on the books to shelving locations. A minimum score of 80 percent was required to pass the test, and 78 out of the 107 candidates who took the test passed.
The students, who are currently in middle or high school, were required to attend one mandatory orientation. They received shelving training and, according to volunteer Sushant Raj, they learned “everything [they] needed to know,” such as where to find various books and DVDs for patrons.
According to Amber Ali, another volunteer, the program made coming to the library more “fun more social less stressful [for the patrons].”
And with a technologically advanced library, patrons have access to online accounts. The library, as Barbour put it, is “technically open 24/7” now because of the online catalogue and many more digital improvements. Patrons can even receive email reminders about returning books.
A week before school starts is like “rush hour,” as everyone remembers that summer reading must be completed. However, summer will not be the last time these volunteers are at library; there will also be a fall session.
As Barbour explained, patrons and library staff alike have come to appreciate the hard work of the volunteers.
“People come for the summer reading and realize there are also so many other reasons to stay at the library,” he said.
Ali agreed that one of the best parts of volunteering at the library is helping the patrons who visit the library.
“Patron satisfaction has gone way up,” says Barbour of the program. “[We] hadn's been able to find a program [like this before] the attitude of 99 percent of the volunteers is so good.”