Library Volunteers Do Volumes

Home & Family, Hometown Heroes, People
on June 10, 2001

Like many other volunteers who help in libraries across the nation, Rogene Aulner regularly visits the public library in Hastings, Neb., (pop. 21,263) to prepare magazines for the reading racks and fold newsletters for mailing, among other tasks.

“I just help with whatever needs to be done,” says Aulner, a seamstress and one of more than 50 volunteers who come to the library each week. Their help allows the staff of about two dozen employees to better help patrons.

However, in the late spring and early summer, Aulner is joined by up to 160 other volunteers who organize and conduct what may be the single largest used book sale in Nebraska. In fact, it’s so big that the library weighs down more than 100 long tables with books, magazines, and videotapes in the city auditorium for a weekend each July.

“We have about 100,000 books there,” says Felicia Cogley, the library’s volunteer coordinator. “The largest group of those is romance novels, which one year numbered about 13,000.”

Last year, the sale raised more than $8,000 for the Friends of the Hastings Public Library, a nonprofit group of about 450 families who have used the money to purchase items such as furniture, a sound system, racks for CDs, and audiotapes, and to sponsor guest speakers for various seminars.

“Before there was a formal organization, there was no way to handle our special needs,” says Linda Rea, who has been library director for 21 years.

Rea credits much of the increased activity among library supporters and volunteers to Cogley, who became a volunteer in the mid-1980s before being hired as volunteer coordinator in 1992.

“Before Felicia came along, there wasn’t much organization to the volunteers,” says Dee Shiffler, who worked at the library for 24 years and became a volunteer after retiring in 1983. “She made (volunteering) blossom, making it larger and more organized.”

While many library volunteers are retirees, local teenagers also help with the annual sale, hauling tons of books, magazines, and other items from storage in the library basement to the city auditorium for the annual three-day event. They create a wonderland for book lovers, not to mention other shoppers who can browse through tables loaded with audiotapes, videotapes, jigsaw puzzles, records, puppets, magazines, and autographed books culled from the library’s collection or donated by area residents.

In addition to the annual book sale, volunteers have raised money by selling tickets to a dollhouse exhibit, hosting seminars by romance novel authors, and staging a murder-mystery dinner-theater production in the library.

Last fall, they raised more than $1,500 when, rather than throwing out catalog card files made obsolete by computers, they culled cards of famous authors and sent them to the authors for autographs. Among the 39 helpful writers who supplied 367 autographed items, including some books, were Dean Koontz, Tom Clancy, Ken Burns, Lillian Jackson Braun, Sue Grafton, and Irene Mohr. The highest bid, $80, was for a card signed by poet Maya Angelou.

“We had bids from California, Texas, and cities across Nebraska,” says Barb Houtz, president of the Friends of the Hastings Public Library and a volunteer for the last seven years. “We were thrilled with the response.”

A news wire service carried reports of the auction across the nation and librarians in states such as Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri began inquiring about what the volunteers in Hastings were doing.

“Other libraries tell us how fortunate we are to have volunteers like these,” Rea says.