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This 'library fangirl' is ready to serve the communities within Tucson

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Long an admirer of the Pima County library and its many functions, Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist now finds herself behind the counter.

Three years ago, the world looked different, and so did my life.

I’d been living in Tucson for 10 years, most of my time spent as a stay-at-home-parent for my three kids, with a steady stream of freelance writing and community organizing on the side. I was starting to look ahead at the question. What’s next?

The answer came to me one Wednesday morning in the Children’s Room at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library. We’d come for Storytime and I was watching customers mull around the stacks. There’s so much to love about the library — more books than you could read in a lifetime, friendly staff ready to help, walls covered in art celebrating our community, and more.

One of my favorite things is watching people in the library and seeing how they use the space. For some, the library is a cool place to read the paper on a scorching summer’s day. For others, it’s somewhere to use a computer to search for job resources while their children play safely nearby. For my kids, it’s a source of education, entertainment and community.

For me, the library has been a sanctuary and fount of joy. Which is why, that Wednesday morning, the puzzle pieces finally fell into place — I should work here.

I turned to librarian friends for advice, and six months later, I was enrolled in graduate school at the University of Arizona, pursuing a Master in Library and Information Science. I’ve had the honor of participating in the university’s Knowledge River Program, which prepares future librarians to better serve people of color, and I’m constantly amazed by the thoughtful, compassionate and radical work of my colleagues and instructors.

The most exciting part by far has been serving as a graduate assistant with the Pima County Public Library. I had to pinch myself my first day on the (remote) job — I’d gone from being the ultimate library fangirl to having a role within the library. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented me from being able to work in a branch, I’ve been able to dig into library work.

As a member of the Welcome to America team, which focuses on how the library can best serve immigrants and refugees, I’m part of an exciting collaboration with Arizona Public Media. Together, we are creating a series of programs to highlight humanities contributions of immigrants in our community. Our first Global Arts spotlight aired online in March, and our upcoming event in May will feature music and dance in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Being part of this project introduced me to more people throughout the library system and showed me some of the magic behind the programming that I’ve long loved as a patron.

I’ve also had the honor of watching my colleagues work with grace and patience through a very challenging time, demonstrating their commitment to continually reinventing what it means to work at a library in a time of community crisis.

While we don’t know when our libraries will be back to normal with story times, citizenship classes, community gatherings and more, the return of limited browsing in our libraries means I’m working my first shift at the Martha Cooper Library, where I hope to fulfill one step in my dream of becoming a librarian — checking out a book to an eager reader. Maybe it will be you.

Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist is a library fangirl thrilled to be working as a graduate assistant for the Pima County Public Library while working toward her Master’s degree in Library and Information Science at the University of Arizona, where she is a Knowledge River Scholar.

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