Volunteering for Friends of the Library

Posted: Monday, April 28, 2003

When Woolsey Lent shows up for his 2 1/2-hour shift volunteering at the Friends of the Juneau Public Libraries' Amazing Book Store every Friday afternoon, it's a little like embarking on a treasure hunt, he said.

"There's a lot to be said for handling books. If you handle books, you tend to read them," said Lent, who has been volunteering at the store for 10 years.

"When I first saw the bookstore I said to myself, 'I want to sit behind that desk,'" Lent said, "because I'm not a fast reader, but I value reading very much."

Last week, he discovered the same book of accordion music he played from as a child. Other treasures he has acquired while volunteering include a set of Encyclopedia Britannica, a "nice collection" of books in the Master Plots series, which summarize classic books in one page, some books on the history of pivotal ideas and the complete writings of St. Thomas Aquinas.

"All those collections were because I spotted the book before somebody else spotted it," Lent said. "That's the way we work here, it's first-come first-served."

About 65 volunteers help run the bookstore, said Donna Denton, volunteer coordinator for the store.

"About half are regularly scheduled (at the store) and half are replacements," she said.

Most of the volunteers are retired. They like to travel, and they all read a lot.

Heidi Girton spends more than 15 hours a week sorting and displaying books at the store, as well as selling some books online from her home. She volunteers because of the learning experience.

"I think what it gives me is the ability to play at merchandising without having to put my own money into it," Girton said. "I get all the joy of figuring out how to market things and figuring out the display and all of that, without risking anything financial."

Barbara Pavitt, who has volunteered for the Friends of the Juneau Public Libraries since she retired from her job at the Alaska State Library in the mid-1980s, said she volunteers because it's a good cause.

"I think it's a very good organization that helps the library obtain material things that aren't in their budget, that the city can't afford to buy," Pavitt said.

Money from the Amazing Book Store goes toward the purchase of furniture for the library, new computers and prizes for children's contests.

"The librarian gives us a list of things they need that they can't get within the budget," Denton said.

Friends of the Juneau Public Libraries started the bookstore about 12 years ago in the Mendenhall Center, and the first profits from the store went to buying a new typewriter for the library. After several moves to different storefronts within the Mendenhall Center over the years, the bookstore moved to its current location in the Airport Shopping Center two years ago, Denton said.

The store got its name from a couple who visited the store while on vacation.

"They got home to California and wanted to know if we had something else, so they sent us a letter and addressed it to 'The amazing bookstore in the Mendenhall Mall,'" Denton said.

Somehow, the letter arrived at the bookstore, and the new name stuck.

"People walk in and the first thing they say is, 'This is amazing,'" Denton said.

Though founders of the bookstore didn't plan for a store as large as it is today, the enthusiasm of the volunteers made it grow on its own, Denton said.

"It wasn't really planned, it just worked itself out, and it's just working beautifully," she said.

Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.

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