The card that continues to change my life

This article by Library Director Amber Mathewson was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on Sep. 24, 2016.

Celebrate National Library Card Signup Month in good company by joining the nearly 387,000 Pima County cardholders who are reading, learning, doing, and dreaming at libraries today!

I will never forget the day I stepped onto the bookmobile in Northeastern Colorado. I was 8 years old and attending High Plains Elementary — a one-room schoolhouse with just 11 students.

My teacher, Ms. Korrey, had read to us from her own copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” and I was desperate to read more of the series. I had read all of the books in our little school library, so you can imagine how mesmerized I was when Ms. Korrey told us that a bookmobile would be visiting us once a month and that it could bring the books we requested, for free!

That very first day I checked out “These Happy Golden Years.” It didn’t matter to me that it was the eighth book in the Little House series, I had to have more of Laura’s story.

Sadly, I don’t remember the bookmobile librarian. I do remember getting that magical card and the excitement I felt every month when it was bookmobile day. I had no idea on that very first day that the card I held in my hand would forever and daily change my life.

Not only did it open up the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Huck Finn, but that of King Arthur and Merlin, to name a few. I read biographies, mysteries like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and westerns. Anything I could get my hands on, really.

When I was in seventh grade and attending the regional junior high school, I of course became a library aide so that I could spend an hour a day hanging out with the books during school time. Around the same time our English teacher took us to the Sterling Public Library in Sterling, Colorado.

It was then I realized how much power that magical card really held. I learned about doing research in magazines and newspapers, as well as books. I found myself wandering out of the children’s area into the adult books. Everywhere I turned there were MORE books and more information that I wanted to soak up!

When I was in high school I found out that I could have cards for both the public library and the local community college. I spent hours upon hours in that small campus library pouring over journal articles and dreaming about going to college and an exciting future.

I truly believe it’s because I felt so comfortable on that campus and in that library that I made a smooth and easy transition from my rural childhood to college life at Colorado State University. Once there, I made it to the library to study and eventually begin work in the Interlibrary Loan Department.

You might think it was an easy leap from those early years to a lifelong career in libraries. I actually thought about careers in medicine and healthcare, but always found myself coming back to libraries whenever I needed to make a change of location or job.

After working for PCPL for several years, I attended and graduated from the University of Arizona’s School of Information Resources and Library Science (now School of Information). I’ve been with the Library for 25 years.

I started as a customer service clerk, and just kept on moving throughout the system. One of my favorite jobs at the Library was when I worked on the bookmobile! I loved giving children their first library card and sharing that joy of opening up a world of possibilities for them. As a children’s librarian, I was thrilled to visit schools and to share with those children the same joy I experienced in discovering all that the library had to offer.

As the Deputy Director for Strategic Initiatives, I have the privilege of making sure our library staff has the tools they need to create programs and services that meet the needs of everyone in our amazing community of Pima County.

Looking back to my first time on that bookmobile in Northeastern Colorado, I had no way of knowing that I would one day become a librarian. Nor did I know that a library card would not only give me access to knowledge and information, but to a career in service to the community; connecting people to others, information, and a safe place to grow in ways they never imagined possible.

This past year I have had the honor of representing libraries around the state as the President of the Arizona Library Association. I have seen firsthand how library cards and access to information are transforming individual lives every day.

Be it Storytime, Homework Help, Job Help, access to electronic resources, incredibly knowledgeable and friendly staff, gaining 21st century learning skills, or having opportunities to engage in their community — possessing a library card powers a world of possibilities!

Amber Mathewson, MLS, received a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from Colorado State University and a master’s in Library Science from the University of Arizona’s School of Information Resources and Library Sciences. Amber has held eight positions at the Library, from Customer Service Clerk to her current role as Deputy Director for Strategic Initiatives. Outside of the Library, Amber can be found riding her bike, walking her dogs, cloud gazing and mastering the art of Zentangle!