Burks in AJ

Liz Burks currently oversees the book-sale desk at the Apache Junction Public Library as a volunteer, but she has had many other roles over the past 39 years.

APACHE JUNCTION — Through 39 years, Liz Burks has learned that libraries are not boring places.

Far from funereal, whisper-only Dickensian chambers of gloom cluttered with those high stacks of cellophane-wrapped volumes, today’s libraries are vibrant, energy-filled facilities for clubs, organization meetings and social activity.

Books are still available for checkout, of course, but a library in 2019 offers many more services than in 1980, which is when Burks began her association with the Apache Junction Public Library, one of 13 public libraries in Pinal County.

“At that time, libraries insisted you be quiet. We don’t do that anymore,” said Burks, who with her 39 consecutive years of library work is the longest-serving library associate in the county — whether paid, volunteer, board member or a belonging to a Friends of the Library auxiliary.

“After that first night it wasn’t boring. It was wonderful because this is what libraries do, and it was like a light went on. Oh yeah!” she said, recalling when she was accepted onto the library board in Apache Junction in 1980. “At that time the city did not have a library. The Woman’s Club operated the Apache Junction library at that time.”

With a donation from the Woman’s Club to the city of Apache Junction, a city-run library was founded and “they put together a board to oversee that process and make sure the transition into the city flowed well. I was on that, and that was how I got involved with the library to begin with,” Burks said. “And we have a terrific staff and leadership with imaginations and ideas. I’m around special people.”

Through the years as a library clerk, children’s librarian, temporary director, Friends of the Library member and now a volunteer overseeing the library’s book-sale desk, serving the community has kept Burks involved with the Apache Junction library.

“It’s just wonderful to be around libraries. For me, it really is an uplifting institution. They have people that love to read and love to help people. What’s better than that? I guess I’ve been here because I enjoy being around people who enjoy books and reading, especially kids,” Burks said.

Particularly in the kids’ section, libraries these days are bursting with a frenzied jumble of activities, programs and raucous laughter that in library dark ages was unacceptable but now encouraged and cultivated. With a bank of computers, libraries are also job-hunting and research centers as well as meeting rooms for a variety of purposes.

“A library is the center of your community,” Burks said. “It’s the history of your community. It’s where all your information is found. Entertainment is at the library, education at the library. I think it’s the focus of the community. Today especially it’s more than just getting a book. With the computer, it means being able to do email and search the internet, it means keeping in touch with people. It means getting jobs. It’s where you meet friends.”

“In (the) children’s (section) especially, we have wonderful programs far beyond what we were able to do before. Moms come together and learn how to teach their children. We know how important it is between (ages) 0 and 5 to educate children. Some programs are geared for literacy. So many times moms can be isolated at home with their child but here’s a place where they can go and meet other moms and make friends. I saw that so many times. It was wonderful.”

31 years as town employee

In terms of paid work, Josie O. Campos of Superior is the longest-serving employee at a Pinal County library.

After three years volunteering, Campos became Superior’s library director in 1988 and is still hard at it as a part-time staffer working two days a week. She has helped instill many changes and improvements at the Superior Public Library since it opened in 1952.

“I have not regretted one moment. I have thoroughly enjoyed my job and serving my community. I have learned so much. I feel it has enriched my life,” Campos said via email.

“Superior Public Library has come a long way since it first opened. Many, many people and organizations worked long and hard so that Superior would have a library. Since the beginning, dedication has been the whole story of Superior Public Library. It is my hope that this dedication will continue into the future and that it will go on to greater growth in service to our community.”

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Pinal County community libraries

Pinal community libraries date back more than 100 years. — Source: Pinal County Library District

Community Year opened
Oracle Public Library 1903
Florence Community Library 1912
Casa Grande Public Library 1914
Eloy Santa Cruz Library 1948
Superior Public Library 1952
San Manuel Library 1954
Coolidge Public Library 1957
Apache Junction Public Library 1958
Kearny Public Library 1958
Maricopa Public Library 1958
Mammoth Public Library 1962
Arizona City Community Library 1994

Arizona community libraries

The history of public libraries in Arizona pre-dates statehood by 30 years. This list does not include Pinal County libraries and is not complete for all communities. — Source: Library websites and email responses

Community Year opened
Bisbee 1882
Tucson 1883
Flagstaff 1890
Prescott 1897
Glendale, Phoenix 1898
Douglas 1902
Mesa, Safford 1906
Tempe 1908
Willcox 1910
Globe, Williams 1915
Yuma 1921
Benson 1923
Kingman 1925
Payson 1928
Miami 1929
Pinetop-Lakeside 1930
Grand Canyon, Show Low 1932
Ajo 1946
Chandler 1954
Parker 1956
Fredonia, Sedona 1958
Cottonwood, Snowflake 1959
Scottsdale 1968
Lake Havasu City, Prescott Valley 1969
Green Valley 1974
South Tucson 1986
Catalina 1989
Arivaca 1990
Gilbert 1999
Fountain Hills 2001
Oro Valley 2002
Queen Creek 2008
Sahuarita 2009
Goodyear 2014

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