“I didn’t realise before how much work goes on behind the scenes to run the Summer Reading Challenge and you have to do this at more than one library! I’ve learned loads; how to design and run activities, how to talk to parents, how to multi-task, how important marketing is and the passion that drives the whole thing. I plan to carry on volunteering at the library until I go to university. Thanks for the opportunity!” Hannah, aged 15, Cannock Library, Staffordshire Library & Arts Service.

It’s that time of year again when library services across the country are busy recruiting young people to help support the delivery of the national Summer Reading Challenge. For many young people this is their first opportunity of the ‘world of work’ and volunteering for the Summer Reading Challenge enables them to experience and develop a wide range of skills like those identified by Hannah that will help them in their job and college applications.

Like Hannah, many young people stay on to volunteer at the library long after the Summer Reading Challenge has finished. Since his early days of volunteering for the Summer Reading Challenge one young volunteer, Mikey, has carried on volunteering in Staffordshire Library & Arts Service. His confidence and skills have developed to such an extent that Mikey runs his own events in his local library, for example Star Wars Day. Mikey says about his experience, “I like working with the library staff to put an event on and I think this will help me in the future when I come to leave school. I hope prospective employers will see on my CV what I have accomplished and what I am capable of doing and not just look at my qualifications.”

As well as providing an opportunity for young people to gain skills and work experience evidence indicates that volunteering helps to improve their wellbeing. An interim report into The Reading Agency Reading Hack programme where young people volunteer in libraries to promote reading identified that young people gain enjoyment and satisfaction and make new friends*. A group of young volunteers at Newcastle-under-Lyme Library found themselves working together to support delivery of the Summer Reading Challenge. They did not know each other before this experience but they found that they all got on really well together, enjoyed each other’s company and now they go out for meals and to the cinema together and they still volunteer at the library.

Volunteering in the library provides young people with an opportunity to be more involved with their local community and helps to create that feeling of civic pride.

Young people volunteering in libraries helps library services to meet local authority strategic priorities, link to the Arts Council Quality Principles** and is aligned to both the Society of Chief Librarians Universal Offers*** and the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians’ Children’s Promise.****

It is really important that young people have a good experience of volunteering in the library after all we want them to be advocates for reading and for libraries. To ensure that quality experience we have developed some top tips for staff working with young volunteers in Staffordshire libraries:

  • Aim for 2-4 young volunteers per library and create a ‘club’ experience.
  • Involve library staff in the recruitment of the volunteers and make sure all staff understand the role of the young volunteers and are able to support them.
  • Hold recruitment mornings at libraries when young people can find out about the role and complete an application form. Work through partners to publicise the mornings – 6th Form Heads, Head Teachers, School Librarians, Careers Advisors, Colleges and Universities.
  • Sell the role by emphasising the skills gained. Find out what skills the young people want to develop and focus on these skills throughout the volunteering experience.
  • Encourage young people already volunteering in the library for example Duke of Edinburgh and work experience students to apply.
  • Hold training sessions from 5-7pm when the young volunteers can learn about the volunteer roles. Encourage them to exchange contact details with each other so that they can learn from each other, make new friends and enjoy the volunteering experience.
  • Ensure a named member of staff looks after the volunteers throughout the volunteering period.
  • Encourage the volunteers to complete a skills diary throughout their volunteering experience and beyond to support them in their applications for jobs and further education. This can also include photos, social media and video evidence.
  • Celebrate at the end.
  • Make the whole experience fun. Food and drink in the library is ok!

In Staffordshire our library staff say that they could not deliver the Summer Reading Challenge without the help of the young volunteers and it’s fabulous that even when they go off to university or other places to work they still come back to the library to volunteer or just to say, “Hello.”


Sue Ball
Stock, Services & Activities Manager
Staffordshire Libraries & Arts Service

*Reading Hack Interim Report: Evaluation of the Reading Hack Programme Year 1:2015-2016, OPM, 2017 www.readingagency.org.uk
** www.artscouncil.org.uk
*** www.goscl.com
**** www.ascel.org.uk