Manlius Library volunteers 'do the shuffle'

The Manlius Library recently installed a new circulation system that pushed out longtime volunteers from the front desk -- a place many of the helpers liked to be for the purpose of community interaction.

In late October, libraries countywide switched out their old systems for a new, more complex one funded by the county and designed by Liverpool-based Polaris Library Systems.

"We were the last large library to have volunteers at the circulation desk," said Library Director Patricia Infanti, who cited neighboring libraries that haven't used unpaid help at the front desk for years.

Susan Reckhow, library director at the DeWitt Community Library, said their decision to use paid staff instead of volunteers was made at least 18 years ago and was based primarily on consistency and scheduling purposes. The library does use volunteers for activities "behind-the-scenes."

Infanti said the new system takes 25 hours of training per individual, and offers many more services than its former computer system. For a volunteer who comes in two to four hours a week, the system would be overwhelming, she said. Plus, she added the library is busier than it's ever been, which would place a high amount of pressure on the volunteers.

"It's hard to expect them to react so quickly on these new systems," Infanti said. "It's not that we don't love our volunteers and appreciate them. You would have to use [the system] often to get comfortable."

Infanti recognized that while many of the volunteers looked forward to working directly with the public, which the front desk provided the most, they were offered reassignments within the library, such as in the caf (c), office or children's room. About half of the volunteers decided to stay, with Manlius resident Nancy Wadopian among them. She now organizes the nonfiction section.

"However I can contribute to the library -- that really is my main goal," she said. "So for me to go to the nonfiction [section] and work there was an easy transition."

Five more volunteers have come on board since the change, boosting the number of helpers back up to approximately 20 people, Infanti said.

Additionally, the transition has not cost the library any more money, as the positions formerly filled by volunteers, are now being staffed by library employees.

"We haven't hired anybody additional," she said.

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