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Volunteers Come In All Sizes, Shapes and Oh Yes Ages

At just 4-foot-10 and 93 years old, Evelyn Savitzky hardly acts her age, or her size. Savitzky, a former engineering librarian that helped work on the Hubble telescope, is the library director at Galloway Ridge at Fearrington, a continuing care retirement community outside of Chapel Hill, where she oversees about 40 volunteers and a substantial collection of reading material.

The main library houses around 7,000 books and the secondary library, located in the Arbor of Galloway Ridge, holds another thousand or so. The libraries also feature five Kindles, a reading machine, computers, a collection of large-print books, a section of books written by Galloway Ridge residents, a CD and DVD collection, daily crossword puzzle printouts and magazines.

But perhaps most impressive is the fact that the library is operated almost entirely by volunteers. Savitzky and Assistant Director Peggy Masterson, who also has library experience previous to Galloway Ridge, helped found the library more than eight years ago, before Galloway Ridge was even ready for residents to move into.

They began with about 500 books. Then, all of a sudden, that number grew and grew. When residents began moving into Galloway Ridge, they brought their books. But books take up a lot of space, and residents simply didn’t know what to do with all their literature.

“There were days when we would come in and there would be 20 or 30 boxes of books sitting, waiting for us to go through,” Masterson said. “As soon as we’d get those books taken care of, another 10 apartments would be filled and more books would come.”

Soon the books needed more space and the library itself began to grow. Since opening, the library has doubled in space and the number of volunteers has jumped from two to about 42. Savitzky and Masterson traded the VHS and cassette collection for a DVD and CD collection. Volunteers at the library are constantly removing books from their inventory and selling them on Amazon or donating them to Chatham County Library for book sales, and in exchange, new books are added regularly. Savitzky personally keeps up with the New York Times’ best sellers list so the library remains stocked with current reading material.

Arguably the most interesting aspect of the library at Galloway Ridge is that it’s open 24 hours a day, yet only has staff on-site 22 hours each week. Sign-up sheets are available for residents who are looking for specific books, and then when that book becomes available, a member of the staff calls the resident and leaves the book out for them to pick up. The staff also operates a cart that delivers books to residents in their apartments three times a week for added convenience.

At 77 years old, Masterson is sometimes considered the tall baby at Galloway Ridge, and Savitsky calls her a kid. But a full foot taller than Savitzky, she makes for a big kid, and an interesting complement to the library director.

Masterson said Savitzky is passionate about the library, but Savitzky believes it’s the volunteerism aspect that is really important to her. She attributes her love for giving back to her upbringing as a first-generation American.

“Always wanting to help other person, that’s what we were taught,” she said. “I guess that’s why I went into library science, because it is a way of helping other people.”

When working as a reference librarian for the Hubble project, Savitzky oversaw about 120 employees at four locations, including some overseas. After doing that for 18 years, then operating a consulting firm with her husband where she helped small companies incorporate libraries, she decided she would continue to put her master’s degree in library science to use at Galloway Ridge. She said the libraries at other continuing care retirement communities in the area were rather lackluster, and she wanted better than that for Galloway Ridge.

“Most of them are just collections of books that people donate and they put them up on the shelves in some sort of order,” she said. “But being a librarian, I decided to do it the right way.”

Location : Pittsboro, NC