Point to your librarian with
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 28, 2004 12:00 AM
Several years ago Phoenix launched a program called "Points of Pride." West
Valley Treasures began in 2002. In both cases, the goal was to identify specific
things local citizens were particularly proud to have in their community.
I use the word "things" very purposefully here. The various "points" and
"treasures" were all physical - buildings, parks, institutions, that kind of
thing. But I think the folks who launched these programs missed something. They
don't have to always be physical. Sometimes they're people, and I've got a case
Toni Garvey is director of the Phoenix Public Library system.
She's also the United States' 2004 Librarian of the Year.
There are a lot of librarians in this country. To be named No. 1 among that
profession is no small honor, and Toni has earned it. Admittedly her timing was
great. She took over the Phoenix system just before the Burton Barr Central
Library was completed. That gave her a great canvas with which to work, but what
has earned her the honor from the Library Journal is not the building. It's what
has happened inside it and at the other branch libraries in the Phoenix system
under Toni's watch.
I've had the privilege of working with Toni and her staff for eight-plus years
as part of the Phoenix Public Library Foundation, an early addition to the
library system under her administration. I've had a ringside seat. There have
been dozens of programs and innovations, but a couple will serve to demonstrate
why she is deserving of this national recognition.
One is Teen Central at Burton Barr. Teenagers are one of the toughest groups for
libraries to serve. They've outgrown the children's section, and their interests
and needs are tough to pin down. But more and more of that age group have been
finding their way into public libraries after school and on weekends. Libraries
are safe places with room to hang out. They provide computers and Internet
access. The challenge was how to serve that age group in a way that would both
be appropriate and truly engage them.
Teen Central was the experiment, and it has been incredibly successful. The
space, on Burton Barr's fourth floor, is set aside for the teens who use that
library. They're in charge. They, through the Teen Council, set and enforce the
rules. They manage the space. There is an adult librarian presence, but it's at
The collection in Teen Central is geared towards its users. That includes the
books, magazines, music and everything else. It's designed to feel more like a
club than a library, and it works. More than 400 teens use the space daily.
The Urban Libraries Council gave the program one of its highest awards two years
ago. Libraries from all over the country have visited with the intent of
replicating the idea. And teen centers are being installed in the other branches
in the Phoenix system.
The other example I'll cite is at one of the branch libraries. Harmon Library
serves the community immediately south of downtown Phoenix. It's not the most
affluent part of town, and many of the residents are Spanish-language dominant.
When Toni got to Phoenix, the Harmon staff was almost exclusively English-only
speaking. The library was underutilized, at least in part, because the staff
couldn't connect with their constituents.
Today, with input from a community council, staff reassignments and language
training for others, Harmon is now one of the most active branch libraries in
Phoenix, and that language training has been extended throughout the Phoenix
As Toni told the Library Journal, the buildings and collections are wonderful,
but what the Phoenix system is really all about is serving the people who use
it. She continues to make that focus on library users the central mandate of her
Phoenix probably won't put up a sign on Central Avenue outside of main
library listing Toni as one of our Points of Pride, but maybe it should.
David Howell is a 17-year Valley resident. He and his wife live in Phoenix.
Howell can be reached at
email@example.com. The views expressed are those of the author.