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Spending three hours among the stacks

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Spending three hours among the stacks

Jason Campbell works as a volunteer shelving books at the Manteca Library.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/


POSTED August 2, 2010 2:02 a.m.
It’s been more than two years since I checked out a book at the Manteca Branch Library.

And I had to pay six dollars in late fees for a John Daly book that was supposed to help me “grip it and rip it” like a pro on the links. I kept the book for months, and still hook the ball.

But the real reason I visited the library on Wednesday afternoon was to spend three hours volunteering. My goal was to help shelve the books, organize those that are already shelved, and replace the movies that had been returned by patrons in their proper place.

 Librarian Ruthanne Bassett immediately hooked me up with fellow volunteer Hector Tavares. We moved forward with shelving the necessary children’s books that had come in, and cleaned up the loose items that people had left behind or not replaced properly.

For roughly an hour, Hector and I tag-teamed three carts full of books and a cart of movies. That was in addition to organizing a section of adult non-fiction books so that the identification numbers were in the proper order. The authors names are listed alphabetically to help those searching through the massive stacks.

It was an eye-opening experience – watching Bassett run back and forth between the children’s area and the McFall Room to attract people for Wednesday’s special performance. It showed me that the library was somewhat understaffed for the large amount of people that utilize it during the summer months.

Almost every computer terminal was full. Adults filled virtually every aisle of the non-fiction section searching for books, and tables were occupied by both men and women utilizing the free Wi-Fi that the library recently added.

“What you just organized will be all mixed up by tomorrow,” Hector said. “It’s only my second day and I’ve learned that.”

A handful of dedicated volunteers spend the time going through the lines of books one-by-one – making sure that they’re in the appropriate place so that students, teachers, parents, and patrons can find them without much trouble.

“Without them, I don’t know that we’d do,” Bassett said. “There is already so much to do, and if you throw all of that on top of it, I’m not sure what would happen.”

Part of why I decided to spend a few hours volunteering was to see how efficiently the library itself operated, and how many people actually used it during the afternoon midweek – especially since the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors is considering outsourcing the operation of the facility.

The company that submitted the bid to the board says they can operate the library cheaper than what the cash-strapped county is currently paying.

And that flies directly in the face of what cities like Manteca and Ripon have talked about doing in order to better serve their residents.

With the relentless pursuit of Brigitte Long and the agreement of the City of Ripon to purchase the vacant Schemper’s building downtown, Ripon soon had itself a state-of-the-art facility complete with individual meeting rooms and a massive conference room that has been used for various functions.

The Manteca City Council has been batting around the idea on what to do with the library – which is reaching its capacity in terms of overall space – for more than five years.

Bassett hopes that they can come up with something that offers both more square feet and a different design that allows for individual groups to find solace in sections of the building.

“I don’t think the current layout is really functional – you have children’s programs in the meeting room but the meeting room is clear across the library,” she said. “If we could get something with more square feet, and a place where the teens can hang out and rooms where people can study, then we’d have the perfect fit for our patrons.”

Politics aside, it’s the people that spend their spare time doing the things that the librarians don’t have time to do that makes the wheels turn.

And spending time going through the rows of books making sure they’re in order turned out to be a blessing. I found five books, including a book by Surfer Magazine that shows all of the surf spots in Northern and Central California and explains in detail the scene as well as a book that tells the story of Highway 99 by some of the best poets and story writers that every lived.

“That’s definitely one of the benefits of going through the books – you get to find things that you didn’t know were there,” Bassett told me as I showed her my stash as I neared the end of my three hour shift.

“I think this is something that I’d do again just because it makes such a difference and it gives you chance to see so many different things,” I said to Bassett. “You’re always welcome to come down and volunteer,” she said.

With that, I handed over my six dollar check for the bogus John Daly book that was supposed to improve my game, grabbed my books, and headed out to my car – feeling like I did something that helped the people of Manteca.

But it’ll only be a matter of time before those books are out of order again.

Looks like I’ll be making a return trip.
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