Q&A: Cliff Bastuscheck, Schlow library volunteer

April 6, 2014 


Cliff Bastuscheck, 91, has been volunteering at Schlow Centre Region Library for the last 28 years.

NABIL K. MARK — CDT photo Buy Photo

At 91, Cliff Bastuscheck is an institution at the Schlow Centre Region Library.

He’s been volunteering there for 28 years, and was among several honored for their service Thursday at a banquet hosted by the Friends of Schlow Library.

Young at heart, Bastuscheck is a fan of e-Books. He worked for 35 years at Haller, Raymond and Brown, now part of Raytheon, and spent most of them in digital data systems design. He says he’s “not what you would call a newbie enamored of computers.”

In addition to his work with the library, he was a longtime member of Alpha Fire Company, and he volunteers with the Centre County Historical Society.

How have you seen the library change over your long volunteer career?

One of the biggest changes has probably been the e-Book. I happen to live at The Village at Penn State and several months ago, they happened to install Wi-Fi throughout the apartments. So I decided, well, I’ll buy a tablet. ... Those e-Books are, what? Tantalizing. It’s 8 in the evening, I’ve run out of books to read, so I get in the library (website), scan through. That looks interesting, I’ll try that. So you sit there and read a book. It’s a very interesting concept, and I’m sure it has upped readership.

Technology has obviously gone way beyond what was available what, 50 years ago. And the town has grown. When I moved here, there were about 6,000 residents. There are a lot more people around now. Several years ago we became a Metropolitan Statistical Area, 100,000 population or more. So they had to build this building. From the first floor of a house to a building like this, that’s a tremendous change.

What initially drew you to volunteer at the library?

When I was 4 or 5 years old, I went to the library in my hometown and took out books. And I’ve always been interested in library work. ... Thirty years ago at least, I was on the board of the friends of the library. When the State College library was started, in order to stock the shelves with books, they asked local residents if they would donate surplus books. There was a fellow here in town by the name of Charles Schlow. He had a house on College Avenue next to what is now Starbucks, which was Sears Roebuck at the time. And he donated the use of that house to the library to get things started, which is why (the library) is named Schlow Library.

The eighth-grade students went around, knocked on doors and asking if you had any books. Well, at that time, there had been a book club: the dollar mystery guild. For a dollar, they sent you every month a hard-bound mystery (book), if you can imagine. The mysteries had accumulated on my shelf at home, so when the kids came around: ‘Do you have any books?’ Yeah. Those eighth-grade kids collected so many books that they had to call the store manager of the Sears store to open up on Sunday afternoon ... so they could buy some jack-posts to put in the cellar, because the floor of the house was beginning to sag. There were so many books. I have contributed to the library for quite a while.

How important are volunteers to Schlow?

This past year, for example, 2013, there were some 5,400 hours donated by volunteers. If you consider the average working year is 2,080 hours, that’s about two-and-two-thirds employees. The library budget can’t afford two-and-two-thirds employees. Would the work get done? Maybe. Certainly the library would not be nearly as efficient, if I can call it that word, without volunteers. They make quite the difference.

The variety of work done by the volunteers, I’m not sure that anybody paid ... is actually involved in checking the books in. And when you consider there are some 700,000 items circulated from here each year, that’s an awful lot of reading the barcodes and putting ... (them) in on the proper cart and putting it in shelf order. That’s a lot of work that gets done by volunteers.

What is your role at the library?

When I first started, I worked circulation desk, checking books in and out. But when they moved in to the new library here, the director decided they didn’t want volunteers on the desk. For a few weeks, I guess, I sat in that little 12-by-12 room where the books come in. And I discovered that taking it from the cart … didn’t do my shoulder any good and I said I can’t work anymore. Well, by that time I’d been volunteering for more than 20 years and they didn’t really want to see me leave, so they asked if I would be interested in working in the technical services area, which is fine with me. So right now my principal task is to delete the records of those books which have been pulled off the shelves.

There are a number of reasons for pulling a book off the shelf. If you look around, some of them are pretty badly worn. A damaged book obviously you don’t want to circulate. The books aren’t always treated as nicely as you might want to do your own. They get wet, they get rained on, coffee gets spilled on them.

... There are other things to be done, but most of the time I just sit at a computer and delete records.

Do you see others in the community with the desire to volunteer?

I met a fellow this morning who was a professional librarian before he retired. He had worked in a public library, but then for 25 years, he was a librarian at the DuPont company. They moved three years ago back to State College. It’s amazing how many people retire back to State College. I didn’t; I never left it. This fellow I met this morning, he couldn’t stay away from it. He volunteers. There are always things to do.

How important is it to support our libraries?

One of the e-Books I checked out not too long ago was titled “This Book is Overdue,” about librarians and what their role is in the community. And more and more they are becoming the source of information. Not just books, but information. There are so many things digitally they can supply. ... What you can do with computers is just amazing and presents a real opportunity for libraries to be a service for the community.

e-Books or print?

Having a digital book is handy, but there is something about having a book. You can go through 30 pages like that. But 30 pages in an e-Book means you have to sit there and (taps the table). ... One thing that I find, for older eyes, for example, if I have a large-print book I can read in about half the time as a standard print. One advantage of the e-Book is I can take that little cursor, move it up and have a large print book. It’s very handy.

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