ALPHARETTA, Ga. – The Friends of the Library, a loose organization of volunteers who love their particular Atlanta-Fulton County Library, work tirelessly to provide extra programs, materials and sponsor special programs at their libraries.
Don’t we all get by better with a little help from our friends?
That is certainly the case with the Friends of the Alpharetta Library, which as near as anyone can tell was the first Friends group in the area.
Now the Alpharetta Friends is celebrating its 25th year helping the city’s library by raising funds for new books and sponsoring special programs.
These friends are also among the most vocal supporters of their library and the AFPL system.
Ben and Linda Statham have been Friends volunteers from the beginning when Library Manager Leona Bolch and Mary Satterfield ran it out of City Hall.
Ladye Heisel was the children’s librarian, and she had the idea of starting a used-book sale as a fundraiser. She had gone to Milton High School with Ben Statham. She had an idea, and she knew a soft-touch when she saw one. It turned out to be a two-fer when she recruited Ben and Linda.
“She said we needed to raise some money so she could offer more children’s programs,” Linda Statham said. “Today, many Fulton libraries have a Friends of the Library group.”
Indeed, nearly every North Fulton library has a dedicated Friends group that works diligently to supplement their library’s budget with everything from new books and materials to programming and new furniture.
Alpharetta’s first library opened in 1966 housed in the former City Hall building. Those were the bad old days. It was cramped and small, but at least it was a library.
Then in early 1986, renovations to City Hall forced the branch to move to a downtown commercial building. But that was only while awaiting construction of a new 10,000-square-foot building funded by a bond approved by voters and a generous donation from Louie and Gertrude Jones.
That library built at the corner of Mayfield Road and Canton Street opened in the fall of 1989.
Its “modern” architecture had local folks scratching their heads. It was starkly out of place in one of Alpharetta’s oldest neighborhoods, but at least it was Alpharetta’s own and they warmed up to it. (Today it awaits a new birth as an arts center for the city.)
By the early 1990s, all the North Fulton area was exploding with growth.
“And the librarians were extremely busy trying to meet the needs of the community,” said Linda Statham. “Ladye Heisel asked Mary Anderson and my husband, Ben Statham, if they would be interested in reviving the existence of a former Friends group.”
And so it was in 1991 Anderson became president with Tony Pennock and Ben Statham the book sale chairmen. Linda Statham was the secretary/treasurer, and Charlotte Richter was the volunteer coordinator.
Somewhere in the mid ’90s, the Friends, under the leadership of Richter, Larry Curry and Pam Caird, became a non-profit 501©3 organization.
Becky Garrett stepped up as head of publicity with Jeannie Lewis as membership chairman.
“We started with one book sale a year. Then we started having a sale two times a year. But so many books were being donated for the sales and storage was a problem.”
It was Friends member Barbara Mitchell who realized too many books was not the problem.
She told Ben Statham, “We need monthly sales to meet the needs of the reading community.”
Ben has been trucking in hundreds of books monthly ever since to sell at the Friends of the Library used book sale.
He lays them in ordered rows stacked on tables every month, then packs up the unsold ones until next month. He has racked up so many volunteer hours; the annual Fulton Volunteer of the Year award should be renamed “The Ben Statham Volunteer Award.”
Ten years ago, Kathleen Smith saw a way to increase the yield from the book sales. Some of the books that were being donated were collectible.
She told Ben, “We need to start selling some of these expensive books that aren’t selling at our monthly book sale on the internet.”
So Smith started listing books online along with the help of Iain Caird, Jo Davisson, Bill Ohlemueller, Gerrie Fornek and others.
The Alpharetta Friends continues to have these monthly book sales, and the online sales raise money for many projects:
Children and young adult programs,
Supplies for the Books for Soldier’s program
Donations to other non-profits and local schools
“Along with the book sales and the online sales, Gerrie Fornek, Barbara Selwyn, along with their energetic volunteers, have opened a very successful [used] book store inside our new library which opened in July of 2015,” Linda Statham said. The book store is now open seven days a week staffed by volunteers.