Despite legacy of community support, library needs volunteers
Ozark County was once a county without a library.
That changed in 1947, when Dr. and Mrs. Charles Fackler of York, Pennsylvania, gave the community 1,000 volumes in memory of their daughter, Jean, who had died at a young age. The Fackler donation was combined with support from the Save the Children Foundation and the Gainesville Lions Club to establish Ozark County’s first library. Now, 70-plus years later, that library is still going strong, and its future is bright – but only if more volunteers step up to help.
“For volunteers to sustain a decent library for 70-plus years…that’s a long time for volunteers to keep a library open,” library board president and volunteer Kathryn Atkinson told the Times recently.
Although the library is still operating six days a week, the current 15 library volunteers are desperately in need of help.
“The problem is now [the volunteers] are aging out,” said Atkinson, adding that the youngest volunteer is in the late 50s. “We need a real long-term solution, or we may have to back down on the hours [the library is open].”
Atkinson, who has served as board president for 10 years, is 85.
“We need dedicated volunteers,” agreed volunteer Joanne Krupp.
A history of community support
The library’s first location was in Gainesville City Hall at Harlin Drive and Fourth Street, now the home of the 416th Bomb Wing Archive. It moved several times during the 50s, 60s and 70s.
Knowing that a volunteer library would be difficult to maintain indefinitely, in the 1970s, some Ozark County residents tried to get a proposal for a library tax on the ballot. The effort failed twice.
In 1981, the name was changed from Fackler Memorial Library to Ozark County Library, “so that its public status would be more clearly denoted,” according to “The History of Ozark County: 1841-1991.” Today, it continues as a completely volunteer-run and financed library that receives no tax support.
After the library’s name was changed, several fundraisers were held, and generous donations were given. As a result, in 1987, the library was able to purchase the former First Christian Church building, 200 Elm St., across from the Gainesville post office; the site has served as its permanent home ever since.
The community has continued to financially support the library, even financing a remodel of the first floor in the 1990s, a remodel of the basement in the early 2000s and a complete renovation in 2011.
Now, its greatest need is for more volunteers – and they are difficult to find, said Atkinson.
The library’s volunteer tradition
Fifteen people are currently involved in maintaining the library, including serving on the library board. Only six volunteers run the library during operating hours: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays. Volunteers assist patrons in finding and checking out books, reshelving returned volumes and handling book sales.
Though sincerely thankful for the hardworking volunteers, it isn’t enough to ensure the continued operation of the library, said Atkinson, who has been a library volunteer since 2001.
“If the people of Ozark County want their library to survive, some people will have to step forward and volunteer,” she said. “The ones of us who are volunteering, we can’t keep up the pace we once did. If we don’t get more volunteers, we’ll have to close days. You can’t have a volunteer-run library without the volunteers.”
At least twice in the past few years, the library has been forced to reduce its operating hours because of a lack of volunteers. Both times, soon after the reduced hours were announced, new volunteers stepped forward to help. Atkinson and Krupp hope that happens again.
“I don’t want to see us burning out our volunteers,” said Atkinson. “Even the youngest here are retired and have been for a while. We have no backup for our current volunteers.”
Volunteers can make their own hours, said Krupp. “We just want really dedicated library or book lovers.”
Those interested in volunteering are invited to stop by the library to speak with Atkinson or Krupp, who are available during business hours Tuesday and Thursdays.
Old-fashioned and homey – but modern
One of the appeals of volunteering, Atkinson said, is that local people seem to love the library – and are quick to say so. Much of that appeal comes from the fact that, despite the complete renovation, the library has maintained its “old-fashioned” appeal, said Krupp.
“We still stamp the books [with due dates],” she said. “People take pictures of that because it’s rare these days. One guy said it’s more homey, personal.”
But that doesn’t mean the library is without modern conveniences. A computer program designed for small libraries and schools allows volunteers to catalog books and record patrons’ information.
“The program has all the bells and whistles, even if we don’t use them all,” said Atkinson. “We try not to go too high-tech because that changes the nature of things. People kinda like the old-fashioned stuff.”
“We’ve deliberately tried to maintain the old-fashioned library, where it’s a center for the community. People like it that way. They like the homey, old-fashioned feeling,” she said.
Atkinson said when e-readers and Kindles came onto the market, many people thought it meant the end of libraries.
“I’ve noticed that’s not the case. A surprising number of people like to hold real books,” she said.
“There is nothing like having it in your hand,” agreed Krupp.
In addition to its lending library, the library also offers other helpful services, including computers that can be used for $1 an hour. Patrons may also use the library’s printer for 25 cents a page.
The library is able to approve people to use the Wolfner Library, a free library service offered to Missourians who are unable to use ordinary printed materials. The Wolfner Library offers audiobooks and braille, even loaning the machine for audiobook users. Materials are mailed to and from patrons at their homes, postage paid.
“Not many people know about the Wolfner Library,” said Atkinson. “It really is a blessing to people.”
Reaching the younger generation
One of the goals of current library volunteers is to keep people reading, especially children.
To achieve that objective, children from the Gainesville Head Start program visit the library once each month. While there, the children do crafts, usually associated with a book, and volunteers read to the class. Every child goes home with a free book.
The library also hosts a summer reading program for children ages 4 and older.
The library rarely has to buy books, said Atkinson. Library patrons, current and former community members and many people with ties to Ozark County generously donate hundreds of books each year. For example, Atkinson said, when one of the library’s regular patrons moved to Montana recently, she mailed a box of books and a donation check to the library.
Book donations are so plentiful, the library has little need to buy books to “flesh out” the shelves like it used to. “That’s the evolution of the library,” said Atkinson. “Sometimes we have boxes and boxes of books donated,” allowing the library to put only the “best copies” of books on the shelves. A constantly growing collection of DVDs and audiobooks is also available.
A continuous book sale operates downstairs, with a large and varied selection of titles offered. Paperbacks are 50 cents, and hardbacks are $1. The library also sells books at Court Square Pharmacy in Gainesville.
Donated magazines, located downstairs with the books for sale, are given away.
On most days, the library has a cart outside the front door loaded with books, free to whomever wants them. At times, the library donates books to the Ozark County Jail.
Community support and donations don’t end with books. The new sign in front of the library was donated, and the man who renovated the library donated much of his time.
But the heart of the library is its volunteers. They’re the ones who keep the doors open. And they’re asking for help.