A few weeks after the Pima County Public Library reopened, a customer graciously penned a letter to the editor about her experience picking up her reserves at Murphy-Wilmot Library, where I’ve worked for the last year and a half. Our service, helpfulness and care, all while being cheerful, polite and efficient, really impressed her.
She described what I know of most of my library family. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t start working with the library just because you like books (though we all do). We got into this field because we like people and love helping them. It’s why I’ve been doing this for over 26 years.
The weeks we were closed were as difficult on some of us as it was for our community. I am someone who strongly defines myself based on what I do for a living.
When you work for the library, you know you are going to make a positive impact on someone’s life at least once a day. Sometimes it’s as quick and simple as getting them the right phone number or helping them pick up their reserves. Other times it’s more complex, like figuring out how to fill out applications and getting a first-time computer user signed up for email so they can communicate with family far away.
Great days are filled with those moments. They are pretty much the fabric of our lives and knowing my day is woven with acts of daily service keeps me going.
Doing our best to provide these services equitably to anyone who needs them is the cherry on top. It has rooted me to my home in a way that I am not sure any other work could do. I’ve made so many connections and friendships that have stayed with me for years. I’ve been to weddings and funerals and had old customers drive across town to find me at a new location.
Waking up every day for weeks knowing that I wouldn’t be going to work was genuinely difficult. Yes, I am so glad steps were taken to keep us all safe and hopefully flatten the curve. I truly appreciate that before we opened, our administration worked within the guidelines of the Pima County Health Department and the Board of Supervisors, to keep us as safe as possible, including each time those guidelines needed to be changed or redefined.
I know that coming to the library in this new world is different, sometimes a little scary. Maybe a little too much like those dystopian novels we carry. We look different, too, with our face masks and shields, barriers and new practices. Though this pandemic has affected all of us, I promise you that we are the same people who chose to help you before COVID-19 and we’ll continue so do so after.
It’s a new world for us, too. Sometimes we might stare a little harder, trying to recognize familiar faces behind masks. Maybe you didn’t realize how glad we were each time you visited us before the pandemic, but suddenly you realize you miss those smiles.
We might move a little slower as we navigate new practices after years of doing the same thing, the same way. We are also adjusting to these rapid changes because we are committed to figuring out better ways. Safer ways. Not just for us, but for our community.
The letter writer asked, “What would we do without our public libraries?” I ask, “What would we do without our public?”
You aren’t just our customers, you are our purpose.
Library Technical Assistant Supervisor Lupita Chavez has happily been with the Pima County Public Library for the last 26 and a half years. You might have seen her representing the library while riding the Rose Bike during community events, including the Parade of Lights & Festival and Cyclovia. She’s also a community advocate, a fledgling metal worker and the emcee for the Adult Spelling Bee at Tap & Bottle on the second Tuesday of every month.