Excitement had me gasping for air

This article, by Tenecia Phillips, was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star, opens a new window on November 21, 2021.

In June 2011 I received a call from the Human Resources Department of the Pima County Public Library. I don’t recall much about it except I felt like I was gasping for air due to excitement, but I do remember giggling (and I’m not a giggler!) when I was offered a position as a Librarian I.

It hadn’t been determined where I would be place, but I would receive that information within the next week or so. I was so incredibly excited. I was excited because I had applied and interviewed for a Librarian position with the Library multiple (I’m talking double digits!!!) times since I had graduated in 2008. It was finally my time and I knew moving into this new position would be life changing.

I was assigned to the Joel D. Valdez Main Library and I was thrilled that this is where I had been placed. I had a mad, passionate love affair with the library but using the library and working in the library are two totally different things. I felt that there was no better place than the Main Library to learn how to become a librarian!

I have had the blessing of working at the Main Library for a total of 3 rotations as I like to call them. From 2011–2013, I was a Small Business and Reference Librarian. I learned so much in those first few years from my supervisor Tom Farmer. Tom saw something in me that I didn’t and I am so thankful. He would often give me stretch assignments or, as he would like to call them, “opportunities.” Those opportunities helped me learn, grow, and create relationships with my community and team members.

From 2015–2017, I was a Librarian of All Trades. I assisted with the Seed Library, started the monthly Jazz program hosted by the wonderful Clarence Boykins and Tucson Jazz Society, worked with neighborhood associations, and more. My supervisor Sandy White was a quiet yet powerful force and I learned so much from watching how she moved in the space, interacted with team members, and supported those that she supervised.

In late summer of 2020, I applied and interviewed for the position of Branch Manager. Becoming a Manager was not on my list of things I wanted to accomplish, but my supervisor Kate DeMeester had planted a seed of “You could definitely do this job” in me. She, like Tom, saw something in me that I didn’t, but helped me grow as a leader in our organization. She was and still is a wonderful cheerleader, friend, and member of my support system and because of this, taking the chance on becoming Manager was something I knew I could do.

I received the call from Human Resources, and much like the call I received in 2011, I don’t remember much. I remember being congratulated and told I would be the Branch Manager of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library. I hung up the phone and I cried. I cried and I cried and I cried. I cried because I was in disbelief. I cried because I was excited. I cried because I was scared. I cried because I was shocked. I cried because if I was going to learn how to be a Branch Manager, there was no better place than where I began my calling as a Librarian.

This last year has been challenging, stressful, scary, and oh so fulfilling. Mainers, as I love to call them, are some of the best people in the world. They show up each day for our community and each other. They are patient, kind, compassionate, determined, funny, and amazing. I have learned so much from being their manager and team member. This work, these people, make me a better woman-librarian-manager-member of society. Libraries are so much more than books, not just for those who use them, but also those who work in them.

Tenecia Phillips is a klutzy, awkward, nerdy public librarian who grew up on the southside of Tucson and once dreamed of being a law enforcement officer but realized her calling was to save the world, one information need at a time. She is committed to increasing the presence of Black staff in libraries, creating inclusive spaces that serve and represent the community she lives in, and raising awareness about social justice issues. In addition to her role as Branch Manager of Joel D. Valdez Main Library, Tenecia is the Chair and Co-Founder of the Library’s Kindred team. A self-described professional troublemaker, she is particularly fond of fried food, especially fried zucchinis and pickles.