Schenectady

She’s helped get books to countless children; Meet longtime Schenectady Library volunteer Sylvia Curley

Kaela Wallman, left, Coordinator of Youth Services at the Schenectady County Public Library, and longtime volunteer Sylvia Curley hold Sylvia's Harold and Junice Volunteer Service Award.
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Kaela Wallman, left, Coordinator of Youth Services at the Schenectady County Public Library, and longtime volunteer Sylvia Curley hold Sylvia's Harold and Junice Volunteer Service Award.

GETTING TO KNOW – Sylvia Curley has helped get thousands of books into the hands of children and young adults all over Schenectady County.

The Duanesburg resident has volunteered at the Schenectady County Public Library for the last two decades and was recently recognized by the Mohawk Valley Library System with the Harold and Junice Volunteer Service Award. It’s named after the Wusterbarths, a Schenectady couple who dedicated countless hours to the library; Junice Wusterbarth died earlier this year at the age of 101.

Curley has long had a passion for children’s literature. While raising five children with her husband, she taught second grade at Duanesburg Elementary for more than two decades and loved seeing the spark in a child’s eye when they first learned how to read.

After retiring in 2000, in between trips to national parks and other natural attractions out West, she’s spent several days a week volunteering at the library through Friends of the Schenectady County Public Library.

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In a cavernous, meticulously organized room on the library’s upper floor, she sorts through children’s/young adult book donations, putting them toward either the Friends’ annual book sales or the two bookstores the group runs (the Whitney Book Corner and A Second Look). It’s not entirely unusual for the library to receive a hundred book donations in a single day and it’s up to Curley and other volunteers to go through them all.

“Sylvia Curley is the most dedicated Friends volunteer I have witnessed in my five years working at the Central Library,” said Kaela Wallman, Coordinator of the Youth Services Department. “She single-handedly – and for years – has sorted all the children’s and young adult book donations the library receives . . . She has improved Schenectady County’s access to books, turned more children into readers, and improved the overall literacy efforts of many other community organizations and individuals.”

The Gazette recently caught up with Curley about the growing popularity of children’s and young adult books and why she’s continued to volunteer all these years.

Q: What made you start volunteering at the library?
A: Well, when I was teaching in Duanesburg, we were with the Quaker Street branch. But every book sale, we’d come down here, for me and my family and my class. We had a lot of years of going, [probably] around 25. They were a lot of fun for us.

Q: What does a typical day here look like for you?
A: Well, there’s no two days alike. You just don’t know what’s coming in. We’re sorting to supply our two stores, plus the two big book sales. Then we have another winter sale in the McChesney Room, but the two big ones are in the beginning of May and the beginning of October. And that is thousands [of books].
There’s also [online sales]. We have tons of people doing all kinds of different things.
So the books come in and we sort them into which ones to go to stores and which ones go into different categories to go on the shelf for the book sales.
It’s a process. Right now, for example, it’s not normal but there are a ton of paperbacks that came in. I think I had about nine boxes. You never know what’s going to come in.

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Q: How has it changed since you started?
A: I can’t believe how much it’s grown since I started. When I started there was really no young adult section.
When I started we usually had one table in the McChesney Room [at the book sales]. Now it’s a huge [section]. It’s a whole different genre.
In our big book sale I have two of the eight-foot tables just for young adult and then about four carts that are six shelves [each].

Q: Over the years, have there been any books that you have been really excited to see people donate?
A: The weird thing I can’t believe is that every now and then I’ll get one that was in my classroom. It doesn’t happen much now but every once in a while.
At the book sales, it’s such fun to see a child find a book and you can see their eyes light up. Of course, we have the adults coming in buying things out of nostalgia, like “The Hardy Boys,” and such for their grandkids. It’s a lot of fun.

Q: What do you read when you have spare time?
A: Mostly fiction now, though I love geology. Believe it or not, I was a science major in college. I loved the sciences, but when I got my teaching degree, I kept going so I could get down to the level I really wanted to teach. There is something special about a child [learning to read and] all of a sudden the light bulb goes on. You get a few moments like that.

Q: What has made volunteering here for so long so rewarding?
A: This is a great group of people to work with. That’s the biggest thing. It is a lot of work when it comes to the [book] sales. A lot of people put a lot of time into it.

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