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We can help the Carnegie soon reopen

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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It’s sad walking by the distinguished-looking but vacant Carnegie Library on Fifth and F streets. The heavily-frequented Carnegie Library closed June 29 due to budget cuts recently made by City Council to balance the General Fund. Those cuts were made although library supporters pleaded at council meetings and through this newspaper’s letters and blogs for the city to keep the Twelve Bridges and Carnegie library branches open. The two newest City Councilmen, Gabriel Hydrick and Stan Nader, voted against the extreme budget cuts but that unfortunately didn't prevent the 102-year-old Carnegie Library from being shut down. Now, however, Friends of the Lincoln Library might resuscitate the historic library by using volunteers to run the branch. Shirley Russell, the Friends corresponding secretary, book chairwoman and grants chairwoman, is now heading the nonprofit organization’s new Carnegie feasibility committee. And Russell, one of the library's biggest advocates, is going full-throttle ahead. If anyone can get the community organized in reopening the Carnegie, it's Russell, a former Lincoln elementary school teacher. "No. 1, without the Carnegie Library open, we disenfranchise a section of our community that needs library services, i.e. access to computers and research for students,” Russell said. “Some people say the Carnegie users can go to Twelve Bridges. But it’s easier for many to get to the Carnegie.” Between July 2010 to June 2011, 20,000 individuals visited the Carnegie, according to Russell. Library hours that fiscal year were reduced to a mere 12 hours, two days a week. The volunteer plan is simple and already proven effective. The Carnegie was successfully run this way in the 1990s. A volunteer-based Carnegie would be just as successful now. That's according to Dorothy Nowak, the Carnegie Library volunteer coordinator from 1991 to 2002. “The Carnegie can reopen. I know it happened all those years ago,” Nowak said this week. “I know it can be done again with volunteers. Get young mothers. It can happen.” Nowak provided details about the volunteer Carnegie in the 1990s. "The city, lacking money, made the announcement they would not hire a librarian in the early ’90s because they couldn’t afford it. They said we would close the library at that time,” Nowak said. Nowak was then a library advisory board of trustee. “Eight or nine gals said, ‘no, you can’t do that.’ We opened a bank account, started asking for donations, had fundraisers such as book sales and dinners and all the money came rolling in,” Nowak said. “The board of trustees said we’ll run it with volunteers.” As the library’s volunteer coordinator, Nowak set up rules and schedules for 16 community members to keep the library open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; and 12:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Night hours were held for residents employed during the day. “It worked out very well. Volunteers checked out books at the desk. When books came in, they put them on the shelf. It wasn’t too difficult, once we told volunteers the rules,” Nowak said. “We were just busy all the time.” When asked what the disadvantages were, Nowak said there were “no disadvantages whatsoever” from using volunteers. As for advantages, Nowak said, “Everyone cared about everything else and they did their work wonderfully. Everyone was so cooperative. It was beautiful. They took their job seriously. If, for some reason, someone couldn’t be there, they let me know. We never had one spot not filled.” The Carnegie feasibility committee held its first meeting Tuesday. The day before, Russell told The News Messenger she hopes the library will reopen in November from 1 to 7 p.m. two days a week and then add additional days, including Saturdays. If and when the library opens depends greatly on whether 30 volunteers commit to 3 ½ to 4-hour weekly shifts, according to Russell. That number includes subs in case someone can not make a shift. The library reopening also depends on whether enough donations are received to cover printer, computer and scanner services; supplies such as paper, ink and toner; and new books and periodicals. I can’t wait to volunteer at the Carnegie Library. I’ve been on the other side of the checkout desk armed with stacks of must-read books so I want to do my small (and easy) part to help the venue reopen. Please join me in volunteering for the library. Together, for just a few hours a week, we can help bring the magic of a library to residents of all ages - from toddlers looking at their first picture books to seniors who like reading in the company of others. To volunteer for a Carnegie Library shift, call the Friends of the Lincoln Library at 434-2404 or e-mail Friends at foll@live.com.