Marcus Zimmerman, a high school senior, started volunteering in 2016 and has stayed with the library ever since. Marcus, currently at the Sherman Oaks Public Library, agreed to an interview to give his advice and to tell some stories to get volunteers of all ages interested in participating at their local public libraries.
Breaking library stereotypes
Marcus: I hope teens would realize that the library is an incredibly fun place to be in. When a lot of people think of the library, they see a dusty, old building with librarians that constantly shush you, but the library is nothing like that. During my time as a teen volunteer, I have gotten to do so many great activities that were all set up by some wonderful librarians.
Sushi in the library
Marcus: On Thursdays, the library hosted weekly activities that teens could volunteer or participate in. The librarians made the events open to all the kids, and the projects varied every week. In the past, we have done poetry, cooking, and even 3d printing at one library. I have to say, my favorite activity as a volunteer was the time we made sushi. Emily (our librarian) brought in a chef one day and all of the volunteers got a chance to learn from a pro.
Happy holidays and book sales
Marcus: During holidays, teen volunteers can help decorate and build cool sets to be put around the library. The libraries at Halloween and Christmas time showcase a lot of projects that teen volunteers created. We would also help out during holiday events. For Day of the Dead, kids and teens were invited to make and decorate sugar skulls. It was very funny because many of the kids tried to eat the skulls before they even decorated them.
In the Sherman Oaks library, and some other libraries, the Friends of the Library hosts a book sale on the first Saturday of every month. Those are great days for volunteers to come in and help the library sell books because the funds go to all of the activities that we can do together.
First day on the job?
Marcus: I think whenever you go to a new place, you get nervous. I was nervous before I went to the library, but all the librarians were very nice and helpful. They showed me how to get started and pretty soon I felt right at home.
After they introduced me to the other volunteers, I got to help out the librarians by stocking and shelving books. On most days, you can pick the activities that you want to help out with. Sometimes librarians will ask you to help them out, and the jobs are usually from the list of daily activities at the library. Not every day has holiday activities, but there is always something great to do when you come to the library.
Tutoring feels good
Marcus: Occasionally, my sister and I would tutor kids who came into the library. I have taught everything from Algebra, Algebra 2, Science, and English. Typically middle schoolers and elementary students, but I tutored a few high school kids too.
A Positive Change
Marcus: I think one of the main reasons people choose to volunteer is because it looks good on college applications. I think my first mistake was just doing random volunteer activities (outside of the library) because I thought it would look good. I realized I would rather do volunteering at places I enjoy. That’s one of the reasons I stuck with the library for so long because it feels good to help out the library and tutor kids. In general, I feel like I'm making positive changes through these activities.
Balancing the school and the library
Marcus: At times it was a challenge to juggle volunteering and homework, but that’s why I think it’s important to think of volunteering as a fun activity. Whenever you have free time, you can go to the library expecting to have fun. AP classes, standardized tests, and homework have caused me to miss some volunteering days, but I still volunteer once a week. For me, the library has always been a great place to go to whenever I have the time.
How do you volunteer during quarantine?
Marcus: Many different libraries are meeting online using zoom. The Sherman Oaks library has been doing teen council through online meetings and working on social media activities. A couple of volunteers have made Instagram posts of interesting hobbies you could do during the quarantine. I am currently making a post about how teens can volunteer and help people out, remotely. During our zooms, we work on exciting projects made for teens by teens.
A diverse crew
Marcus: I have met volunteers of all ages during my time in the library. Typically, our volunteers are in middle or high school, but we get a lot of elementary students that come to the library and participate in our activity days. Through teen volunteering, I have met a lot of amazing teen volunteers, not just from my school, but from schools all over the city.
Would you say that volunteering has made you more successful in other areas of your life? I would say absolutely because working at the library has helped me facilitate better traits in myself and other people that I have seen. The library has helped me learn to give back and work hard because I chose to volunteer.
Final word of advice for new volunteers?
Marcus: I would tell people to not think of volunteering as a social climb but as a chance to create positive change and be the change you want in the world.
The library welcomes middle and high school student volunteers ages 12-19 to participate in Teen Council and high school students ages 14-19 as Teen Volunteers.
My small bio: Nathan Han is a junior in high school and a teen volunteer at the Sherman Oaks Public Library. He decided to interview other volunteers with previous experience to help new students who were interested but unsure where to start. With help from his wonderful librarians, Nathan hopes to bring in many new volunteers.