Library’s young volunteers make digital waves

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By LAVONNE LEONG

Special to the Driftwood

Many things went quiet during the pandemic. But for our library’s teen volunteers, it was a chance to branch out.

Volunteering as a teenager for the Salt Spring Island Public Library (SSIPL) used to be a matter of shelving books, helping run face-to-face programs for smaller kids, and the like. But when COVID-19 hit, many of those things were no longer possible. The library’s operations had to evolve, and the teen program evolved with it.

Case in point: As of this writing, Vancouver Public Library’s TikTok account has 643 followers, and the SSIPL account has 1,700.

How did our local library end up with more followers on the influential social media and video-sharing platform than there are teenagers on-island? Maia Cassie, age 15, who creates the lion’s share of the library’s TikTok posts, says she builds those posts with audiences and algorithms, which puts TikTok posts in viewers’ feeds based on common interests, in mind: “It’s partly algorithms. What I try to do is use songs or audios that are popular, so people are more likely to see it. And it’s also about networking, looking at the pages of other libraries, commenting on their posts, getting in touch individually with people.”

Now, just as libraries have become about much more than books — at SSIPL, even with many programs still on pause, you can borrow musical instruments, use a 3-D printer, or reserve a meeting room — volunteering as a teen is about much more than shelving.

Today, the library’s cadre of about 20 active youth volunteers run the library’s teen blog, Instagram account and literary zine (The Bookworm), compile its Spotify playlists, and host webinars on politics, the environment and other topics. The most recent web event was one of a series of youth-led conversations with our member of B.C.’s Legislative Assembly.

“We talked about the housing crisis on Salt Spring, and Fairy Creek, and how different parts of government need to be more connected,” says Matilda Colvin, 15, the series’ organizer. “It wasn’t just relevant to teens; it was relevant to everyone, but it was cool that this was a bunch of teens, with no adults, talking directly to Adam Olsen.”

Youth can still participate in-person — for example, when you walk past the library’s “Christmas tree of books,” you’ll have teen volunteers to thank for that — but teen volunteers can contribute from anywhere.

“We have someone who just moved to England but is still volunteering for us,” says Amy Trepanier, the library’s teen program coordinator. She’s talking about Isaac Lewis-Corke, who under the username wackyzaccie2 hosts a library-sponsored podcast called Minecraft for Beginners, in which he takes newbies through the ins and outs of the popular educational building game.

The benefits run both ways. Behind the scenes, the library’s tech and personnel infrastructure can support teens in building life skills that will later come in handy.

“If one of them initiates a program, like Matilda did, they’ll have access to Canva,” a design layout program,” says Trepanier. Then they put in the marketing sweat equity: “They’ll go into Canva, create the promotional materials, upload them to Instagram, send them to me, I put them on our Facebook accounts, and they create posters that some of our Saturday students distribute around town, and get put up on all our display boards.”

Every teen volunteer interviews with Trepanier, then enters or creates a role according to their interests. Max Wild, a ninth grader at GISS, loves art, so he was the go-to person when the library needed a logo for their new chess club.

Wild, who also makes art for The Bookworm, says he’s learned a lot already.

“It’s a good work experience. I’ve learned how to take feedback and work in a proper environment.”

Cassie, the library’s TikTok mastermind, says, “I started volunteering because I needed some service hours, but once I started volunteering at the library, I realized it’s not all manual labour; it’s making fun content and sharing ideas with other people.”

Colvin agrees that one of the best facets of volunteering is creating connections. Of the MLA Olsen webinars, she says, “People think, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to talk to a politician and be all smart about politics and invested in government,’ but really you can come to the session and just listen, or ask one question. It’s just an opportunity to talk to your local representative and do a function of democracy that should happen more often.’”

Volunteering as a young person creates “a sense of community engagement,” says Trepanier. “That was really lacking when I was a teenager [growing up elsewhere in Canada]. If you’d asked me then, ‘How are you connected to your community,’ I would have had no clue what you were talking about. Feeling like you belong, is huge.”

The library’s annual giving campaign is happening now, and runs through the end of the year. Look here for ways to contribute: https://saltspring.bc.libraries.coop/holds/annual-giving-campaign/.

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