The Arizona Daily Star Monthly Library Series offers an insider's view of Pima County Public Library and the ways in which we're transforming lives in our community. This month, we hear from Amy Rusk, Library Services Manager.
Recently my sister and I opened a trunk of my mother’s things we packed away in 1984 after she died. There were graduate school papers on the need for Mexican American and African American children to see themselves represented in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) curriculum, booklists of Chicano and Black authors, and memorabilia from her years as a librarian at Safford K-8 Magnet School in the 1970s.
She and my father were fanatical about my sister and me learning Spanish and appreciating the Mexican culture that makes Tucson such a great place to live. They had spent seven years in Africa with the Peace Corps, where we were born, and really took multiculturalism seriously.
I have always said that I became a librarian because I was a generalist, but it was really my mother’s example—her commitment to equitable access and her love of literature and teaching that inspired me to go into the field. I’ve been working in libraries since 1991 and have seen a lot of technological changes, but what originally attracted me to the profession is still its greatest objective: access for all.
After years as a TUSD school librarian, I became a Pima County Public Library (PCPL) Services Manager where all of my loves and convictions are wrapped up in one position. While it was difficult leaving my Tucson High family, I couldn’t be happier about what I’m doing and the people with whom I have the honor of working.
My primary job is supervising ten managing librarians and advocating for their branches, but I am more like a cheerleader because they are all superstars. In addition to responding to customer concerns, I visit the libraries in our system on a regular basis so I can keep abreast of all the remarkable programs and witness, first-hand, social justice at work—whether it’s free tax help or access to a public health nurse or a veteran’s employment workshop. It’s almost easy to take for granted all the amazing services that our staff provides because it is the standard, rather than the exception.
The other part of my job, besides collaborating with the Library’s administrative team, is working with staff teams, which are also made up of superstars. The first team I became involved with was Nuestras Raíces, a team that celebrates and honors the culture, voice and linguistic heritage of the Latinx and Spanish-speaking communities in Pima County.
The dynamic trio leading this team are graduates of the University of Arizona Knowledge River Program, which recruits students who are committed to understanding and meeting the information needs of Latino and Native American communities.
I also work with the Welcome to America team, which is made up of passionate staff who are always looking for ways to better serve refugee and immigrant communities. Their mission is to provide streamlined, equitable access to programs and services across the Pima County Public Library system and the community.
The team chair happens to be a past Tucson High student of mine, and she collaborates closely with the co-chair, a former TUSD Librarian and current Citizenship and World Languages Librarian at Pima County Public Library. We are very fortunate to have many former school librarians working in our libraries. They are dedicated individuals who care deeply about our community.
More recently, I’ve been thrilled to work with the newly-formed Kindred team, made up of African American staff members who’ve come together to reach, support, and celebrate the Black community.
Among the things the group is excited about is the debut of the team webpage, where team members will recommend books, curate reading lists, and share articles of interest. They’ll also collaborate with the Dunbar Cultural Center, and bring UA Professor of Africana Studies, Tani Sanchez, to the Nuestras Raíces tent for the 10th Anniversary of the beloved Tucson Festival of Books March 10–11.
The Library Restorative Practices Team (LRPY) is another rewarding endeavor. Its goal is to provide a restorative pathway to library services for youth ages 8-19 that focuses on educational opportunity and community building as an alternative to punitive measures. After years of working with teens, it seemed illogical from a child development standpoint to have youth and adults receive the same consequences for misconduct in the library. It’s modeled after Pima County’s Community Justice Board program. We’re honored to work and share ideas with Brandy Finley, who manages the County’s program, Catherine Tornbom from the Center for Community Dialogue, and Marsharne Flannigan from the Boys and Girls Club. The program is currently being piloted at Eckstrom-Columbus Library and the team will present at the Public Library Association conference in Philadelphia in March.
Finally, I am a member of RiPL: the Resiliency in Public Libraries team. This team provides support and tools for staff to recognize stress and build individual resiliency in order to maximize organizational health and to achieve exceptional customer service. It’s a complicated proposition because self-care looks different for everyone, but recognizing and formalizing the fact that public service is demanding is critical for preventing burn-out. A similar team is needed, I think, in public schools.
Working for the public library is my dream job because of the democratic values inherent to the profession and the opportunity to connect people with information that will help and enrich their lives. Nuestras Raíces, Welcome to America, and Kindred teams are prime examples of how Pima County Public Library promotes inclusivity; and the formation of the LRPY and RiPL teams demonstrates its commitment to constant improvement and innovation. As was the case when I was in public education, I have deep respect for our profession and for my colleagues, locally and nationally.
Amy Rusk has much admiration and gratitude for the many talented staff members who make up the exceptional Library teams mentioned in this article. They are dedicated individuals who give so much to our community: Angela, Anna, Caitlin, Dana, Daphne, Debbi, Dianna, Donie, Em, Jessica, Kelly, Kristi, Leanne, Leslie, Lu, Margaret, Marissa, Mary G., Mary S., Paulina, Sam, Tara, and Tenecia.
Amy taught Latino Literature for three years and served for seven years as the TUSD Co-Chair for Intellectual Freedom. In addition, she worked closely with the group of teachers who founded the Mexican American Studies program.