As the Alpharetta Library prepares to move out of its quirky little building at the corner of Mayfield and Canton, and into its glamorous new digs downtown, longtime volunteer Linda Statham has mixed feelings.

“There’s always something exciting about having a new, beautiful building, but then again, change is sometimes difficult,” said Statham, who along with husband Ben, has been a volunteer with the Friends of the Alpharetta Library (FOTAL) for 25 years.

She said Alpharetta has grown exponentially over the past few decades, and its little library, which opened in 1989, has struggled to keep up. Of the 35 library locations in Fulton County, the Alpharetta Library is consistently among the top five busiest libraries.

“We have enjoyed working at the current library building, but it is certainly appropriate that we need a larger, more efficient library to better serve the community,” said Statham.

The new library will encompass 25,000 square feet over two stories – compared to its current 10,000 square-foot building – and is a key part of Alpharetta’s City Center project. Along with the usual library resources, the building will also feature adult and teen reading rooms, a children’s area and a 150-seat auditorium.

Fellow FOTAL volunteer Gerri Fornek is less wistful about leaving the current building, laughing that everyone is “bumping into each other.” She started volunteering for FOTAL in 2002 after retiring from IBM, and is currently the president of the FOTAL board of directors.

“After I retired, I knew I had to do something other than stay around the house,” said Fornek. “I was also volunteering for [other groups] but as time went on, I liked the library work more and more.”

She said while the digital age has changed the way books are delivered, the need for libraries has never changed.

“I think a library’s mission is to support the community and promote literacy,” said Fornek. “There are lots of ways to do this and the library provides most of it for free. Where can you go for free and get all that?”

Statham agrees with that assessment, noting while much information is provided digitally these days, libraries will always have customers.

“Nothing is more exciting than seeing a family with young children leave the library with an armload of books for the children,” she said. “Children are the future and the hope for our society. Without adequate libraries, we only dumb down society.”

One element of the Alpharetta Library that will remain unchanged, regardless of location, is the core group of volunteers involved with FOTAL and the ongoing projects they spend thousands of hours on each year. From handing out scholarships and literacy grants, to filling the shelves with new books, and especially the monthly book sales that provide the bulk of their funding, FOTAL’s volunteers have kept the Alpharetta Library humming for decades.

FOTAL began when the Alpharetta Library first opened in 1966 in a city building, but had become inactive by the late 1980s when the Stathams became involved. Linda said a high school friend of her husband's encouraged the couple to help get FOTAL going again…and so they did.

“Ben and I started volunteering and soon we found others who were interested in supporting the library,” Linda recalled. “We started out with one book sale a year, then two and before long, we began the monthly first Saturday sales.”

The monthly book sales support area literacy programs and have been a staple at the Alpharetta Library for 15 years. Each month, dozens of volunteers turn out rain or shine to organize and run the sales.

“We are fortunate to have a strong core of very hard working volunteers [and] FOTAL has volunteered the greatest number of hours as compared to the other libraries that have a Friends group,” said Statham, noting the number of hours volunteered was nearly 4,700 hours in 2014.

Statham points to the Caird family as an example of dedication to the Alpharetta Library.

“Every month, the Cairds come to the library [after the book sale] to help pack up the books, move the boards, sawhorses, tents, tables and shelving back to the storage area. They have done this for over 20 years,” she said.

FOTAL will continue to have the monthly book sales at the new location, but the details of when and where are still being determined.

After all these years, longtime volunteers like the Stathams and Fornek sometimes reflect on what compels them to spend so much of their time and energy with FOTAL.

“I guess it’s the idea that an organization can have an impact on people’s lives,” explained Fornek. “Volunteer organizations do a lot of things for people who belong to them. And it’s fun…on top of all the hard work…it’s always fun.”

For information on how to become a part of FOTAL, visit the website at www.fotal.org. ■

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