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Lending their time

Karen Hasskamp, left, and Jane Bartlett are two of about 15 active, regular volunteers at the Perham Area Library. They’re pictured here in front of a row of books by one of their favorite authors, Elizabeth George. Marie Nitke/FOCUS

Perham’s library has a long and storied history with volunteers.

In fact, without them, there would be no library. It was volunteers who got the library started in 1922, and it was volunteers who kept the library running for decades, until Catherine Drahmann – a long-time library volunteer – became Perham’s first paid librarian in 1978.

Today, volunteers still play a vital role there.

Working alongside paid staff, more than 15 active volunteers regularly check books in and out, help patrons and assist with other day-to-day tasks. Several others volunteer a couple times a year to help out with special programs and events.

Karen Hasskamp, for example, has been volunteering at the library since 2008.

Every fall, winter and spring, she comes in on Monday afternoons to work the front desk. She helps people find materials and use the catalogue, checks in books (every one of them gets disinfected after being checked in – she does that, too), and then either gets those books back on the shelves or sees to it that they’re returned to the correct library within the Viking Library System.

A retired librarian for the Perham-Dent School District, Hasskamp said “libraries are in my blood.” She loves volunteering at the library, since it gives her the opportunity to interact with a lot of people and see so many different books as they circulate through.

“You never run out of things to read,” she said with a smile.

She’s especially enjoyed helping out with children’s programs, and loves to watch young kids as they check out a big pile of books for the first time, full of happy anticipation.

Jane Bartlett enjoys volunteering at the library for many of those same reasons. Her mother was a librarian, and she’s loved books since she was little. One of her favorite things to do as a volunteer is “wax nostalgic” with patrons about their books of choice.

“I like to help people and see what people are reading,” Bartlett said. “There are so many different interests.”

A retired elementary school teacher, she now serves on the library board and volunteers at the library for about five to six months out of the year, usually for one day a week.

Bartlett can also be counted on to jump in and help at the last minute – a trait that has earned her the title of “current library volunteer extraordinaire” from Librarian Susan Heusser-Ladwig, who went on to describe Bartlett as “always willing to help out, always smiling, absolutely fun and knowledgeable...”

But Bartlett doesn’t like to take too much credit, instead calling herself just one of a great team of volunteers.

That team includes people of all different preferences and abilities. Some like to come in to shelve books and only shelve books, while others enjoy doing a variety of things, such as working with people or helping with technology. There’s even a group of teen volunteers, who help out especially with summer programs.

“We really enjoy having the teens come in, because it gives us a whole different level of energy and enthusiasm,” Heusser-Ladwig said.

Most of the library’s volunteers have historically been women, and many have made long-term commitments to their volunteer roles. Jeanette Kupferschmid, for example, has volunteered at the library for 37 years and is still going strong. And Mary Helen Zitzow volunteered for 43 years until “retiring” just two years ago.

Of all the library’s volunteers, Heusser-Ladwig said: “It’s hard to emphasize how much we appreciate their help.”

Bartlett and Hasskamp are equally appreciative of the library staff, as well as the community as a whole. They said the library is accommodating to the needs and wants of volunteers, and staff members are always patient and helpful while training them in. There’s also no shortage of helping hands.

“I think we’re fortunate in this community. There is a sense of giving back and volunteering, so you don’t have to do a lot of arm-twisting,” said Bartlett. “People are generous and giving of their time.”

In addition, “There are many readers in Perham,” said Hasskamp. “I think the library is well used.”

Anyone interested in volunteering at the library is encouraged to stop in, or call or email Heusser-Ladwig at 346-4892 or

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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