By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
On Thursdays, Barbara McDonald checks out books, directs computer users and welcomes visitors to Del Norte County Public Library's Smith River branch. "I love to read and I think if I can keep the library open on Thursdays, maybe somebody else will read, too," McDonald said. The retired Santa Clara teacher is one of 10 volunteers who staff the Smith River branch, a one-room facility tucked in the back corner of the Smith River Community Hall on First Street. The branch offers books, videos, magazines and the free use of computers, along with books and materials in Spanish for Hispanic residents in the Smith River area. Out-of-towners check their email, students read through reference books, job applicants browse online career Web sites.
"We know of one who got a job that way," McDonald said of a computer user who accepted a position to teach English in China after applying from the library's computer.
But the branch could use more visitors. "We just need 'em to come in and get books, cause people just don't know where it is," McDonald said. "People just don't know what's here." And the entire Del Norte County Public Library system could use more help. "There's a need and there just aren't enough people to fill it," McDonald said.
Retirees make up most of the library's volunteers. They cover and shelve books, run errands, help readers find materials. "We need new members, new members that will participate in our projects," said Rose Boldt, a library assistant and a leader of Friends of the Library. "We need new blood."
The group also funds the public agency, collecting more than $6,000 over the past year. "The sole aim of it is to raise money for the library," Boldt said of the Friends group that started about 12 years ago after a drop in government revenue.
Volunteers sell books at local spots and online through Ebay. They started an annual garage sale. A mile-of-pennies drive brought in $844 last year. The group's new release section at the library charges patrons to check out the latest books and DVDs that the library otherwise could not buy. This year, volunteers started making holiday cards, selling packages for $4.50. They will host a book sale and auction on Dec.16, as well.
"They're huge," said Kelley Nolan, the library's acting director. "They're just like a little jewel for the library." The library runs on an approximately $206,000 annual budget, most of its income stemming from property tax revenue. That sum would have about doubled, but voters rejected a measure in June to raise the county's sales tax. The library then stopped some of its programs and its plans for new ones, including a new branch in Gasquet. The Klamath branch closed over the summer, unable to continue without workers or money to pay its bills.
The director quit last month, citing a lack of resources to properly run the facility. And the Crescent City branch building needs a new roof, carpet and furniture," Nolan said.
"Of course, it was a great disappointment," Boldt said of the measure's failure. "We have so many people come to the library, but they don't get involved beyond that."
She recalled how the library once hosted a teenager's poetry group and magician and clown shows for children.
"But we really haven't done much of that lately," Boldt said, pointing out a lack of staff and volunteers. "There's just no extra time."
In 2007, the Friends group plans to finish filing for its non-profit status that will let it seek various grants. Nolan will look into ways to collect the more than $103,000 that patrons have owed the library in late fees since 1994. And with the new year marking the library's 100th birthday, volunteers and staff aim to involve more people- those who can lead story time readings, manage computer stations, host puppet theaters, for instance.
"Make it more of a community library," Nolan said, noting a public Christmas tree decorating and plans to hang local artists' work at the Crescent City branch. "We just have to show the value of a library in a community."