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The shelf life

Veteran volunteers embody West Slope Community Library's neighborly spirit


by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Dee Buffum, who has been a volunteer at the West Slope Community Library for 30 years, checks in books to be placed back on the bookshelves of the community library.If she didn’t like being helpful, Dee Buffum wouldn’t have spent Tuesdays for the past 30 years checking and sorting books at West Slope Community Library.

That’s not to say the dedicated volunteer doesn’t 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. They’re nice people. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t 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 Slope’s volunteer coordinator, isn’t sure the library would continue to function in its current form.

“Without them, we literally couldn’t keep the hours we have to keep,” Kubat said. “We couldn’t 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.”

It’s unlikely any of West Slope library’s 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. “She’s always just super cheerful and works really hard. We can always count on her to help out. I can always just call her, and she’ll come on down when we’re 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 she’s 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.

“I’ve been a community volunteer since my early married life. I’ve been a Camp Fire leader, a Cub Scout den mother. Over at Albertina’s, an all-volunteer restaurant in Northeast Portland, I’ve 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. It’s just a very, very friendly library. There’s a lot of programs for the community, get-togethers. It’s a marvelous library. I’m sure others in the system have that, but at this one, I’m 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 don’t do it much more.”

She doesn’t envision changing her Tuesday volunteer routine anytime soon.

“They call me when they’re 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 I’m there, I do work pretty hard,” she admits. “Nevertheless, it doesn’t really seem like work. Because I enjoy it.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Harriet Lesher volunteers at West Slope Community Library on Southwest 78th Avenue. She devotes at least one day of the week to help check in, sort and file books and media materials.