22 Nov 2022

Library Outreach via Volunteering at Irish Secondary Schools

Ray at IFLA #WLIC2022

Guest post by Ray Gainford. Ray is a Library Assistant with Louth Library Service.

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of working with Junior Achievement Ireland and volunteering with a Transition Year class at a secondary school in County Louth. 

Junior Achievement Ireland (JAI) is a member of one of the world’s largest educational non-profit organisations, helping prepare young people for their futures by delivering hands-on, experiential learning in entrepreneurship, employability, financial literacy and the value of STEM. JAI was established in Ireland in 1996 and since then has built up a strong demand from schools throughout the country and created successful partnerships with 180 leading organisations.

An email was circulated to staff in Louth County Council asking if anyone would be interested in volunteering with JAI. Some colleagues of mine in Louth Library Service had previously volunteered with them and greatly enjoyed the experience, so I was very happy to put my name forward. 

I will admit that I was a bit nervous at the thought of teaching a class, but the training from JAI put me at ease. I first had a video call with a liaison officer at JAI named Elaine, which enabled me to get a clearer vision of what volunteering would entail. Elaine explained to me that JAI can find it more difficult to find volunteers willing to teach secondary school students, as people may feel nervous about teaching teenagers rather than younger children. There was an opening in their programme for a volunteer to teach the Career Success module to a Transition Year class at Coláiste Rís in Dundalk. Thinking of how helpful a module like this could have been to me when I was a Transition Year student many moons ago, I agreed to volunteer with this class. It was a full circle moment getting to teach a TY class myself!

Training was arranged for me soon after. It took place virtually with two facilitators from JAI, and a number of participants from various career paths. I was impressed with the variety of careers among the participants, as it showed the wide reach that JAI has. The training was excellent and boosted my confidence. We were given a chance to practice delivering some course content to the rest of the group, and received helpful feedback. Following the training, I received the content for the entire module, so I had plenty of time to familiarise myself with the various lesson plans and exercises. I also had to complete Garda Vetting in advance of the course. 

My classes with the Transition Year group went very well. Though I still had some nerves, the students were welcoming and well-behaved, and the teacher also stayed in the class at all times for support.  The module itself consisted of six weekly lessons, covering topics such as teamwork, communication, personal branding and interview skills. At the end of the module, I also held mock interviews with the students. I was really thrilled to see the students put all their learning from the past six weeks into action – it was such a fulfilling experience! 

We were encouraged to enhance the lessons with information from our own personal career paths, so I was able to show the students how realistic the course content was by relating it to real-life examples from my experience in librarianship. I was delighted to see that so many of the students were interested in what working in a public library is like. Some students told me afterwards that they enjoyed discovering more about careers in public service, as it wasn’t a career option that was immediately obvious to them. 

Volunteering with JAI benefitted both the students and Louth Library Service. The students received valuable knowledge about the world of work, and the library gained a class visit and new memberships from the students. This age group can be a difficult demographic to bring into the library, so it was fantastic to see this class so enthusiastic about their visit. It also helped the library service further identify the needs of young adults in libraries. 

Based on my work, Louth Library Service plans to build on the knowledge gained from this experience and provide further services to young adults and students. These include small steps, like increasing the amount of exam revision materials we have available in our library collection, to bigger projects such as furthering our outreach in DEIS schools in the locality and organising career guidance and CV clinics for students. 

I had such a great experience teaching this class, and was I eager to share what I had learned with other library staff. I submitted a poster proposal to present on this topic at the IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Dublin this summer. I was delighted to be selected as a presenter as part of the event’s poster sessions, with my poster titled “Library Outreach in Irish Secondary Schools via Junior Achievement Ireland”. This granted me the opportunity to tell librarians from a wide range of countries about the experience, and gain inspiration from other libraries who may have conducted similar programmes in their own countries. 

Junior Achievement Ireland always welcomes new volunteers, and I highly recommend giving it a go! It’s a fantastic learning experience for both the students and volunteer. Further information can be found at www.jai.ie.

Photo courtesy of author


Post a Comment