HAYWARD -- Three days a week, retired school librarian Judy Harrison can be found back at the books, making order out of the chaos that is the donation pile at the Hayward Main Library.
"It's not the most organized section of the library," Harrison acknowledged, sitting in a little room packed with precarious heaps of hardcovers, paperbacks and magazines.
It gets particularly hairy at the start of a new year, when the out-with-the-old mentality often means a landslide of donations.
Harrison, the head of Friends of the Hayward Library, was joined Wednesday by two helpers. She's been involved with the volunteer organization for a decade.
They sort, by genre and by value. Some old magazines will be sold for 20 cents each; the books, who knows? An old Oxford English Dictionary once came in and ended up netting $600. All told, they bring in about $24,000 a year to the library -- and that's the kind of cause that Harrison has been behind nearly all her life.
She became a school librarian shortly after returning from Sierra Leone, where she spent two years on a Peace Corps mission. It was the 1960s, when the African nation was in its "honeymoon period," just after gaining independence from Great Britain.
"They were so eager and happy to have us," she said. "I was an English teacher, and one of my jobs was running a little tiny library at a little tiny school."
In her 31 years as a school librarian, she's run the stacks at Bowman and Shepherd elementary schools, Tennyson High and All Saints Catholic School, and was the Hayward Unified district librarian.
After retiring, she started volunteering in various capacities for the Hayward Public Library because she "needed a change," she said.
"But the enthusiasm is still with me," she added.
She shares that enthusiasm on the city Library Commission, and recently was given the commissioner of the year award by the California Association of Library Trustees and Commissioners.
"I can't say enough about her," said Hayward Library Director Sean Reinhart. "Her work to support (utility tax) Measure A, or the new library community center project. "... She was instrumental in the move of Friends of the Library book sales to the downtown farmers market, which doubled their fundraising. "... Just an all-around dynamite volunteer."
But Harrison is not quick to boast about her award and her advocacy.
"I'm a pretty quiet person, but if you corner me, I'll start on the library stuff," she said.
Ultimately, she said she'd like to see a world where libraries aren't always at risk of taking a hit the next time a budget needs balancing.
"My dream is that library funding would be automatic," she said. "That it would be so integral that no one could imagine going without it. It's so important. It's a social service to the community, from cradle to grave."
If you know of an interesting local senior, important issue or effective organization, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; call 510-293-2482; write us at 22533 Foothill Blvd., Hayward, CA 94541; or send a fax to 510-293-2490.