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50 years of serving the library: San Mateo gives thanks for volunteer organization
April 11, 2014, 05:00 AM By Samantha Weigel Daily Journal

Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
Friends of the San Mateo Library volunteers Julie Thoman, Alma Leseo and Sherry Fong organize books they sell to help keep the Main Library's collection up to date.

With national library week just around the corner, local book lovers have another reason to celebrate as the Friends of the San Mateo Library commemorates 50 years of volunteerism.

Although members have changed throughout the years, each has been a dedicated asset to the city and the public is invited to join in celebrating the group’s anniversary at the main library Wednesday, said City Librarian Ben Ocón.

The Friends dedicated 4,099 hours of service last year alone, raised $81,000 through their book sales and are a key component to the library’s ability to maintain a relevant collection, Ocón said.

“When the library was in need … and had to make cuts, the cuts were made in the materials budget and thanks to the Friends of the Library, we were able to recoup those funds and actually exceed them,” Ocón said. “The Friends are able to really move us into the realm of maintaining and building our collection to a higher level of excellence. So we are able to offer the community that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to.”

The Friends collect donations and maintain a store at the main library and online, Ocón said. Through last month, the Friends have raised around $65,000 this year alone, Ocón said.

With these funds, the library has been able to support several new databases available to the community including, a genealogy research; Brainfuse, online homework help; and Pronunciator, an instruction service with more than 70 languages. The Friends have also helped obtain more bestsellers, e-books and audio books, Ocón said.

“Libraries have always been on the forefront of different formats and we want to stay relevant to the community. And right now, it’s a great time because there’s so much innovation and so many different formats. And even as we speak, there’s someone inventing something new,” Ocón said. “So keeping the library current and relevant, that’s where the Friends of the Library come in.”

The Friends have acted in a wide capacity throughout the years, Ocón said. They’ve helped with programming, story times, introduced large print titles, helped secure money for furniture and equipment and secured special collections and fine art works, Ocón said.

With the San Mateo Public Library Foundation at the helm, the Friends contributed to raising $10 million to help remodel the city’s libraries and build the new main library on Third Avenue, Ocón said.

The foundation continues to work with and give thanks for the Friends’ service, Kate Korsh, director of development of the foundation, wrote in an email.

“The Friends of the Library have been an integral part of the San Mateo Public Library since 1964. Their commitment to offering a wide selection of reading material for all ages has played an important role in creating libraries for adults, children and families throughout our community,” Korsh wrote.

The City Council also gave thanks and, at Monday’s meeting, Mayor Robert Ross presented the Friends with a proclamation commending the group for its work, raising more than $1.5 million during its history, implementing reading programs such as providing books to those who are homebound, helping establish the Marina Branch Library and for hosting the annual three-day fall book sale.

The Friends say their work rewards them as well.

Julie Thoman, 87, has been with the Friends for about five years and said she’s loved every minute of it.

“We’re volunteers, there’s nothing forcing us to be there. We’re there because we love it. I really believe in volunteerism, I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Thoman said. “For one thing, I think it does help. But it also helps the people who volunteer. I think it helps the library, I think it helps the city, I think maybe it helps the county. But to a large degree I think it helps the volunteers.”

Part of her role is to help arrange scheduling for collecting donations, taking inventory and running the bookstore, Thoman said. When she began, there were only four other volunteers, most who had been with the Friends for 17 impressive years. Since then, the number of Friends has grown to 22, Thoman said.

“Any group that gets long-term members creates a history and a pride and kind of a flow and just keeps it going,” Thoman said.

Sherry Fong has been an integral part of the Friends since she and her husband started over 17 years ago. Meeting new people and spending time with her friends has made the years fly by, Fong said.

“It’s being able to meet people, serve the public and have fun with your cohorts,” Fong said.

There’s never a dull moment as there’s always something to do to help out and the library is always full, Fong said.

Thoman said she wanted to be a librarian when she was younger and, now that she’s retired, one of her biggest rewards is to see how libraries influence others.

“I sit there every day and watch it. Somehow this library has managed to be a place for little children. Little children love to be there. The programs, they encourage little kids,” Thoman said. “I think it’s making tomorrow’s readers.”

The 50th anniversary celebration is 3 p.m. Wednesday, April 16 at the Main Library, 55 W. Third Ave. For more information on the library, the annual book sale and on volunteering, visit or call (650) 522-7802.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 106



Tags: library, friends, oacute,

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