Cobb County Government
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Volunteer program keeps pages turning

By Gary A. Witte
Staff Reports

During her typical work week, Patty Latch doesn’t get much face time with volunteers.

Then there are weeks the Cobb County Public Library System program coordinator spends 12-hour days working with about 100 of them.

The semiannual sale is the most prominent example of how the volunteer program keeps the library system operating, as well as how county staff help to continually draw them back.

Latch said there are people who have assisted with the sale since before her daughter was born. Her daughter is now 20 years old.

“They’ve become like family,” she said. “They look forward to seeing each other.”
Both Latch and Central Library Manager Alexandra Beswick coordinate the work of volunteers for the system.

Where book sale volunteers make the money-raising event possible, daily volunteers who reshelve materials, process materials and even teach classes, free up the regular staff for essential duties.

“We wouldn’t be able to get our work done if we didn’t have the volunteers to help us,” Beswick said.alt

folks buying books
Cobb County Public Library System Program Coordinator Patty Latch wheels a cart through the setup of the October book sale at Jim R. Miller Park in Marietta. She coordinates, oversees and works with the volunteers who spend the week sorting through an estimated 200,000 to be sold. 
folks buying books
Cobb County Central Library Manager Alexandra Beswick talks to volunteer Ken Story of Marietta, one of those who reshelve materials, thereby saving the county money and freeing up staff for its work.

The most recent sale in October raised more than $37,000, Latch said. These funds are placed into the library system’s book budget, which is used to buy new material for the system. Combined sales of the year’s previous events raised about $80,000.

Budget reductions have made fundraising even more important. Aside from the funds raised, the volunteer program has saved the library system more than $374,000 through September this year and has had 100 volunteers or more help each month since May, according to records.

As important as volunteers are to the libraries, county employees who work with them have proved important to the volunteers.

Fran Jackson of west Cobb said she has volunteered for the sale for seven years and credits Latch’s work with continually bringing people in to help.

“She knows something about everyone,” Jackson said. “She says something nice to everybody. I think that’s a personal touch that keeps us coming back here.”

Bud Loewenthal of east Cobb has worked the sale for 14 years and organizes fellow members of the Marietta Golden K club to come with him.

He said Latch works extremely hard throughout the week-long setup, carrying boxes and sorting books herself in addition to coordinating the volunteers and organizing the sale. She always has a smile to offer, he added.

“I don’t know how she does it,” Loewenthal said, pointing to all the issues she has to deal with.“I wouldn’t want to do it. The success of the whole program is a tribute to Patty.”

Loewenthal pointed out that the volunteers are also some of the best customers for the sale, since they will buy books and then donate them back to the library – only to buy more at the next event.

Latch, who has worked for the system for 34 years, said numerous civic organizations offer volunteers to help with the sale, including the Golden K clubs, Friends of the Library and the Library Foundation.

She complemented county parks and recreation personnel who help with the setup and added that Lockheed Martin employees as well as high school students also provide volunteers.

Many repeat the experience every year.

She said every time the event comes around, volunteers spend time catching up with each other’s lives. When a volunteer broke her knee before the winter sale, everyone asked for news of her condition.

“They’re very much attached to each other,” Latch said.

In one case, a high school student who started volunteering has since graduated with her doctorate and now teaches at Kennesaw State University. And she still helps with the sales, Latch said.

The weekend sales themselves create an almost concert-like atmosphere, with hundreds of people flooding into two warehouse-like buildings at Jim R. Miller Park to paw through the items offered.

“Whoever thinks reading is dying has never been to one of our book sales,” Latch said.
Her volunteer coordination duties outside the sale include arranging the schedules of people who have been sentenced to community service and are working off their time through the library system.

The semiannual event, however, requires a hands-on approach from Latch and her typically working up to 12 hours a day for about 10 days.

“I’d say it’s the most intense week,” Latch said. “Other things are really busy, but it’s the only time I’m working 12 hour days.”

Meanwhile, Beswick coordinates the daily volunteers who come into the Cobb County libraries to help. While some shelve materials, others work on special projects.

One of those volunteers includes Marietta resident Ken Story, who worked as a page at the county library system until budget cuts resulted in his layoff in April.

Story credited Beswick, Library System Director Helen Poyer and other library employees with his willingness to come back and offer his time for free.

“They’re such great people,” Story said. “They did all they could...I’m going to volunteer as much as I can.”

The system has had about 245 people apply to become volunteers at the library system since January, Beswick said.

Not everyone follows through on the initial application, but even when a volunteer can only offer to help for one or two hours a week, it can cumulatively make an impact.
“It all adds up,” Beswick said.

Those who are interested in volunteering with the library should inquire at their local branches or call Beswick at 770-528-2367. A list of volunteer jobs available can be found on the Web site www.cobbcat.org