Teens Thrive in Library's Summer Volunteer Program

Johnson County Library resumed its in-person teen volunteer program this summer, and 90 young people took advantage of that opportunity in June and July.

They provided over 1,300 hours of invaluable service at six branches: Antioch, Blue Valley, Corinth, Leawood, Lenexa and Monticello. They helped with book distributions, shelved materials, and even created book displays and colorful window art.

Students volunteering at the busy Blue Valley branch said it was an intellectually-engaging experience.

“I wanted to do it for the benefit of the community itself,” said Arham Chundrigar, 15, who attends Blue Valley West High School. “If you enjoy the Library itself, it’s a great way to get involved within it.”

Chundrigar gave out free books to families who visited the branch.  

“I would familiarize myself with each book and provide recommendations for people’s age levels,” he said.

Volunteering gave Raghu Penugonda, 16, of Blue Valley Southwest High, an appreciation for the diversity of Library patrons. “So many people were willing to come in and try to get a book to read over the summer,” he said. “So it really taught me a lot about what the community looks like here.”

Chelsea McCollam, 17, of Blue Valley West High, enjoyed the Library atmosphere.

“When I started shelving Holds,” she said, “I remembered why I like the Library, and then I checked out my own books. It renewed the love of trying to explore books.”

The pandemic halted in-person teen volunteer efforts in 2020 and 2021. But this summer it was once again safe to invite young people ages 13-18 to participate. Nearly everyone who applied was placed at a branch, working as many hours as they wished.

Summer is the ideal time, because teens are available and Library staff can really use the help. That was especially true with Blue Valley’s book distribution, where teens greeted families and provided excellent patron service.

“They just made it really fun and welcoming,” said Kate McNair, Johnson County Library’s Teen Services Coordinating Librarian. “We definitely had a lot of teens who wanted to contribute their creativity and their passion to the Library, which I think is really cool.”

While the teens get volunteer service credits, the Library is also a great first-job experience. Students have to apply and interview. They sign up for shifts and have to show up on time.

“So these are all great skills that they can be building in a pretty judgment-free, safe environment,” McNair said.

Christina Larkins, youth information specialist at Corinth, was thrilled to have about 30 teens volunteer at her branch.

“The teens were incredibly kind and smart and many of them had a lot of self initiative and drive,” she said. They pitched in wherever needed, including watering the Corinth garden and decorating the windows.

an image of painted windows in the children's section of Corinth library

Summer is a really busy time at Corinth. “So it really helps having extra hands,” Larkins said. “Those little small tasks add up and really help us focus on moving literal mountains of books.”

Johnson County Library has other innovative youth activities. Teens can sign up to review books, with their insightful critiques posted at jocolibrary.org/teens. They can also join the Young Adult Literary Councils, sharing favorite books and participating in fun activities such as author visits and game days.

McNair eagerly anticipates Summer 2023, building on a mutually beneficial program for staff and youth in 2022.

“You get a chance to build a relationship,” McNair said. “You see them build skills and help them grow, and that I think is something that’s really fulfilling for our staff. I know it’s really fulfilling for me.”