Storm from Tacoma, Washington

On a hot, dusty day in the Puyallup valley of Washington State, a young Indian girl saw a strange yellow vehicle parked alongside a farm lane.   The year was 1962, the big yellow vehicle was a bookmobile, and I was that young girl - a migrant farm worker who unknowingly started her journey out of those fields.

On a rare day off, I was walking back from the general store, feet scuffing along kicking up dust.  I was tired from being up late listening to Elders' stories.  I first thought that missionary's had come to pass out used clothing and commodities, and was surprised there wasn't a line of people. 

Curiosity getting the best of me, I approached the vehicle and peeked inside.  Seeing only rows of books, I started to back away.  A voice invited me to come inside and look at the books.  The man said he was with the Pierce County Library and the vehicle was a bookmobile.  Recognizing that I didn't know what a library was, he explained that a library was a place where people borrowed books.  I had never heard of such a thing and was shocked.  Books were expensive and this man just let people borrow them!

He asked me what kinds of things I was interested in and before I knew it, I was telling him a story I had heard the night before about Mt. Rainier blowing up.  The story had really stuck in my mind because I couldn't figure out how a mountain could blow up and destroy the valley.  He showed me a book about volcanoes and where there were other books like it.  Then he told me I could borrow books and come back in two weeks to borrow more.
 
And so it began, I walked away that day with books about volcanoes and dinosaurs.   This man and the library had placed precious books in my dirt-stained hands.  The library said it trusted me to care for those books and return them.  I was a grimy Indian kid who couldn't go into a store without someone following me around to make sure I didn't steal anything, and yet the library trusted me.

My father got a year-around job at that berry farm and for the next three years, I had the bookmobile.  The library staff guided my reading, nurtured my curiosity, and taught me to respect myself simply because they respected me.  Eventually, I moved into the city and was accepted into the Neighborhood Youth Corps.  I worked during the day, went to vocational school in the evenings, and spent my spare time in the main branch of the city library, further expanding my world.

Today, I am the Executive Assistant to the Director of the Pierce County Library System, the same library system that had sent the bookmobile to the migrant camp.  Almost 25 years ago, I applied for the position with only a GED and some practical secretarial experience, and again, the library trusted me. 

In the years since I was that grimy little Indian girl, I've volunteered with at-risk youth, served on a Human Rights Commission, represented my state at the White House Conference on Library and Information Service, spearheaded legislation to protect senior citizens and served my community in numerous other ways.  Although I won an award for service, my proudest moments were watching my son receive his Bachelors Degree from Pomona College and later, his wife receive a Masters Degree.  Who knows how far my grandchildren might go.

My life has made a difference, but only because a library made the difference first.  It wouldn't have been enough to just introduce me to a world I had never known.  The library had faith in me and then led me to a place where I could have faith in myself as well.  I came to believe in world beyond the grinding despair and knew I could be part of it.  I wasn't offered a handout or easy answers.  I was offered hope, dreams and direction.

And the real miracle of libraries is that I am not unique.  Every day a library is changing and enriching lives, sometimes in the most unexpected places.