The Cobb library system, which has 17 branches, saw volunteers contribute more than 15,400 hours, valued at $342,924, in 2010.
“We’ve been very aggressive in trying to recruit volunteers,” Library Director Helen Poyer said, noting that in May alone, one library signed up 14 new regular volunteers. “Going into the summer reading program and with high school students out of school, there will probably be more.”
Library volunteers reshelve books, lead discussion groups, and help with minor computer issues.
“We try to match up interests and skills with our needs,” Poyer said. “People also tend to forget our trustees and foundation are all volunteers.”
In the spring, when county Chairman Tim Lee suggested closing 14 libraries to close a $27 million budget gap, some Vinings residents said they would be willing to organize volunteers to run the Vinings library if it meant keeping it open.
Ultimately, all the libraries were kept open, though hours were cut back. Still, the idea of a volunteer-run library lingers in Vinings.
Commissioner Bob Ott said he plans to meet with all the Vinings civic organizations to see if they could approach the library volunteer project as a group effort.
“We might be forming a committee to explore possibilities,” he said. “If you were to do it, you might be able to expand the library hours.”
Poyer said she is willing to research it more, and has seen it done in other states, like Wisconsin.
But there are some issues that must be considered. Among them, she said, are requirements that a professionally licensed librarian must oversee a library’s operations to get state funding.
A minimum staff to run the Vinings Library is five people, but that varies depending on what programs are going on, Poyer said.
In Wisconsin, one library was staffed by a majority of volunteers, Poyer said.
“It worked well up to a point,” she said. “When you have volunteers, you have to make sure they’re buying into the mission. Sometimes it’s difficult. You have to make sure there’s a commitment to make sure they’re going to be there at work.”
In addition to simply checking books and videos in and out and reshelving them, a lot goes on behind the scenes, Poyer said.
“There’s a lot of planning going on for programs and more,” she said. “There’s lifelong learning and literacy, collection development, reviewing professional journals, reviewing for library materials, selecting materials. The perception is librarians sit around and read, but our staff members are extremely knowledgeable. They are navigators.”
Senior Services Director Pam Breeden is serious about the value of her volunteers. They contributed work worth about $400,000 last year.
“For us, that’s big money,” Breeden said. “If you had employees doing what they’re doing, I don’t think we’d be able to pay for it.”
Despite high gas prices last summer, the department added 134 new volunteers to its rosters, for a total of about 800 active volunteers. In 2010, senior services volunteers logged 29,000 hours.
Most volunteers deliver food to seniors daily through the Meals on Wheels program, but others teach classes, answer phones to assist seniors in connecting with resources, and advocate for Cobb senior citizens.
Breeden said volunteers drove 88,000 unreimbursed miles last year, which does not account for wear and tear on cars.
“If we didn’t have volunteers, we couldn’t have made it this far — not just this year, but every year,” she said.
Keep Cobb Beautiful volunteers offset an even larger amount of money for the county.
Through its programs, the environmental organization had more than 17,000 volunteers last year representing $1.1 million in cost-savings for the county in fiscal 2010.
“Now more than ever, we so appreciate the volunteers that are coming forward to help in any capacity,” Public Programs Coordinator Gwen Baldwin said.
Earlier this year, after the county cut its roadway shoulder and median landscaping services to save money, Keep Cobb Beautiful actively sought volunteers to cut the grass beside county roads.
“We have had people that don’t think volunteers should have to do that,” Baldwin said. “But we get more calls from people that say ‘what can I do to help?’”
Since publicizing their effort, 35 more people have volunteered to help.
“Most are interested in doing a specific area near their home or business they see and drive by daily,” she said. “They know this is a great place to live, and the county has been good them and they want to help.”
Keep Cobb Beautiful programs relieve some of the burden on the transportation department.
“Our goal is to reduce the workload on the already overburdened DOT,” she said. “But these groups coming forward to clean the side of the road, it gives them relief from those mowing issues so they can redirect their crews to the medians.”
In early June, east Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott and some neighbors of his in the Millridge subdivision near Delk and Terrell Mill Roads spent an afternoon cutting grass and doing other landscape chores along county property.
Sheri George was one of the neighbors doing the work.
“It’s our community duty to pitch in when we can,” George said. “It gets us together, laughing and sweating, and it gives you a good feeling that you’ve done something.”