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updated: 2/4/2011 5:06 PM

Library candidate wants volunteers to replace part-time workers

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A Schaumburg Township District Library candidate is suggesting the library gradually lay off about half its part-time staff and replace them with unpaid volunteers.

Former library trustee and current candidate Richard Hetzer estimates his idea could save the district between $1.5 million and $1.75 million per year in part-time salaries and benefits.

Many surrounding taxing bodies, including the village of Schaumburg and Schaumburg Park District, rely heavily on the efforts of volunteers while the library uses none, Hetzer said.

"It's not going to happen overnight," he said. "It's got to be phased in over time. It should have been started 10 years ago."

Hetzer's opponents in the April 5 library board election were less enthusiastic about the proposal.

Incumbent Trustee Nick Scipione said his 10 years as a part-time employee at the library, on his way to becoming a high school teacher, give him a different perspective on the issue.

While he believes adding volunteers could be helpful -- particularly in promoting the library through some sort of Friends of the Library group -- he doesn't believe services would be improved by replacing paid employees. He sees reliability and the need for constant training due to high turnover among volunteers as key concerns.

"Actually replacing staff, either full-time or part-time, I don't think it's feasible," Scipione said.

Candidate Julie Wroblewski Bosshart largely agreed with Scipione's approach of using volunteers to supplement, not replace, staff. For example, she said, seniors could be recruited to help fellow senior patrons. But she worried about the motivation and dependability of a largely volunteer work force.

"Don't just come in and change the way the library runs, because it's working very well," Wroblewski Bosshart said.

Incumbent Debby Miller is not only opposed to replacing staff with volunteers, she felt that even adding volunteers could prove a drain on resources.

"Even doing that would mean a lot of investment in bringing them up to speed," Miller said. "I think it's unrealistic. We've tried to establish a good working relationship with the staff."

Board President Robert Lyons, who's in the middle of his current term, said he has long been open to the idea of adding volunteers, but that the library has struggled with the question of how to use them. He also balked at the idea of laying off paid staff in favor of volunteers.

"That would mean letting people go who have jobs," Lyons said. "Is that what he's after?"

"The library is not there to provide employment, it's there to provide service to the taxpayers," Hetzer responded.

The library currently employs 80 full-time employees and more than 200 part-time staff, Lyons said. These workers together cost $6 million a year in wages and benefits.

Hetzer, Scipione, Miller and Wroblewski Bosshart are contending for three available seats on the library board in the April 5 election.