News & Opinion

Volunteer Technology Instructors in the Public Library

by on March 4, 2013

Are your patrons demanding more computer classes or are they asking for different technology topics?  According to OCLC’s report “How Do Libraries Stack Up: 2010,” 5,400 libraries are offering free technology classes and every day they teach 14,700 people.1  That is a lot of classes!  With budgets shrinking and staff members busier than ever, recruiting volunteers to teach computer and technology classes can help fill this need.

Volunteers already make valuable contributions to public libraries.  They assist with story times and crafts, they are Friends of the Library, they run used book sales, they shelve books, and they work on local history projects and much, much more. Volunteers give generously of their time and expertise and help libraries serve their communities.

Tech savvy volunteers can teach computer and technology classes in a variety of scenarios.  They can assist a staff member during a session, or they can teach classes themselves.  One-on-one sessions by appointment may be ideal for some volunteers.  Another idea is providing a table for drop in eReader help that is staffed by volunteers.  You may have a need for more specialized computer help, such as assisting job seekers or genealogists or offering classes in other languages.  The possibilities are endless!

Recruit volunteers by advertising in your local paper, the library newsletter, website, and social media outlets, and signs in the library.  Ask for résumés or descriptions of their teaching and technology skills.  If a potential volunteer seems like a good fit, offer an interview so you can find out more about their experience and give them a chance to ask you questions about the opportunity.  Make sure the volunteer understands the expectations.  Computer classes and ongoing programs are often advertised and require registration so instructors need to commit to a schedule.  Volunteers, just like library staff, must understand the importance of maintaining a high level of customer service as well as exhibiting patience, tact, and a friendly attitude.

If you and the volunteer are ready to move forward, invite them to attend a computer class or two.  The potential volunteer can learn firsthand how classes are structured and the skill levels of the students.  Volunteers may be surprised to learn that many library patrons are beginning to learn how to handle a mouse or search the internet.

When you are satisfied the volunteer has the skill set to train your library patrons and the volunteer is ready to make a commitment, be sure to offer training.  Show where to check-in and gather class materials and how to manage the computer lab or set up laptops.  Give an orientation to the library, just as you would any new employee, so they can hang a coat, use the restroom, or get a glass of water.  Ensure that they know how to contact you or other staff members in case they have questions or need assistance.  You may also want to sit in on their first few classes, both to answer their questions and to observe their teaching style.

When you find the right volunteers, they will become a valuable part of your instructor team and the library.  Thank them for their contributions and show your appreciation!

More information about volunteer computer and technology instructors can be found on WebJunction.org and TechSoupForLibraries.org.

1)   OCLC. “How Libraries Stack Up: 2010.” Accessed February 8, 2013.  http://www.oclc.org/reports/stackup/default.htm

 

 


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