The shelf life
Veteran volunteers embody West Slope Community Library's neighborly spirit
If she didnt like being helpful, Dee Buffum wouldnt have spent Tuesdays for the past 30 years checking and sorting books at West Slope Community Library.
Thats not to say the dedicated volunteer doesnt enjoy a perk or two, particularly getting first crack at books before they return to the shelves.
I like to read, she says. This way I get a chance to see what all is available. If I see something I want that nobody else has a hold on, I put it back for me, then I check it out.
Her devotion to the cozy neighborhood library goes deeper than feeding a literary habit, however.
I feel like doing something useful with my time, she says. I enjoy the people here, the other volunteers. Theyre nice people. I wouldnt do it if I didnt like people.
Buffum, who lives near the library at 3678 S.W. 78th Ave., and fellow veteran volunteer Harriet Lesher, personify the warmth and giving spirit that keep West Slope humming. Without them, in fact, Jackie Kubat, West Slopes volunteer coordinator, isnt sure the library would continue to function in its current form.
Without them, we literally couldnt keep the hours we have to keep, Kubat said. We couldnt get the work done and still have our other enrichment activities. The official staff of 10 would pretty much be checking in books and shelving them. Volunteers can do that and more.
The more at West Slope library includes activities such as drop-in knitting groups, gaming groups, craft activities for adults, lectures, seminars and workshops.
All those things are either led by people in our community or (assisted) by Friends of the West Slope Library that provides funds, Kubat says. They raise funds through book sales and asking (patrons) to pay yearly, super tiny dues. People can donate to the library, but some just donate time.
Its unlikely any of West Slope librarys pool of 80 volunteers have devoted more of their time than Buffum and Lesher.
Dee has been our longest-term volunteer I know of, Kubat says. Shes always just super cheerful and works really hard. We can always count on her to help out. I can always just call her, and shell come on down when were in a bind.
While Buffum holds down the Tuesday shifts, Lesher, 85, finds Friday is her day to hit the books. The Cedar Hills resident, who used to live in Raleigh Hills, figures shes spent nearly a quarter century as a library volunteer. Starting out on the front desk, she gradually worked over into her checking in and shelving role.
They had just gotten computers when I started, she says. Otherwise, it was just a bunch of paperwork with pen and pencil, and a date stamp.
A stay-at-home mom, Lesher found a release and sense of accomplishment in a variety of volunteer settings.
Ive been a community volunteer since my early married life. Ive been a Camp Fire leader, a Cub Scout den mother. Over at Albertinas, an all-volunteer restaurant in Northeast Portland, Ive done that for 30-something years, she says.
She found the West Slope library an inviting diversion when her children were off to school and she needed a change of scenery.
Everybody is just so cordial and friendly. Everybody is so quick to help. Its just a very, very friendly library. Theres a lot of programs for the community, get-togethers. Its a marvelous library. Im sure others in the system have that, but at this one, Im family.
Buffum grew up in Arkansas and moved with her husband, Malcolm, to Oregon by way of California. She remembers the decidedly humble early days of the West Slope library, before it moved into a former golf clubhouse on 78th Avenue and expanded with a collection of modular buildings.
I started in a basement of a bank over on Canyon, she says. We moved over the clubhouse here, then they brought in the prefabs.
Buffum remains generous with her volunteer time, but has become a bit more selective with her specific duties.
I check em in and sort em as I go, she says of the steady stream of books coming in most Tuesdays. Somebody else puts em on the shelf. I used to do some of that myself. I dont do it much more.
She doesnt envision changing her Tuesday volunteer routine anytime soon.
They call me when theyre desperate, she says. They let me play.
Lesher, who has gone on trips with friends she met through the library, says West Slope has become too much a part of her life to give up now.
When Im there, I do work pretty hard, she admits. Nevertheless, it doesnt really seem like work. Because I enjoy it.
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