This article, by Jana Bonfield, was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on March 17, 2023.
I grew up in Pima County with only swamp cooling to abate the heat. Our house regularly reached 90 degrees in July and August. We made it through by going to the library. I remember one trip in particular. I had just checked out my items with my card at the self-checkout stand. I put them in a bag and went to find my mother. I told her I was ready to go. “No you’re not,” she responded without looking up from her book. I assured her I was, even pulling out my receipt. My mom looked me in the eye and asked, “Do you want to be in that sauna?” I shuffled my feet and struggled to hold her gaze while I mumbled, “Not really.” She reopened her book and returned her attention there, saying, “Then I suggest you get comfortable here.” I’m not sure she was referring to a career in librarianship, but here we are.
Being a librarian wasn’t my first dream. In middle school, I wanted to be a teacher. Middle school was a living nightmare where all my friends suddenly became enemies. I no longer had a teacher fostering an inclusive classroom environment. With all the class switching, I was on my own in a world turned sideways. I did best in classrooms where the learning was hands on and the teachers were passionate about the material and students. Passion centered learning became my new safe space.
I completed a bachelor’s in elementary education. I was still passionate about creating safe spaces in a shifting world. I loved being able to make a classroom where I could mitigate outside stressors. I loved being able to support kids as individuals and help them get the confidence and tools to achieve their dreams.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned this struggle to feel safe was anxiety. Everyone has it to some degree and I needed tools to help me manage mine. Mindfulness meditation was a game changer for me. Learning to sit in my own skin without judging myself took practice, and continues to take practice. I also had to learn radical acceptance, or “it is what it is.” That means my only hope of changing anything is accepting that it needs to be changed right now.
Around the time I left teaching, my best friend had just started library school. Every time I started talking about something I wanted out of life, she would show me an article about how libraries did that thing. Passion centered learning? Safe spaces? Giving a voice to underserved populations? Pima County Public Library had all of that and more. Every action taken by PCPL was grounded in community needs, and I wanted to be a part of that kind of organization.
My mom told me as a child to get comfortable at the library, and I had, thanks in no small part to staff who always welcomed me. Staff that always cared what I was going through, no matter what. I wanted to do that. I wanted to help people of all ages talk about mental health so they would know they weren’t alone. The combination of the Synapse Team and being a young adult librarian is a dream come true. Now I get to talk about mental health, build safe spaces around the passions of young people (like chess, coding, Dungeons & Dragons, etc.) and help them understand where they fit. I may not be able to make the whole world better, but I can make my corner better.
Jana Bonfield works at Eckstrom-Columbus Library. She is on numerous teams, including Tween and Young Adult Services and the newly launched Synapse Team.