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What you need to know for 08/18/2017

Sisters enjoying volunteer gig at Whitney Book Corner

Sisters enjoying volunteer gig at Whitney Book Corner

'The people that come through the door are wonderful'
Sisters enjoying volunteer gig at Whitney Book Corner
Cynthia Blyth (left) and her sister, Sandra Riccio, work the counter at the Whitney Book Corner in downtown Schenectady.
Photographer: Bill Buell

For two voracious readers like Cynthia Blyth and Sandra Riccio, killing some time in a used book store is just about as good as it gets.

And, spending a few hours each month volunteering at the Whitney Book Corner in downtown Schenectady also has some real rewards, even if they get too busy to read.

"I really love reading, but the really nice thing about volunteering at a place like this is that the people are really, really nice," said Blyth, who, like her sister, is a Schenectady native and Mont Pleasant High graduate. "It's a small bookstore, very homey, and the people that come through the door are wonderful."

Blyth retired from the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene nine years ago, and has volunteered at the Whitney for nearly five months. Her older sister, a Department of Transportation retiree, has only been at it for a month.

"Cynthia kept telling me it was really good, so I took some training and started volunteering and it really has been fun," Riccio said. "So, we've partnered up to do it together twice a month through July and August. There are so many nice people who come in, and they're very patient when we have trouble with the new cash register."

The two women say they have the new register figured out, and that should allow them to better help customers.

"A lot of people come in looking for a specific author or a subject," Blyth said. "We don't really catalogue our books, so we send them to a section. It could be self-help, philosophy, American history,  world history, politics, gardening and animals. We have books that cover a wide variety of interests."

"If it's fiction, it's alphabetical by author," Riccio said. "I'm learning more and more each day every time I volunteer."

The Whitney Book Corner is operated by the Friends of Schenectady County Public Library and all proceeds from sales of books, CDs and DVDs go to the library. All of the books are either donated from the public or culled from library discards by volunteers who sort through the collection and determine which ones will be sold at the store. Most of the hardcover books are $2, while the paperbacks cost $1. The store is open seven days a week and the building, at the corner of Union and Clinton streets, is rented by the Friends.

Charlene Roman, who moved to Schenectady four years ago from Connecticut, is the manager at Whitney Book Corner, which is open seven days a week. She, like everyone else at the Whitney, is a volunteer.

"We're up to nearly 99 at last count, but we do have a lot of snowbirds that come and go, so we bring in somebody else to fill a shift," she said. "Right now, I think we're steady with about 45 volunteers. The Friends group is a large one, so we get a good pool of people to choose from. There are somewhere between 600 and 700 actual members of the Friends group, but we're still always looking for volunteers."

Also, like most of the volunteers, Roman is a retiree.

"I worked in retail, for Barnes & Noble and Walden Books, and I've been retired for about a year," she said. "Most of our volunteers are retirees, and that works out well because they have more flexibility than people who are still working. But we do have a few younger people and I love having them around."

The Friends group usually has two big sidewalk sales every year. The next one is Sept. 23-24.

"The library gets a lot of donations, and if the books are in good shape they'll come to the Whitney," Roman said. "The rest we'll keep for our big book sale. We expect to have over 40,000 books on sale during our September sale."

You can bet Blyth and Riccio will be spending time at the September sale both working and shopping, and if you catch them reading anything, it will most likely be a mystery.

"I read fiction and I love mysteries," said Blyth, who also spends her volunteer hours working with the RIF (Reading is Fundamental) program at Pleasant Valley School in Schenectady. "Volunteering is a way to give something back for my love of reading. I really enjoy helping young children work on their reading.

"I love mystery books, and I belong to a book club up in Woodlawn," Riccio said. "We get assigned books to read and then we discuss them. Usually I'll go to the library and check out the book, but I have bought books at the Whitney and it's very economical. It's a great place."

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