Written by Chad Dally
After spending 1 or 2 days a week with each other for the past 20 years, the dedicated volunteers behind the Friends of the Marathon County Public Library acknowledge they’re more like family than friends.
It’s a bond forged as pages flipped and the creative output of generations of writers — fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s and young adult picture books and literature — passed through their hands.
Their curiosity led them to become shepherds on a mountain of words — likely billions of words, all within an arm’s reach — as they’ve methodically worked their hands around covers to keep their charge organized, sifting, weighing each book, and deciding whether someone might want to take an item home and keep it warm on the shelf.
Okay, a bit of embellishment, perhaps, but nevertheless these volunteers depend on each other (and the rest of us depend on them, but more on that in a minute) to handle the sheer volume of donations and materials weeded from our library collection.
“There’s a curiosity, and it’s social, too,” said Gail Cain, President of the Friends Board. “We’re all retired and it’s given us something to do after work, and it’s something to do in the community.”
It’s not just help with books and funding when it comes to the Friends — They help with appetites, too. Volunteers usually bring some baked goods and other snacks to share with each other, but frequently they invite library staff (like me!) to help themselves. (One staffer is particularly partial to their pickle rolls, but I won’t name names.)
Gail Cain became involved with the Friends around 20 years ago, about the same time as Ken and Kate Srozinski. Ken’s distinct suspenders and his occasional overalls made him the recognizable face of the Friends until he passed away in July 2017. Kate carries on the work with about a dozen other active volunteers.
The public can become a member of the Friends group, either through an individual membership or family membership. About 250 people have active Friends memberships, Gail said.
Though their schedule may not work for everyone, Kate said the Friends always welcome new members to help volunteer with book sorting.
“It’d be nice to have some men with muscles,” Gail half-joked.
Three or four of the active volunteers are men.
The Friends could certainly use a little more muscle at the moment as they’ve stayed busy for months making a move from MCPL Wausau’s 3rd floor to its Lower Level, facing the larger western city lot.
After some special deals at an October 2017 book sale, the Friends are going even further with an “EVERYTHING MUST GO!” Sale to sell:
- Books ($1 per bag for whatever’s still in the room)
- Tables and shelves that display the books
- Lamps that light the room
- …and anything else in their 3rd floor space!
The Friends typically organize a sale held 3 or 4 times each year, made up from a collection of donated material and items weeded out of the collections of MCPL’s 9 locations.
NOTE: The first sale in the Friend’s new Lower Level space is scheduled for February 2018.
Proceeds are put right back into the library to help fund most of MCPL’s programming — a generous gift that benefits the entire county (and beyond) through interesting and educational events.
The Friends also help with the cost of book discussion kits and annual maintenance of MCPL-Wausau’s 650-gallon Phyllis Donner Aquarium. It’s been that way for as long as any of the Friends can remember — funding going back into the library — and helps motivate the Friends, Kate said.
The Friends are driven by curiosity that fuels the work of sifting and sorting and recycling books. Book donations don’t seem to be slowing down, either.
The space that now holds the new Friends area formerly served as a garage that, until about 4 years ago, was frequently filled with boxes of books waiting to be hauled away for recycling. Kate said some books that tend to get outdated are service manuals, certain types of science books, and some business material. But fiction, particularly mysteries, and cookbooks are a couple of the genres that’ve remained popular over 2 decades of volunteer work, she said.
These days, books headed for recycling are first handled by participants in the prevocational training through North Central Health Care, which provides adults with developmental disabilities the chance to learn work skills. The North Central group then works with local recycling company IROW to recycle the books, all of which also helps the library, because there’s no cost involved to get rid of unwanted books.
Though the work can be hectic, and the rewards and accolades few, the Friends can be proud that their work benefits the library in so many different ways.
“We want to know that the work is worthwhile, that something good is coming of it,” Kate said.
The Friends’ “EVERYTHING MUST GO!” Sale runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, December 1–2, 2017.
Come take advantage of these great deals and steals at the library…
and consider becoming a Friend of the Marathon County Public Library, too!
Library Specialist | Marathon County Public Library
Chad Dally is a library specialist with the Marathon County Public Library, where he’s worked since 2012. He splits his time at the library between reference and programming, and generally prefers to read nonfiction over fiction. He’s heard chickens are smart, but the small brood he keeps at home provides evidence to the contrary. Email Chad Dally
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