This article, by Davida Larson, was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on February 20, 2022.
I grew up in a singlewide yellow trailer in Valdez, Alaska, a rural town of 4,000 people. It’s the snowiest place in the United States. School never closed for a “snow day,” because snow was a part of life from roughly October to April. Over 300 inches of snow fell each winter. In the wintertime, the sun would show up at 10 a.m. and set by 4 p.m. Snow pants, boots, gloves, a hat and a warm jacket are mandatory all winter. As you might imagine, staying active, keeping your mind engaged and fending off the winter blues was paramount. To keep us occupied, my mom, a former elementary school teacher (who always wanted to be a librarian) took my little sister and me to the library weekly. We’d drive, walk, and occasionally sled to the Valdez Public Library, my parents pulling my sister Aditi and me along in the sled as we dragged our mittens in the snow. My mom looked for British mysteries she hadn’t read yet. I liked Nancy Drew and the Oz series by L. Frank Baum, and my sister read the Berenstain Bears and Curious George.
The library was a great place to be a kid. Aditi and I looked forward to visiting every week. The library was warm, welcoming, and it smelled like books. We’d stomp the snow off our boots in the lobby before coming inside. The glasses I’d worn since kindergarten would fog up as we walked through the doors. Aditi would head for the toys and puzzles, while I went straight for the books, after saying hello to the library’s hermit crab, Booker T. The librarian, Mrs. Hutchison, was kind and knew Aditi and me by name.
My sister and I had our own library cards. (Should we have shared a card with our mom, she would not have been able to check out as many books as she liked!) They gave out lollipops to kids at the front desk. Aditi was so fond of the candy she signed her name on her library card with lollipops for the letter Is.
We watched puppet shows and sang songs and listened to stories in Storytime. We looked forward to summer reading each year. Once I read so many books that I won a prize, a stuffed Garfield, my favorite cartoon cat. At that time, each patron could check out 7 books for up to two weeks, and I always made sure to max out the limit. I read everything I could get my hands on. I requested out-of-print Oz books our small library didn’t have through one of the greatest library services ever: Interlibrary Loan. I marveled at the stamps inside the front cover indicating the faraway places they came from: Anchorage, Fairbanks, and even Washington State.
It’s not surprising that I became a children’s librarian. Libraries have been a constant in my life since I was a small child. Throughout the interstices of life, the library system was there for me — as it is for you, as well, reader. As the managing librarian in the Joel D. Valdez Main Library Children’s Room, my goal is to create that welcoming, vibrant space that I remember so well from childhood. We have so much to offer, even during the Covid-19 pandemic. Although we don’t have a hermit crab, we do have AWE Early Literacy Stations for children 2-8, a computer for parents of young children to conduct job searches or do homework, and Grab n’ Go Activities for kids aged 3 and up. What’s more, we currently have a beautiful, interactive, 3D display for Love of Reading month, as well as a rotating bulletin board and book display that features the accomplishments and history of Black Americans during Black History Month. Soon, we hope to be able to offer Storytime and other programs. We also have a wide selection of the things that made libraries famous worldwide… books!
Davida Larson has worked for Pima County Public Library since 2016. She is an avid reader who serves on the Birth to 8 and Tween Services teams. She loves cats and hosts KXCI’s Early Morning Music Mix on Thursdays from 5 to 7 am.