Tucson librarian feels lucky to have found her career

This article by Tenecia Phillips, Librarian at Joel D. Valdez Main Library, was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on Nov. 26, 2016.

I remember being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” as vividly as I remember my answers, which were never the same.

Astronaut. Ballerina. Obstetrician.

These were just some of the things I wanted to be and the passions I wanted to pursue. But with the passage of time, my interest would fade, my passion would dwindle, and I’d yet again come up with new answers to the questions about my future.

As a teenager, I had already considered dozens of career paths. I was a student at Desert View High School when it hit me: I wanted to be a police officer. Not only that, but I put together a career plan that included moving from local law enforcement to becoming a SWAT officer and then an FBI agent or Deputy U.S. marshal.

I had it all figured out.

I told my mom and she said to me, “That sounds great. You can do all of those things … after you graduate from college.” You see, to my mom, higher education was not an option. It was an essential steppingstone after high school. Law enforcement would have to wait.

I graduated from Desert View and attended Northern Arizona University (Go, Jacks!). While at NAU, I studied criminal justice and sociology and it became glaringly obvious that law enforcement was not for me. The passion, once again, had dwindled.

I have always had a mad, passionate love affair with the library. Throughout my childhood, I would escape to the school library during recess and to enjoy the silence and curl up with a good book. My school librarian, Mrs. Finkelstein, was a positive force in my life, always pushing me to discover new authors.

I remember her placing books in my hands, listening patiently as I protested about the lengthy page counts or the high reading levels. She would listen then smile and tell me to give it a chance. Thanks to Mrs. Finkelstein, I discovered “The Neverending Story,” a book that still stands as one of my favorites to this day.

I also remember my dad taking me to the Valencia Library for my first library card and on the weekends to pick out books on our daddy/daughter dates. The Valencia Library was my home away from home.

There were certain staff members there who, even though I may not have known their names, I looked for each time I would visit. Walking in, seeing their faces, and finding something new to read always meant that all was right in my world. Each time I came home from college for a visit, I would make it a point to stop by. It was part of being home.

When I was on bed rest with my first pregnancy, I begged the doctor for permission to go to the library. I was given permission for one visit per week. It was those visits that gave me something to look forward to each week and helped save my sanity.

My daughter was born just before the start of my senior year at NAU. As I began the journey of motherhood, my journey as a college student was ending. I was now responsible for another human being and it became critical to make a career decision.

The answer to the question of what I wanted to be eluded me for several years. I worked for numerous employers in a variety of fields and while I was grateful to be employed, I didn’t feel passion or joy in any of these jobs.

After experiencing the loss of my second child, I returned to the library to escape the confines of my house and find books on grief. As I stood in the stacks trying not to cry, it hit me. The library was my place. It was where I felt comfortable, safe enough to cry, and to be myself. It was my sweet spot and exactly where I was supposed to be.

Several months later, I applied and was accepted to the library science program at the University of Arizona.

I have now been a librarian for five years and I still feel like the library is my sweet spot, my place. I am so lucky to share my love of the library with the Tucson community. Whether it’s helping someone find a book on personal development, teaching a young student about Culture Grams for a school report, introducing a gardener to our Seed Library or creating partnerships with organizations like the Tucson Jazz Society to bring monthly jazz programs to the main library, I get to do it all.

I may not be saving the world with a badge and a gun, but I am saving it, one information need at a time.

Tenecia Phillips has called Tucson her home since she was 2, when her family moved from Richmond, Virginia. The first in her family to graduate from college, Phillips has worked for the library since June 2011, during which time she’s been involved with programs including Information Power for Small Business, DIY Day, 1000 Cranes of Peace for Sandy Hook, and One Seed Pima County, among others. She loves musicals — especially “Annie” and “The Sound of Music” — and has a particular fondness for Wonder Woman and Storm from X-Men.