Teen Tech Tutors Program Brings Generations Together at the Olympia Timberland Library

"Technology is best when it brings people together."- Matt Mullenweg

The Teen Tech Tutors program at the Olympia Timberland Library has been bringing people together for over a decade in a symbiotic, intergenerational program that pairs tech-savvy teens with patrons in need of technology assistance.

The program was originally founded by former TRL Librarians, Sara White and Kelsey Smith, in 2011. After taking a pandemic-induced hiatus, the program restarted in August of 2022 with an enthusiastic new cohort of tutors led by Librarian, Aggie Burstein, who has been involved with the program for nearly 10 years. Burstein describes the program as a “win-win-win” situation: A win for the library as the program helps more patrons, a win for the patrons who receive quality help from trained volunteers, and a win for the teens who get volunteer experience as well as skill and confidence-building.

“We see teens start out really shy and then blossom and become more confident,” Burstein explains. “It’s a cool shift in dynamic when teens realize that they have skills and knowledge to offer others. It helps them to feel valuable. It’s beautiful to see them in the span of mere months go from being quiet and timid to becoming confident leaders.”

The Teen Tech Tutors (typically ages 13-19) are interviewed for these positions, then trained, and complete a session-shadowing prior to tutoring solo. Going through this process gives them important interview and training experience, preparing them for future jobs. As the facilitator of the program, Burstein often serves as a reference and provides letters of recommendation for job and college applications. They [AB2] explain that these volunteer positions look great on resumes as skills in customer service, problem-solving, troubleshooting, and technology lend themselves to countless jobs.

Teen Tutor, Robin Burlingame, a 16-year-old Junior at Avanti High School, says that he thinks the volunteer experience will be helpful for future jobs as it will add valuable technology experience to his resume’, while 16-year-old Tutor & Sophomore at Capital High School, Danielle Taylor, says that being a Teen Tech Tutor has become recognized and respected volunteer experience in the community. The tech assistance requests from patrons have evolved over the years, reflecting the quickly advancing nature of technology. A recent issue, according to Taylor, is a sign of the times as requests for assistance with Zoom have become more frequent. Older patrons who may not have learned technology skills in school or did not grow up with its ubiquitous presence, often aren’t sure where to start. In recent years the majority of tech requests have begun to revolve around hand-held devices such as smart phones, but patrons often bring in laptops as well.

Patron Margie Mann brought her 91-year-old mother, retired librarian Joyce Ogden, to a recent Teen Tech Tutor night to receive assistance with a new eReader. Mann says that she used to provide this assistance for her mother, but because technology has changed so much in the past few years, she can no longer provide the answers. Paula, a self-proclaimed “Library Fan”, has attended Teen Tech Tutor night twice, most recently for assistance with her privacy settings on her phone after a recent software update made unwanted changes. With help from the tutors, her issue was resolved in a matter of minutes.A valuable experience that Tutors Burlingame and Charles Gong, a 14-year-old freshman at Olympia High school, detail is when they may not initially have the answer to the issues the patrons present them with. Burlingame says, “I’ve actually learned stuff about technology myself because [when] helping people with their various problems, you see all sorts of odd problems that you wouldn’t normally deal with, so you learn as well. You solve the problem together.”

“It’s really fun because we don’t always know what the solution is, but we go through it with them and learn ourselves how to solve the issue, and then we use that experience to help when the issue arises again with other patrons,” says Gong.