My journey to Tucson and Pima County Public Library

This article, by Xuan Zhou, was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star, opens a new window on March 21, 2021.

I fell in love with Tucson at first sight.

I was working as a librarian in Canada in June 2018, when I took a weeklong vacation to Tucson. As a tourist, I visited all of the places a first-time visitor would: Biosphere 2, Summerhaven, and Saguaro National Park, among others. As a librarian, I made sure to visit the public library! The day I went to Joel D. Valdez Main Library is rooted in my memory. I toured the three floors, spoke with two friendly front-desk staff members, and even got a limited library card. Every person I met that day made me feel welcome.

I was especially impressed with two programs: the Book Bike and the Seed Library. I had always wanted to start a book bike program back home in Canada. Unfortunately, the inclement weather prevented me from turning my dream into a reality. Seeing a Book Bike for the first time created a vivid image of people gathering around the bike underneath the shade of a nearby tree, with everyone laughing, talking, and sharing stories with one another.

The Seed Library is a model example that libraries are about more than just books. Libraries create a community where individuals are given new opportunities, activities to add to their lives, and human connections to create friendships.

Fast forward to February 2019. I left my job in Canada and moved to Tucson. During my 11-day road trip from Campbellton, NB Canada to Tucson, AZ, I found a job listing at Pima County Public Library! I knew this was fate! Four months later, I started working as a Children’s Services Librarian at the library I visited exactly one year earlier. I even made friends with the staff member who registered my library card during my visit from Canada. She is now one of my dearest friends and we often go grab some milk tea together.

Besides the dramatically different climates, another challenge for me was to transition from a behind-the-scenes librarian to a children’s librarian that has daily interactions with the public. I had never hosted a StoryTime before and was quite anxious about it. I couldn’t help but think negatively and wonder, ‘Would anyone come to my StoryTime? What if I couldn’t engage with the kids like the other librarians? What if the kids couldn’t understand me, or even worse, what if they laughed at my accent?’

My supervisor Caitlin was extremely considerate and let me start by hosting class visits. With my heart pounding, I hosted my first class visit in September 2019. With 10 kindergarteners and five teachers, we talked about rainbows, read Mo Willems, and toured the library. One week later, I received a folder with 10 drawings of the library from the kids, each with a sentence about why they enjoyed their visit. The teacher also wrote a card and included a photo of a beautiful rainbow she took that day. For the first time, I knew how fulfilling and meaningful it is to be a Children’s Services Librarian.

In 2020, I started a monthly Bilingual StoryTime, alternating between English/Mandarin and English/French. We saw an increase in customers from different cultures. It was a wonderful experience helping our next generation of citizens learn more about other languages, countries and cultures—potentially preparing them for the challenges and opportunities of globalization. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we had to cease all programs. The second we are able to move past the pandemic and safely restart in-person programs, I will be right there to resume it.

Tucson as a whole is an amazing place, and I hope everyone living here feels the same. The public library is a magical place that is dear to my heart, and I love sharing this joy with everyone who comes visit.

Xuan Zhou has worked for Pima County Public Library since June 2019. She currently serves as the Children’s Services Librarian at Eckstrom-Columbus Library. She is a founding member of the Library’s Biblio Lotus team, a group of staff dedicated to supporting Pima County’s Asian communities.