Bethany Wilson, a former police officer and member of The United States Air Force, has found her calling between the neat and orderly rows of the Oro Valley Public Library as the institution’s young adult librarian.
A studious spirit, Wilson said that her life’s journey has gone in several different directions over the years, though her passion for knowledge has been a constant—a love which has found its match among the books, magazines, movies and more.
Childhood passion has blossomed into a full-fledged career for Wilson, and she has proven to be an incredibly capable leader, recently being selected to participate in the American Library Association’s 2017 Class of Emerging Leaders.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for me and for Pima County Public Library,” she said. “I was really excited and I was really nervous, because now I am going to be representing my organization. I want to do a good job for them and I feel as though I have responsibility on my shoulders, to do a good job and represent them well.”
Wilson is just one of 50 librarians from across the nation to be included within the program, which gives participants the opportunity to work on career-shaping projects, network with one another and create unique professional experiences to be utilized locally.
A Dallas native, Wilson joined the Air Force after high school and was stationed in Tucson before leaving the service in 2001. She returned to her academic pursuits, beginning at Pima Community College and eventually ending with a Master of Library and Information Science with a focus in archives and special collections from the University of Arizona. While in school, she also spent the better part of a decade as a police officer for The University of Arizona Police Department.
Though she has worn many hats, Wilson said everything she does ties into the love of knowledge she first discovered as a child.
“They say that what you loved as a child is what you should do as an adult,” she said. “The only thing that’s been a constant in my life is a love of learning and a love of books. Libraries are some of my first memories, and some of my fondest memories, so I said why not go in that direction?”
Wilson said that her work as a crime-prevention officer and in public outreach served as a perfect transition into her work in Oro Valley, as has her previous work as the young adult services librarian at the Dusenberry-River Library and as the manager of the Dewhirst-Catalina Library. Wilson said that while some people may see her change from law enforcement to librarian as a huge shift, she sees a huge similarity in the work.
“You’re serving the community,” she said “It’s the same groups of people. It’s just in a different way. I’ve always wanted to serve. That’s why I was in the military, the police and now libraries.”
She said her previous experience also ties in with her work on the Teen Advisory Board at the Oro Valley library, through which she has created a new maker space to enhance and provide expanded programs for teens, designed by teens frequenting the library.
“We built this space around ‘HOMAGO’ principles, which is to hang out, mess around and geek out,” she said. “We want teens to have a place that is theirs, that they know is their own. They can come in and be themselves and feel comfortable in unchallenged in a space. We still want them to have opportunities to mess around with things that they may not have otherwise had the chance to mess around with anywhere else. We’re bringing in the high-tech stuff and the programming opportunities. If they really like it, we want to give them the opportunity to geek out about it while being supported and having the support of peer mentors that can help them take what they’ve learned and go to the next level with it. That’s what this space is meant to be.”
To renovate the space, Wilson worked with nearby high-school kids involved in the library environment. They used everything from empathy maps to peer surveys to figure out how to best created a teen-oriented space.
Wilson said that when she saw a chance to be a part of the emerging leaders program, she jumped at the opportunity. She said that given all of the time and effort PCPL has put into developing her professionally, she wants to return the favor and continuously develop her skill set and possibly work her way to the national level in the future. Whether SAT test prep, homework help, assistance in a job search, scholarship application writing and more, Wilson said the focus is driven by what her teens want.
Wilson said libraries are adapting to changing times.
“It’s not even necessarily about the books anymore,” she said. “Libraries are more than just books. I don’t think people understand how much [libraries] have evolved and changed to meet community needs. They are the heart of the community, and the community wants us to be. We’re here for you. We’ve got a safe space for you. Come here and have face-to-face conversations, talk about important events that are happening. If you want to talk and gather together as a community and talk about what’s happening and how it’s making you feel, then let’s do that. We’re here to provide that space for you.”