Nearly two decades in, still loving what I do

This article, by Leila Duncan, was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on May 21, 2023.

I think I became a librarian because I love learning, but I don’t love teaching. I mean, I have been a teacher of sorts and it was great, but it wasn’t traditional classroom teaching. I worked for almost ten years as an Adult Basic Education teacher at our local Fred G. Acosta Job Corps Center. In that role, I helped young adults improve their reading skills so they could pass their GED tests or apply to go to Pima Community College. These students were motivated—life had kept them from following a traditional educational path and they wanted to get better jobs, explore colleges and majors, and in general, take their lives off hold! 

I left that job to be with my children and I loved (almost) every minute of that, but eventually, I knew that I wanted to start on a slightly different career path. Long story short, I ended up going to the University of Arizona for a Master’s in Information and Library Science and here I am, almost 17 years later, still loving what I do. Young adults have always been my favorites, to be honest, but now I am a Student Support Librarian, and it has been marvelous doing outreach to classrooms from 1st to 12th grades and beyond.

Lately, what has given me the most joy has been working with the children of families who have been evicted from their homes and are temporarily living in hotels. Twice a week when I can, I take them books, snacks from the ever generous Community Food Bank, and games and crafts to keep them active, learning and frankly, to give their parents and caregivers a break! We have had fake snowball fights, played endless Connect Four games, squished polymer sand between our fingers, and made indoor obstacle courses out of pool noodles. Learning happens naturally—what’s the difference between crayons and these pastel sticks, how many button pieces can I pick up with this super strong magnet or what can I use to make these pool noodles stay in an arch? 

Despite the stress and tension these families are experiencing, the kids are always interested in learning new things, showing me what they can do, and wanting to know when I’m going to come again. These families also want to take their lives off hold, and while they wait and work to do that, I so enjoy bringing them a bit of fun and after school learning. I hope that when they are finally together again in their own homes, they know that the library is here for them, always free and full of people always willing to help them learn what they are interested in the most.

Leila Duncan is the Student Support Librarian in the Library’s Community Engagement Office. She has worked for Pima County Public Library since July 2007 and serves on the Restorative Practices for Youth and Tween and Young Adult Services teams.