Volunteers are crucial to libraries

By Ann Garlick May 02, 2009 10:38 am

Volunteerism is being encouraged by Congress and President Obama, who is said to approve of a new law funding volunteerism on a national scale.

The legislation is aimed at enhancing current stipends for the nation’s volunteer schoolteachers and for veterans service systems. But it is much broader in scope, envisioning Americorps-type projects impacting energy, health and more.

I asked Linda Kaufmann, Del Norte County’s new library manager, if she thought there would be anything in this for her library, which has perennially had a struggle for solid funding. She pointed out that Americorps is already at work in the Crescent City library, as is the Bill Gates Foundation. But she saw no significance for her in the new legislation.

Through Americorps, Kelly Nolan administers the library's popular literacy program. The Bill Gates fund underwrites the library’s eight popular computers.

But without her 18-20 unpaid volunteers, Kaufmann says, the library would be hard-pressed to keep its doors open. Library volunteers range from teenagers to elderly souls, all of whom are determined to keep this vital community facility open and in good condition.

The day I visited this attractive place (you should see the small fries’ very own library section) three volunteers were quietly “shelving.” That is, they were replacing returned or stray books to their proper shelves. This is a daily operation, without which confusion could easily reign.

Unpaid volunteers tutor such subjects as reading and math. Several monitor the front desk or work behind the scenes. One young man is in charge of insuring that all computer users work within set time frames, allowing others a chance to use one.

“Computers are one of our most popular draws,” Kaufmann pointed out.

While Crescent City’s facility has five paid employees, the Smith River library is totally manned and run by volunteers, headed by Director Robert Lynch, himself a volunteer. Lynch keeps his facility open Monday-Saturday and has two computers to offer.

It serves northern Del Norte County and is a branch of the main one here in town. Smith River has an average of 12 volunteers to keep its doors open.

Among current Crescent City-based programs are crafts, literacy, GED programs for individuals wanting to obtain a high school diploma, and tutoring  on various subjects.

Teachers are qualified to teach the subjects they offer. Call the library at 464-9793 for information on programs and hours. Meanwhile, if you want to personally get involved in this vital community force, ask at the desk how to contact the Library Foundation or  Friends of the Library, which supports the library financially.

Ann Terrill Garlick is a veteran, award-winning journalist and a native Californian. She spent nearly 23 years as one of the editors at the Orange County Register.