Judith Hears Gold - Judith Sheargold

Tamworth is a New South Wales regional city on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range at the junction of two highways, the Oxley going east-west and the New England going north-south. Over the years it has diversified from its traditional agricultural base to a more mixed economy and today has a vibrant business, commercial and social community. Tamworth City and the Parry Shire which surrounds it has a combined population just in excess of 52,000. Although there are three small library branches at the far ends of the shire some people use one of the two city branches on their regular visits to town. For our purposes The Friends of Tamworth Libraries have confined our activities to those two city branches. These branches, in June 2001 had a total membership of 16 614 which includes adult, children and housebound and represents 39% of the population.

In September 1989 the Friends of Tamworth Libraries was officially launched with 25 members. They set about establish their identity and making their presence felt. They sent a letter to each member of Tamworth City Council urging them to consider using money which had been allocated for some upgrading of the building housing the present library, inadequate though it was and still is, to go some way to installing computer/automated borrowing system. A similiar letter was sent to the Town Clerk with the added comment that very little money had been spent on Libraries in the past 10 years and urging him to address this situation. The reply to this letter informed Tamworth Friends that Council had resolved to introduce the automated system the following year and also, and- I quote in part- "...that a 5 year plan be undertaken to relocate the City branch of the library to new and improved accommodation..." How wonderful it must have felt! Apparent success so early in their existence. And the "5 year plan"? Well it took 13 years, but this year a greenfield site has been approved for a brand new library, architect firms have been narrowed down to three and expectations are high.

Early in 1990, no doubt spurred on by their success, more letters were sent, this time to aspiring councillors seeking election. They were urged to visit their local branch and see for themselves the services provided with a view to future expenditure. It was suggested in a local newspaper that the newly formed Friends of Tamworth Libraries appeared to be a lobby group to pressure council regarding expenditure and when a councillor stated, after cutbacks in library staff, that volunteers would be working there, it was time to define our role. And those definitions remain today. Our role is not to replace library staff but to assist where appropriate and promote the services provided.

At the first annual general meeting the treasurer's report showed an income of $739.25 and that included a donation of $600 from the Quota Club. This was duly spent on subtitled videos, a worthy expense, and with one or two other small items left a balance of $83.35. Not a thought yet about inc. after your title and the spectre of public liability was yet to raise its ugly head. It had become obvious that fund raising had to become an item on the agenda and so a large jar was filled with jelly beans and the guesses began. This was in fact a very successful endeavour; for minimum outlay and effort and maximum profit it is very hard to beat.

And so the Friends evolved, executive positions changed and regular meeting goers dropped out and others took their place. Today we have twenty seven members but since our fees are $10 per annum, per family, there are another eight to ten family members who are willing to be called on if needed. All members are welcome to attend meetings and are able to vote but we have a core of twelve who attend on a regular basis. Both sexes are represented, some retired, some still in the workforce.

Since part of our brief is fund-raising we are lucky to have the management of the Central Northern Libraries housed in the Tamworth City Library building. This means that many books culled from all the branches in the 12 council areas administered from here find their way into the basement car park where they are sorted and boxed by the Friends ready for sale. Half the money raised from these sales is given directly to the administration. We have had two very large Saturday morning book sales in the last 2 years at the town hall. Our council have been generous enough not to charge us for the hire of the hall. The first of these sales was considered a success, but there were some reservations about the second when the effort of sorting, packing, moving and unpacking and then doing it all again at the end of the day was taken into consideration. That jar of jellybeans looked good. Lt won't be until we pick up that first box of books that we remember why we swore we would neve do this again. In future smaller sales, as we have done in the past held at one of the two branches, may the answer. Other fund-raising activities include theatre parties which we have on Sunday afternoons followed by afternoon tea. Our difficulty is getting a suitable film. With other volunteer groups also looking to do the same and the choice at regional cinemas not always great this can be difficult. A Death by Chocolate afternoon with a large variety of chocolate goodies (recipes available) and good coffee or tea was a great success for two years running. It was deemed less successful the third year and has been discontinued. Anzac biscuits are made and bagged in half dozens and sold by library staff on our behalf, a couple of times a year. We would love to have dinners with visiting authors to speak but the cost to our small group is daunting. This year we will investigate combining with other Friends groups, such as the Friends of the Art Gallery, to perhaps host an illustrator.

Funds raised in the past have been used to buy such things as children's and adult furniture, display shelves and magazine racks. Each year we donate $500 worth of prizes to the libraries' Children's Holiday Reading Programme held during the Christmas vacation. Last year a Lap sit programme for babies was run and the Friends donated 10 romper suits inscribed BORN TO READ. This seemed like a wonderful way to get some publicity. Babies will always bring a photographer from the local paper and it did. But ten beautitul crawling babies each armed with a board book, afforded far more photo opportunities than a president of Friends of Tamworth Libraries, even wearing her best dress, could hope compete against. As an on-going expense we provide cold spring water in the newspaper and magazine reading area in summer and pay an annual subscription to two magazines. It is noted on the front of each that they are donated by the Friends. We have had tea and coffee available during winter for a voluntary donation but the staff have experienced difficulties with people abusing the service so this has been reluctantly discontinued. So, if we are to continue to promote the libraries' excellent programmes, particularly the children's programmes and face other horrors such as insurance, fund-raising remains firmly on the agenda. New and interesting ways of doing this is a challenge facing our small group.

A common theme running through past copies of the minutes was finding ways to increase membership. At a meeting with Daniel Ferguson, organised by Sally Walters in Inverell our members came back with a renewed sense of purpose. Firstly we raise our profile in the community, write letters to the paper, wear our identification on all appropriate occasions, distribute our newsletter more widely. Good letterhead paper and coloured glossy brochures were purchased and two months ago we adopted a public place, in fact the garden outside our South Tamworth branch. Our council supplies large signs identifying the group adopting the area. We are at present working through strategies to form a vision statement to clarify what we are and what we hope to be. We are fortunate to have the wholehearted support of the Regional Director of Library Services who facilitates these meetings. This year we will improve our web page which when first designed was just to let people know we existed. We are looking into the possibility of of putting our quarterly newsletter there. Our newsletters are distributed around the central business district wherever magazines and newspapers are left for people to read, such as coffee shops and hairdressers as well as in both branches of the libraries.We plan to do this four times a year. These have been a social occasion for us and have netted us two new members. Ten local clubs such as Quota and View Clubs were sent letters recently advising them of the upcoming theatre party and inviting their members to our book reviews evening. Included in the envelope was our brochure and also a brochure briefly outlining the services offered by their library. Two of our members are community representitives on the Council's Library and Art Gallery Investigation Working Group and we are represented by another member on the Arts and Cultural Advisory Group.

This is what the Friends of Tamworth Libraries is about. In whatever we do we have the support of every member of the library staff whether it is choosing an interesting selection of new books or recording jellybean guesses. And the two questions all volunteer groups should ask themselves at the end of the day:

Are we effective? Yes we are?

Do we enjoy it? Yes we do.

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