In a time when the nation is divided, the sense of unity that I was met with at the 2016 AzLA Conference was refreshing. I attended sessions in which I gained LGBT resources for my patrons, I found comfort in my peers and support for having a diverse collection with representations of all people. I attended sessions on teen programming, I made connections with other youth services staff, and I got to be reminded of why we do what we do: because we are giving our patrons the tools they need to transform their lives. It is like feeding a caterpillar–we are giving them the food they need to turn into a butterfly and the protection they need to be able to go through metamorphosis.
As part of my scholarship, I was able to volunteer my time at the conference, and it was an invaluable experience because it made me step out of my comfort zone. My first hours were spent on the check-in desk, where I helped presenters and other attendees find the location of their panels, locate their badges, and be of service. I also introduced a panel and recorded programming stats. It made me realize that I am capable of speaking in front of a group of adults. A group of teenagers is no sweat for me, but a group of adults was much more intimidating. Because of my experience introducing a panel I have felt emboldened to do more outreach, to volunteer, and be less afraid.
The support that I felt at the annual conference has followed me throughout the past few months. It has been welcome in the months of worry about the patrons who I think of as “my kids.” Knowing that AzLA as well as the American Library Association have our backs as library professionals makes the world feel brighter. As Don Wood wrote in his recent press release, “We encourage our members to continue to speak out and show their support for and work on behalf of our core values, in their communities as well as with their local, state and national elected and appointed officials.”
Our theme for the conference was “Libraries Transform,” and I have first-hand experience with that transformation. At my library, I work to give our teenagers activities. At my library, I transform a meeting room into a science lab on a bi-monthly basis for STEAM programs. That same meeting room transforms into a zoo or a cave or an iceberg every week at story time. I work to transform the lives of people young and old every single day, even just with a smile as I process a reference request for a patron. Every day that I work I know that I am transforming into a better person. In a time where the nation feels so divided, we have to remember that we are providing the tools for knowledge, the freedom for experience, and the space for our patrons to transform.
Ruth Fenchak is Library Assistant II, Youth Services, at Sierra Vista Public Library.