Portrait of a Volunteer: Kevin Craig

"Library books lead many lives," says Kevin Craig. As a Library volunteer in the Collection Maintenance department, he would know. He sorts countless books, shelving and reshelving, shuffling in new purchases, finding misplaced volumes, and plucking out worn-out ones for the Friends of the Library book sales. Without workers like Craig, the Library couldn't function.

For the past two years, Craig has moved hundreds of thousands of books from the sorting department of Collection Management Services on B2 at the Central Library to the stacks on the upper floors and back again. He works four hours a day, five days a week, shelving as many as 500 books a day.

"I don't think there's enough you can say about his value," says Dee Sharp, a Library aide who is Craig's colleague in sorting. "I don't know how we would've made it the past two years without him."

But before the Library depended on him, Craig depended on the Library.

Until a car accident a few years ago turned his life upside down, Craig had worked for 12 years as an executive searcher or "headhunter," recruiting IT consultants who raked in salaries in the middle six figures.

Before that, he ran an insurance brokerage firm with his former college roommate, Joe Zdeb, whose name local sports fans will recognize - he was an outfielder for the Kansas City Royals in the late '70s.

"We were just a couple of guys, insurance brokers. We enjoyed our free time and tried to make a living on the side," Craig remembers.

Craig's partnership with Zdeb is one of many things he remembers from his life without difficulty. He also remembers studying psychology, insurance, finance, and English in college.

And he remembers a visit he made at the age of 12 with his father to the home of Edgar Allen Poe. His father, a voracious reader, owned Poe's complete works. "In our house, reading was a constant," he says.

But what he doesn't remember so easily is the accident itself.

"I lost my memory. I lost everything," he says.

The accident left Craig homeless and recovering from a head injury. With help from a pastor friend, Craig found his way to City Union Mission. Soon, he began visiting the Library every day.

"It was a blessing to have a library in walking distance," Craig says.

As it turned out, the Library provided Craig with a valuable - and somewhat unexpected - therapeutic resource: books.

"I found that if I read different books simultaneously, it was an exercise that helped restore my mental capacity," he says. "It was a unique kind of therapy."

"He would come in and peruse the shelves every day and always said hello or had a few words," says Sharp, who met Craig while working in the new books section adjacent to the café area. "I said, 'Kevin, you're here every day. Why don't you volunteer?'"

Craig is glad that he did.

"I love the camaraderie, the esprit de corps," he says. "Everyone is unified in getting done what needs to be done. Everyone looks out for each other. It's a team effort."

He also enjoys the fact that his coworkers are generous with their food. (On the day we visited, a brightly decorated cake sat in a corner of the sorting area.)

"I've probably gained 15 pounds from working here and knowing Dee," he says.

"You've probably worked it off too," Dee says, and laughs.

The Kansas City Public Library is always looking for good volunteers. For information on becoming a volunteer, visit kclibrary.org/volunteering or call Volunteer Coordinator Katie Taylor at 816.701.3707.