We all know the stereotype: Librarians are stern, they’re serious. They sit quietly behind a desk just waiting for the opportunity to shut down any hint of fun with a “Shhhhhh.”
In real life, though, many local librarians live their lives out loud.
You know what they say about books and their covers? Well, don’t judge a librarian by her job.
Tenecia Phillips has been mistaken for security. Once, a man actually reached out and stroked her arm.
“It’s kind of like when you’re pregnant and people touch your stomach,” laughs Phillips, 34.
A research librarian at Joel D. Valdez Main Library downtown, Phillips is also an amateur bodybuilder. Today, dressed in a sleeveless, black maxi dress, she shows off the guns that distract library patrons from their original research quests and cause them to pepper her with fitness and nutrition questions.
She’s well aware she doesn’t look the part. “I’m the tattooed, muscle-y librarian,” says Phillips, whose Twitter handle is “MrsFitLibrarian.”
Fellow gymgoers — Phillips gets up at 3:45 a.m. on weekdays to squeeze in her workout before getting her daughter off to school — don’t believe her when she tells them what she does for a living, which she describes as her dream job.
“I love that every day is a different day,” says Phillips, who stands just under 5 feet, 9 inches before slipping on the high heels she always wears even though she criss-crosses four floors’ worth of stairs. “I love reference. It’s kind of like going on a scavenger hunt, helping people find the answer to what they’re looking for.”
Phillips took up bodybuilding nearly five years ago because “I wanted to do something big for my 30th birthday,” says Phillips, whose firefighter husband is a former personal trainer and introduced her to the sport.
Now that she has quite a few trophies under her Wonder Woman weight-lifting belt (she sports many WW accessories, including a blue bracelet, since her sister-in-law gave her the nickname), Phillips hopes to turn pro. “It’s time to swim in the deep end of the pool,” she says. “It’s scary; it makes me feel nauseous.”
But, uh, if we could get back to those biceps. … How does one achieve such sleek arms?
“I always say, ‘Pick up a weight — if it’s too light, pick up another one.’ It should be heavy, it should be work,” Phillips says. “Lifting heavy is the thing to do.”
Don’t call Georgia Taylor and Bethany Wilson librarians — they’re derbrarians. As in, librarians who do roller derby. Yup, there are enough of them around that it’s a thing.
What is it exactly about the job that makes so many strap on skates and slam into people once they’re off duty?
“I think it’s having to be smiley nice all the time,” says Taylor, 32, known on the track as Dewey Decimatrix. Her number is 641.86, the Dewey Decimal number for baking, another hobby. She also plays double bass for the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra. “Some people need a safe outlet, others are people-pleasers trying to be more assertive.”
A children’s librarian, Taylor’s hobby — along with her colorful, full-arm tattoo that pays tribute to her home state of California — earns her props with the youngsters who frequent Quincie Douglas Library.
“You get street cred,” says Taylor, who skates with two teams, Furious Truckstop Waitresses and Copper Queens. “I’m like, ‘Don’t mess around in my library.’”
Wilson, 36, is the managing librarian for the Dewhirst-Catalina Library where the customers are older and remember a full-contact, few-rules version of derby.
“People ask, ‘Did you trip anybody this weekend? You hit anybody in the face?’” says Wilson, Lux-Furious on the Copper Queens.
A former police officer, Wilson grew up rolling along the sidewalks of Irving, Texas, while listening to Debbie Gibson’s “Out of the Blue.” Skating with Tucson Roller Derby, she says, “is a good stress reliever.”
But, it’s not so easy on the bod.
“You learn a lot about orthopedics when you become a derby girl,” says Wilson, who joined the Tucson league two years ago.
Between the two of them, they’ve shredded knee ligaments, sprained an ankle, bruised a tailbone, damaged a rotator cuff and snapped an ankle severely enough to require a plate and 11 screws to put things back together. Wilson still carries the nearly 4-inch, shiny metal plate on her keychain.
“People say, ‘You should quit,’” Wilson says. “I’m not ready to quit until I’ve had my fill. Maybe it’s stupid. But I’ve never been a quitter.”
And then, like any good librarian, she offers a line from Shakespeare: “My favorite quote is, ‘Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.’ Don’t ever let your own doubt get in the way of your dreams.”
WOMEN ON WHEELS
People notice when Christine Dykgraaf arrives for work.
That’s because she roars up to Quincie Douglas Library on her silver, looks-like-it-came-from-a-video-game 2003 Honda VFR800 ABS.
Kids in particular get a kick out of her bike. They ask, “‘Oh, miss, is that yours? Oh miss, that’s cool. How fast does it go?’” says Dykgraaf, 45. “Whenever I’m in a parking lot and I see a little boy or girl, and their eyes get really big, I show it to them. I offer to let them sit on the seat. The parents just love that.”
And of course she also takes note when someone pulls up to the south-side branch on a two-wheeler of any kind. “It’s another segue into a conversation to get to know someone,” says Dykgraaf, who has an adult stepson and a 5-year-old boy.
Her love of motorcycles goes back to her childhood spent on a Michigan farm riding dirtbikes and snowmobiles. Her father and two brothers ride, and while her mother doesn’t, she loves being a passenger.
Dykgraaf, who drives a Toyota RAV4 when she shuttles her son, helped found Tucson Road Runners, a local chapter of Women on Wheels, an international not-for-profit, family-oriented group that caters to women motorcycle enthusiasts. They get out once a month and ride to dinner and gather on the weekends.
Since she spends her days tucked inside, coordinating library programs for adults, helping the public and engaging in other very straitlaced administrative stuff, Dykgraaf really appreciates those chances to get out and enjoy the open road.
Her motorcycle is powerful, and though she’s gunned it up to 150 mph on a very flat stretch of Nebraska blacktop, she’s never maxed it out. She’d have to go to a race track for that. But really, Dykgraaf prefers leisurely long-distance touring. She usually earmarks one of her three weeks of vacation time for a “mommycation” when she can ride cross-country with friends.
“It is corny to say — it sounds like a bumper sticker — but I don’t need a therapist, I have a motorcycle,” Dykgraaf says. “It really is a release. You feel the road, smell the road, that’s why motorcycling is so interesting for me — it’s all the senses in active use.”