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Library system officials look for 'friends'

Dougherty County Library Assistant Cheryl Jackson said having a volunteer "friends of the library" group would help the system with it's "stretched-thin" staff.

Dougherty County Library Assistant Cheryl Jackson said having a volunteer "friends of the library" group would help the system with it's "stretched-thin" staff.

ALBANY, Ga. -- The library may not be the place where "everybody knows your name," but that's not stopping the chairman of the Dougherty County Library Board from looking for a few good friends.

Walter Kelley, one of many library supporters trying to find creative ways to generate interest in the cash-strapped library system, is advocating the creation of a "friends of the library" group to volunteer at one of Dougherty County's three (and soon to be four) library branches. Under Kelley's general plan, the friends would volunteer their services and help organize book sales that would bring in much-needed revenue.

photo

Carlton Fletcher

There is usually a wait for patrons who come to one of Albany's three library branches to use available computer terminals.

"Not too long ago, our budget for books in the Dougherty County system was $800,000," Kelley, an Albany attorney, said. "Now, it's around $300,000. That's a significant difference.

"It's hard for us, given our budget and our personnel issues, to do things like plan and conduct sales of old or overstocked books. That's one area where a friends of the library group could have a direct impact on the services and materials we have available."

Such a cash influx would be a godsend to a library system that closed two of its five branches in December 2012 due because of financial constraints. Kelley said he's certain there are plenty of willing volunteers in the community.

"I know five or six people who would come (volunteer) right now if there was an avenue in place for them to do so," the board chairman said. "I think there would be tons of support for such a program in this community. We've just got to get a leader in place, someone who can get things organized.

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Carlton Fletcher

Cheryl Jackson has worked with the Dougherty County Library System for six years and currently splits her time between the Central and Tallulah Massey branches.

"We've already done the paperwork to create a 501(c)(3) (nonprofit organization). That's up and running. But we've got to get an individual with organizational skills or an organizing committee together to make things happen."

Area library systems in Macon, Thomasville and Lee County have friends of the library organizations in place, and an official with the Thomasville system says its volunteers are "goodwill ambassadors" for the library.

"We've had a friends support organization for almost two decades," Thomasville Library Circulation Manager Alicia Atherton said. "Just about all of our members are patrons who use the library frequently, and they've helped us tremendously by raising money, staffing book sales, bringing in authors and planning other special programs.

"We have five branches outside our main branch, so having these volunteers has benefited us tremendously."

photo

Carlton Fletcher

Patrons use one of several computer terminals at the Dougherty County Library System's temporary Central branch on North Jackson Street.

Officials with the local system say they can see how a friends program could help overtaxed personnel.

"I think a program like that would be beneficial to our patrons and our staff," Library Assistant Cheryl Jackson, who works at the Central and Tallulah Massey branches, said. "Our staff is stretched pretty thin right now, and having volunteers to take care of some of our tasks would help out.

photo

Carlton Fletcher

Dougherty County Library Assistant Cheryl Jackson returns a book to a shelf recently at the county's temporary Central Library branch. That permanent branch of the library is undergoing a $5 million renovation.

"Everyone talks about people using the library's computer terminals -- and they do -- but people are still checking out materials. People are still reading books."

While Kelley hopes for local library supporters to step forward and get the friends program off and running (contact him at (229) 888-9128 or wkelleykelleylovett.com), he and the other members of the Library Board have a full-to-overflowing plate right now.

In addition to searching for a full-time director -- interim Director Mike Dugan, who had previously retired from the director's position, stepped down in favor of acting director Pauline Abidde and is now serving as a consultant because of the number of hours he's already put in -- the board is using funding approved by the Dougherty County Commission to put together a plan to re-open the Westtown branch, one of the two closed by the board last year.

"I think we've got to be creative in finding new ways to help our system," Kelley said. "A friends program is one way we can do that. We have a really good library system, and the way to keep it that way is to fight for it. If we get a group of people who love the library to put their heads together, there's no limit to what we can do."