Helping libraries, one hour at a time

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Anyone who has stepped foot in a library in the last 15 years knows that it’s about more than just books.

What some might not be aware of is the opportunity for career preparedness. A core group of motivated volunteers knows that working in a professional setting is a great way to gain job experience and become an important part of the community.

Ali Ayres, district volunteer services supervisor for Douglas County Libraries, helps oversee the work of around 1,400 volunteers each year, of which 500 are teens. Some youths stick around long enough to earn the 20 hours of community service required for graduation, while others, like Lauren Hallstrom and Pranathi Durgempudi, are in it for the long haul.

They are two members of the Teen Library Council and combined, Hallstrom and Durgempudi have racked up nearly 500 volunteer hours. Durgempudi, a 14-year-old from Highlands Ranch, joined last June on the recommendation of a friend’s older sibling, who found the work rewarding. Since then, the Mountain Vista High School freshman has helped with everything from shelving books to assisting autistic children during Sensory-Enhanced Storytimes.

“Every kid is different. Their abilities are all over the spectrum and it’s interesting to see how they react to things,” she said.

The responsibility, coupled with the chance to observe the special-needs children firsthand, will lend itself nicely to Durgempudi’s desired career field of medicine, where she has a general but noble goal to “help people.”

She and 15-year-old Parker resident Hallstrom are also part of the Reading Buddies program, which pairs teens with young kids struggling with literacy and reading comprehension. Hallstrom, a librarian in the making, began volunteering at the Parker Library in 2010 and envisions herself as part of the Douglas County Library system at least through high school.

Hallstrom is assigned day-to-day tasks, but she gets to participate in programs like Slick Science, an event dedicated to experiments of all kinds.

“It’s definitely a great way to get out there and start doing something and be more active in the community,” said Hallstrom, who has accrued an estimated 300 volunteer hours.

Douglas County Libraries tallies more than 33,000 hours of support annually from the volunteers, many of whom are seniors wanting to pitch in where they can. Ayres says the older population is an invaluable resource, with some volunteering regularly for more than 10 years. People serving court-ordered community service for misdemeanors are also welcome.

Aside from having the chance to build a resume and the opportunity to give back, the volunteers act as ambassadors for Douglas County Libraries’ seven branches.

“They’re important mouthpieces for the community,” Ayres said. “They’re extending our reach by getting the word out about what they’re accomplishing.”

The volunteers were recognized for their contributions during National Volunteer Week in late April. There are always plenty of opportunities to get involved, Ayres said.

Call 303-791-7323 or visit www.douglascountylibraries.org and click on the “volunteer” link at the bottom of the page.