This article by Ray Baca was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on June 21, 2020.
I began working as a page at Pima County Public Library when I was 16 years old. I was still in high school and I didn’t know a lot of things, much less what I wanted as a career! As I spent weeks and then months working at the Valencia Library, I began to feel at home. Library staff were so kind and began to feel like family rather than coworkers. My preconceived idea of what a library quickly changed.
I think a lot of us have this idea of a library as a place with just books. You check out books, you return books, and you get fined if you return those books late. My time at Valencia Library showed me that the Library is so much more.
I saw the broad variety of programming and my eyes opened to what the Library truly is—an essential community hub. From Storytime, chess club, snack time, and crafting to citizenship classes, English classes, job help and computer help (just to name few!), I recognized all the good the library was doing and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.
I was lucky to be surrounded by colleagues that pushed me to pursue a career at the Library. They encouraged me to apply to the School of Information at the University of Arizona and, most importantly, connected me to Knowledge River, a program that focuses on Latino and Native American communities. It fosters an understanding of library and information issues from their perspective, and serves to diversify libraries so we reflect the unique individuals we serve.
Knowledge River students form bonds and relationships, helping to create a social support network that is essential for succeeding in school and life beyond. Aside from being surrounded by amazing people, the graduate assistantships are my favorite part of the program.
There are so many things you don’t learn in class that can be learned through hands on experience. This is where the graduate assistantships come in. I have been extremely lucky to have had two graduate assistantships at Pima County Public Library. The first was at the Sam Lena-South Tucson Library. I learned so much, but the highlight was being in charge of my very own Storytime! I had helped with Storytimes before, but I had never been in charge of one.
It was a little scary at first, but I learned to let loose and have fun reading, singing and dancing with the kids. I must admit, every now and then, I still jam out to the Firetruck Song. My second graduate assistantship was at Joel D. Valdez Main Library. At this library in the heart of Downtown Tucson, I completely switched gears from working with the public to working with library staff.
I worked on training staff on the digital resources the Library offers. Even after working in the library for almost eight years, I am still surprised with all the digital resources we have!
My two graduate assistantships may have been completely different experiences, but they both taught me the same thing—I am where I belong. I’ve always known I wanted to help people for a living, but I had thought that only meant being a doctor or some kind of medical professional.
Anyone can help people and make a difference. The current pandemic that we are all facing has only highlighted this. Even though times have changed and we can’t connect like we used to, the Library is still here for you. Staff have been tirelessly working to get food to our community through the Grab-N-Go Super Snack program, to keep our community connected through computer sessions, and of course, helping people keep their bookshelves and devices stocked with great reading.
This is why I love where I work.
Ray Baca works at El Pueblo Library. He serves on the LGBTQ+ Services committee and the Young Adult Services team. He’s currently reading Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin.