Making a difference, one person, one story at a time

This article by Library Deputy Director Karyn Prechtel-Altman was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on Jan. 10, 2015.

At the beginning of a new year I often look back and think about what I have accomplished over the last twelve months. I am fortunate in so many ways, and I count my work at the Pima County Public Library among my blessings. Not just because I have a great job, but because I have a great job that makes a difference in my community. 

I grew up in Tucson on the west side of town and went to Cholla High School. Encouraged by my father who worked for the City of Tucson, I joined the library system after I graduated from the UA. I’ve been with the library for over 24 years, and I still go home from work each day knowing that in some small way—directly or indirectly—I’ve made a positive difference in someone’s life.

For seven years my work involved issuing library cards and checking out books. Through that process, I provided people with courage in the form of information—for example, the courage to leave an abusive situation or the courage to go back to school. I’ve also welcomed hundreds of new residents to our community, and for some library visitors I might have been the only person they interacted with that day. I was happy to be there for them.

Providing health-related information was my focus for several years. I remember when a patron wanted to study up on her recent diagnosis, and I was able to find more information for her than we both had anticipated. She arrived nervous, but left with confidence. Another time someone called our Infoline service to find out what cardiomyopathy meant to better understand his condition. When I answered calls like this I often felt like I had empowered people to make important life decisions.

Our libraries not only help kids learn how to read, we provide summer reading programs to motivate reading outside of school. We also teach parents, grandparents, and caregivers the importance of talking, reading, singing, and playing with their babies for healthy brain development. For several years I was in charge of Toddler Storytime at the Woods Memorial Library, then at the Miller-Golf Links Library. There’s nothing quite like leading a bunch of toddlers and their grown-ups to ‘shake your sillies out!’ Although teaching little ones is hard work, I think I left every Storytime with more energy than I started with. Plus, I can read upside-down (which is a great skill to have).

Pew Internet, a project of the Pew Research Center, found that 94 percent of Americans believe that having a public library improves the quality of life in a community. Now as a library administrator, I see the impact that the library has on our community—my hometown—as a whole.

At your library, everyone has equal access to knowledge and fun with books, movies, magazines, e-books, audio books, streaming video, online magazines, research databases and online educational tools. We also help people earn their GED, find jobs, get promotions, and start businesses.

At the same time, we offer wellness classes like Tai Chi and Qi Jong, and intellectual journeys through book clubs and lectures. To serve our older population and people in need, we bring books directly to homes and adult-care facilities with our Bookbike and Bookmobile. We partner with the Lions Club to provide reading glasses to patrons who need them, and we provide visits with public health nurses if you have health-related questions or needs.

We also offer something you can’t get anywhere else—friendly, knowledgeable library staff. We serve a hugely diverse customer base, and our smart, talented staff serve all with a smile.

I hope that in 2015 you take advantage of what the Pima County Public Library has to offer you!

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