“Volunteers make the library what it is,” said Claudia Daley, literacy coordinator who heads the Children’s Room as well as supervises the volunteer programs at the Downey City Library.
She’s usually right, but this time Claudia was wrong: she is what makes the library what it is, a warm and welcoming community center. Just ask anyone who is involved, for example, in the Adult Literacy Tutoring Program, teaching adults to read, often in a second language. Claudia trains the volunteers for six weeks in phonetics, before they meet their pupils.
Some of these volunteers have been tutoring for years, and that means a serious commitment of time on a regular basis every week.
Claudia is not only a super librarian but – and this may be a well-kept secret until now - she also loves to give parties, and cooks and bakes the refreshments as well. Her nephews and nieces look forward to holidays when Aunt Claudia makes their favorite lemon bars, brownies, berry tarts and coconut-chocolate balls.
Every December Claudia hosts an elegant brunch in appreciation of the women and men who offer their time and services for the many volunteer programs that the library provides for the community’s citizens. She also hosts a spring Recognition Luncheon at Rio Hondo Event Center, to show the city’s appreciation of the library volunteers.
For today’s festivities, Claudia had chosen small 2019 date books as gifts, and wrapped them herself in silver foil tied with a holly-pink ribbon. The pocket-size books will serve as a memento of today’s fellowship.
A real camaraderie exists between the volunteers, and friendships have sprung up simply because the library offers the chance to cross life paths with someone one might never otherwise have met.
To be included in this group does not take money or connections or special experience, though many are former teachers. It does call for an ongoing commitment to serve and donate time and effort.
Volunteers run the Friends of the Library Bookstore, for example, another of the core programs, which earns big dollars every year through the sale of gently used donated books and magazines, new greeting cards and writing supplies. The income supplies and build more volunteer programs. New volunteers are always needed, and welcomed, young adults as well as retirees.
Friend’s Store patrons, members of the general public that is, are free to take as long as they like browsing the shelves, occasionally asking for guidance. The volunteer on duty explains that the inventory depends entirely on what has been donated, and if anyone wants a more complete selection or a specific book, they are directed to the regular collection. Library cards are issued right up till 15 minutes before closing time.
Friends also put on a yearly bazaar in November, with home-baked goods and gently used items donated by the members. A monthly silent auction is conducted through the Friends Room, and brings in income from mint condition special interest books like vintage car collections, country music, or celebrity biographies, that are displayed in the lobby vitrines.
A popular new Friends Room item is a plastic “mix and match” bag. For $5, the purchaser can fill, even cram the bag with as many books as they can, from a specially designated table.
Backing up the men and women who work with the public at the Friends Room on their two-hour shifts, every day of the week from 10 am till 8 pm when the library closes, are more workers in the “back room,” who originally take in the donated books. They clean them, price them, and shake them to be sure no one left a $20 bill in the pages. It has happened.
Contrary to popular belief, donations should be put in the white mailbox in the entrance lobby, not in the Friends Books Sales room. The Friends personnel will then make out a tax receipt for the donation. Gently used books and magazines are sold there, along with greeting cards and writing supplies. The result of one person’s down-sizing may be another person’s treasure.
The library even has a talented artist who creates original sponge-art paper bags for purchases. Children love to choose their own, which are free with even a 25 cent book purchase. What an introduction to the riches of color and form. Insider tip: anything with cats is a favorite. Other perennial best sellers are chocolate bars and lollipops, but “not to be eaten in the library.”
Right outside the Friend’s Book Store Room, tutors and their charges can be found at the round tables, sitting and working together.
What will become of these and the many other functions that the volunteers help with, when the library closes next March for 18 months revamping? “We are planning ways to keep our meetings and classes and tutoring going,” Claudia says, “using other city facilities and helpful local organizations.” But the next holiday brunch like this one for volunteers will probably not occur until 2020.
What about the library employees, how will they weather the 18 month shut-down of the physical plant?
“We have over 100,000 books in our collection,” said Claudia, “that have to be re-filed under the new system we will be using. There is enough work to keep everyone on staff busy. Every book has to be re-catalogued, and staff has to be trained in the new methodology. No one has been let go or laid off.”
After the delectable buffet in the Computer Room, which served as social headquarters, Claudia introduced Benjamin Dickow, himself a volunteer in Downey Kiwanis, who has added the role of Acting Head Librarian to his responsibilities at the City of Downey’s Columbia Memorial Space Center.
Ben had a colorful slide program to show how the “new” library will look (same building). The front entry will be widened and both it and interior partitions will have walls of glass. Classrooms and meeting rooms as well as the large reading rooms will have an open, inviting feeling. The computer room will be bigger too.
“We decreased some of the ‘back room’ space, the interior work and storage areas,” Ben said. “There will be more restrooms too,” and this drew a cheer from the assembled volunteers.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you so much,” said Ben, as he applauded the 80 or so who came to the library on a bright Saturday morning to start the holiday season. And then the applause turned to the one who is the heart of the endeavor, Claudia Daley.
She gives so much of herself to the programs, and she too is a volunteer extraordinaire.