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Friends play invaluable role in library’s success

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s a Thursday afternoon just after 3 p.m. and the activity room of the city’s main library isn’t very active save for a lone woman, Jan Sampson, pushing a cart through what looks like an acre of books.

bright spotThe books are perched on tables, spines up, making it easy for someone to browse the titles. Sampson, a volunteer with the Friends for the Public Library, is shifting the books from a warehouse-like space adjacent to the activity room in preparation for the group’s monthly book sale. The sales occur the second Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and are the main source of revenue for the group. Other revenue comes from memberships, and book sales in the branch libraries and the group’s bookshop located in the main library basement.

Library director Dean Smith said the Friends raise more than $200,000 annually, which supports programs and training for the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Public Library system. While that might seem like only a drop in the bucket in comparison to the library’s $15.13 million budget, Smith said the Friends provide an invaluable service.

“They take on the work of processing and distributing these books we receive from the community,” he said. “We could not have the quantity donated to the library that we do now. We don’t have the staff to do the work. We would be inundated.”

Smith said on a weekly basis, the library system takes in approximately 6,750 items, including not only books, but DVDs and CDs and board games, which the Friends volunteers are responsible for sorting. The items are dropped off at branches around the city and trucked to the main library Downtown.

Volunteers decide whether the donated items will be sold during the monthly sale, sold in the book store, donated or placed in one of the Fiction to Go sections at the other branches. Finally, books that the volunteers deem unsalable are recycled.

Sampson eventually winds her way back to the warehouse where tubs of books sit on conveyor belts extending from the loading dock. Across the loading dock is a pile of cardboard boxes full of donated materials waiting to be sorted. Next to that are at least a dozen gray bins full of books that have been sorted.

The rest of the room is filled with shelves and shelves and shelves of books. The shelves have signs, like a book store, indicating the category of books stored in that area. Amid all this is a tiny workspace just large enough for a computer. Sitting there on that day is volunteer David Schneider, who is responsible for running the Friends online sales on Amazon and Ebay.

The nonprofit organization was started in 1969 and consists of almost 70 volunteers, a board and one paid employee. Money raised by the group is used to fund the summer reading program, the AMP concert series, the speaker series at the Special Collections library, and some staff development and training. They also provide a couple of hundred dollars to each branch of the library that is used as a discretionary fund for things like office parties, extra tissue, markers, paper clips and other supplies.

President of the board Susan Hurley said while most of the things the library does benefit the community, the discretionary fund has a big impact on the staff.

“It fills a gap their funding doesn’t have,” she said. “If you run out of paper clips, and there’s no more money, what do you do?”

Book lover Suzanna Seymour began volunteering with the group in 2000. She helps with the monthly book sales. She said sorting through the high volume of materials the library receives requires a lot of volunteers but it’s a task she feels is important.

“We are processing a phenomenal amount of material that comes from the community and should go back to the community,” she said. “It’s a great way to complete the circle and there is a need for it.”

Over a decade ago, Hurley said the group made an important change that more than doubled the money it’s able to raise. The Friends used to only have one very large book sale a year inside The Pit. It was labor intensive and involved trucking all the books and fixtures to the location. Hurley said switching to monthly book sales was a game changer. Smith confirmed the organization went from earning about $90,000 a year to more than $200,000.

“We saw an immediate increase,” Smith said. “It requires more volunteer hours but it’s a lot less work at one time.”

Next year the organization will celebrate 50 years. Hurley said they are looking for community members to volunteer on its planning committee that will help celebrate the Friends for the Public Library, an organization that supports an important institution in the community.

“Libraries serve people from birth to death,” she said. “It’s more than just books. There’s all these other services they provide.”

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