Never Judge a Book

Writer Joseph J. Airdo
Photography by Loralei Lazurek

After walking through the doors of the recently remodeled Desert Foothills Library to meet with its three new librarians, I felt compelled to take a step back outside and look for a sign to make sure that I was in the right place. The energy inside simply did not align with my preconceived notions or my memories of the libraries I had visited many moons ago when I was still in school.

For starters, it was far from silent. To my left, several children were running around with excitement. Thought-provoking artwork hung from the walls. A grand piano sat near the center of the building as did a table scattered with pieces of a half-completed jigsaw puzzle. Looking straight through to the enormous window in the back of the building, I could see a perfectly picturesque view of the Carefree mountainscape.

Still slightly unsure about my surroundings upon my reentry, I asked the friendly-looking woman at the front desk if this was indeed the library. Her confirmation threw me through a loop—as did my introduction to the youthful and energetic trio of women who are responsible for the day-to-day operations of Cave Creek’s Desert Foothills Library.

Caitlyn Decker, Ashley Ware and Erin Meadows definitely do not fit the stereotype of librarians as perpetrated by popular culture.

“I usually get people saying, ‘Your hair’s not brown, you don’t wear glasses and you’re not quiet,’” Ware noted. “I am the complete opposite of that stereotype. I’ve always been this very loud person. I’m usually running around doing crazy things—and that is the same in the library.”

Meadows added that although the stereotype is that librarians shush patrons, she and her coworkers are more often than not the ones being shushed. That is because they are enthusiastic about their jobs—a quality that was crystal clear during our discussion, which was momentarily interrupted by a little girl who was eager to share with Meadows the scrape on the knee that she had sustained while enjoying the library’s children’s section.

“My background is largely in education youth programming and working with kids in various capacities,” said Meadows, noting the interruption was not uncommon. “This job is great because it marries my love of books and children’s literature to that.”

Meadows, the youth and teen services librarian, admits to staying up long past her bedtime when she was just a kid, hiding under her blankets with a book and a flashlight. Her mom would have to knock on her door at 2 a.m. each morning to remind her to get some sleep. It was only natural that she would get a job at Scottsdale’s Mustang Library before finding her way to Desert Foothills Library last October.

“We do a lot of fun programs for our youth and teens,” said Meadows who, as a children’s yoga instructor, loves to incorporate mindfulness and breathing exercises into her programs. “We have storytimes each week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have some movie programs, we do a lot of stuff with science and robotics and we just started a teen book club.”

Ware was also working at Scottsdale’s Mustang Library before coming to Desert Foothills Library last March. She now serves as the programming librarian, planning events, classes and other programs that benefit the library’s patrons and the community at large. Unlike Meadows, Ware did not know that she was destined to be a librarian until after she graduated college.

“I was broke and spent a lot of time at my library checking out DVDs and books and using their internet. I was applying to all of these different jobs and really had no direction of what I wanted to do,” said Ware, who graduated with an English degree. “My younger sister said, ‘Why don’t you work in a library?’ It was like a semi truck hit me. I was like, ‘How did I not figure this out? I’m here every other day. I love being here. Why wouldn’t I want to be a librarian?’”

Three weeks later, Ware was working in a library. Three weeks after that, she had applied to grad school with the intention of solidifying her career as a librarian. She had found her calling.

“I can’t imagine being anywhere else now,” said Ware, noting that she has either volunteered or worked at libraries in each of the six states in which she has lived. “I’m obsessed with libraries. It’s what I’m passionate about. It’s what I love, and this is by far the best library I’ve worked at.”

Similarly, Decker did not always see herself as a librarian. After growing up in New York, she moved to Canada and became a music teacher. Upon moving back home, she sought out a change and started working part-time at a library.

“Something about the job really appealed to me,” Decker said. “I just enjoy the connection with people that I have when they come in and are excited about the books they are reading. I hear little bits and pieces of their lives. I still get to be around kids and do the education part of it, too. That is a big component of my job. So it kind of checks all of the boxes.”

Of course, one of those boxes is books.

“As a reader, I took off in second grade and I haven’t looked back since,” Decker continued. “I had a teacher who really instilled the love of reading in me and pushed me to read beyond the simple picture books that I had on my shelf. I find it a way to escape but also to educate myself and live many lives at once.”

Having previously worked at Scottsdale’s Civic Center Library, Decker arrived at Desert Foothills Library last June as its front-of-house librarian, helping patrons when their questions go beyond the scope of what a volunteer can answer. She believes a better title for her job would be problem-solver.

“People come in with all different kinds of problems and questions,” Decker said. “There’s always someone or something to help them at the library. Sometimes you just have to really dig for it for a while. I’ve learned that I can be that person to help people find what it is that they’re looking for when they sometimes don’t know where to go.”

Ware said that much like librarians themselves have received a facelift from society’s traditional perception of them, libraries have evolved into more warm and welcoming places than the quiet sites of serious study in years gone by.

“I always like to say that the first library was more than 5,000 years ago,” Ware explained. “It started with monks doing scripts, and that’s not what you think of today. To last those 5,000 years, they’ve had to evolve in what their communities need.

“Libraries are now a place where people can come together as a community, meet their neighbors and hopefully have fun while doing it.”

There are a number of new programs and events slated for Desert Foothills Library this year to facilitate that fun, such as a month-long celebration honoring Dr. Seuss’ 115 birthday in March. But the pièce de résistance is the 10th annual gala set for 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9. The evening, which will feature performances by renowned pianist Nicole Pesce and talent from the Phoenix Opera, provides ongoing financial support to the library.

So if you see Decker, Ware or Meadows, do not hesitate to introduce yourself and tell them what you would like to see at Desert Foothills Library. They will not bite and they certainly will not shush you, either.

“I want everyone coming through to know who I am,” Ware said. “I am their librarian. I am doing things to help their day, whether it be socializing, learning something new or gaining a better understanding of their health. I want to be that approachable person so I’m just going to keep up my customer service, yelling and running around.”

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