George Jeffery's top reason for volunteering at the library is simple: He likes books.

So for five hours every Tuesday, the 78-year-old can be found in Ahwatukee Foothills' Ironwood Branch Library, stretching tape over new paperbacks or mending books that have been loved a little too much.

Branch Manager Alice Houlihan describes Jeffery as "our treasure." He's believed to be the oldest volunteer in the Phoenix library system, and the workers and volunteers alike enjoy having him around for a good conversation or to seek advice.

"He's a delightfully interesting person to talk to because he's had so many life experiences," Houlihan said. "He has a wonderful sense of humor, too, and such a positive attitude about life. We all love to be around people like that."

Jeffery likes the people at the library, and jokes that his volunteering gives his wife of 58 years a break.

"I enjoy it, and the wife likes it because it gets me out of the house," he said with a laugh.

Jeffery started his new career as a library volunteer after retiring from an insurance company 16 years ago. He spent 30 years working for the same company, a path he points out is different from many careers today.

"I came out of a different era. I was a kid in the Depression," Jeffery said. "My dad said, ‘You get a job, you keep it.' That stuck with me."

He moved all over the country for work - Oregon, Washington, California, Illinois - and returned to a town in Oregon when he retired.

"They had a library there, and I liked books. So I showed up and said, ‘What do you need?'" Jeffery said.

After moving a couple of times, and volunteering at a few libraries along the way, he and his wife ended up in Ahwatukee. Several members of the Jefferys' large family are in the area - they have four kids, eight grandchildren and, as of next month, 11 great-grandchildren.

Jeffery showed up at the Ironwood Branch eight years ago to offer his services. He's about No. 3 in seniority among the staff and volunteers, by his count.

Most of Jeffery's work involves getting books ready for circulation. He puts tape around the edges of paperbacks - the paper in glue in most paperbacks is poor, so that helps the book last longer - and stamps them with the date.

Once they've been in circulation awhile and start to break, he fixes the bindings with narrow stripes of glue. That's especially true of children's books; Jeffery says the Harry Potter books are probably the ones that have most frequently come under his care.

Jeffery is providing a service for others, but he gets some perks, too.

"The big thing for me, if I see a book, I get first pickings," Jeffery said. "I know what I like. I know what my wife likes. If I find something I want to read, I take it home, I read it, I bring it back."

Some of Jeffery's recent favorites are the Stieg Larsson books, which he describes as having a good, moving story. He also picked up a book on Beethoven recently, which he enjoyed because it made him look at a particular Beethoven piece and romantic music in a whole new way.

Jeffery tries to read one book a week, a habit he picked up after retiring.

"I read a lot when I was working, but it wasn't exactly novels," Jeffery said. "Insurance papers aren't exactly sexy things."

Reading is important because it can teach you new things, entertain and expand your viewpoint, according to Jeffery. And he encourages any kind of reading, whether it's a book or material found online.

"As long as somebody's reading and can read - and that doesn't mean truncated words (like text message-speak) - reading on a computer, I don't like it, but it's reading. And reading is important," Jeffery said.

In addition to reading, he implores people to care for books. That means avoiding coffee stains on the pages, not using newspapers and other types of paper that stain pages as bookmarks, not stretching out bindings by leaving a book open on a table and modeling good book behavior for kids.

"Just take care of books," Jeffery said. "Books are your friends."



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