Interview with the Children’s Librarian at Ocotillo Branch Library

Cay Culbertson

There are two libraries serving South Phoenix, one is the Harmon Branch (located at 411 W. Yavapai), and the other is the Ocotillo Branch on Southern Avenue, just west of Central.  Both libraries serve the community in crucial ways, but because the Ocotillo Branch is located within the perimeters of the “Urban Geography class” study area, I chose it as the subject of my brief research.

Library background: 

The Ocotillo Branch library has been in the community for over forty years and is an integral part of the South Phoenix community.  Although the entire community doesn’t utilize it on a regular basis, residents know it is a resource available when they need it.  Equal to its importance as a resource is its significance as a safe place for “kids to go.” Having a place to go, with something constructive to do, keeps kids off the street and out of trouble.  What better place to go, than a cool library in the summertime heat?  New worlds are opened up for these kids (in the way of information) every time they open up a new book, discover a new computer game, find an interesting web site, or find the answer to a class assignment in a virtual encyclopedia. The role librarians have in these children’s lives can’t be discounted, for they point the direction to information, and information provides opportunities.

The library is 6600 square feet.  Its twin library is the Acacia Branch Library at 7th Street & Dunlap.  There are three librarians and four librarian assistants on staff at the Ocotillo Branch.

 Investigating the impact of the library on the children’s community in South Phoenix, I contacted the children’s librarian Cay Culbertson and conducted a telephone interview with her on 2/10/02 @ 12:45pm – 1:00pm. The following is an outline of some of the interesting things she had to say.

 Cay’s background:

 Cay has been a Librarian II at the Ocotillo branch for two years.  Prior to that she worked as a Library Assistant in the “Special Needs Center” at the Phoenix Central Library for 13 years.  She lives in Central Phoenix and works at the library Monday thru Friday, from 8:00am to 5:00pm and some weekends.  She came to the Ocotillo Branch because she wanted to explore the world outside the Central Library, see new faces, and help new people.


 Cindy: What exactly do you do at the library?

Cay:    Provide reference assistance, select and order children’s collection titles (both juvenile and teen), I deselect books, and plan children’s programs.

  Juvenile books are deemed appropriate for children ages preschool to 6th grade.  Teen books are deemed appropriate for ages: 7th grade to high school senior.  The process of deselecting books includes culling out (non-fiction) books that contain information that is no longer valid, book has been damaged, etc)

 Regarding children’s programs, one recurring children’s program is Wednesday’s “Children Storytelling Program.” Storytellers come from the South Mountain Community College Storytelling Institute and tell stories.  We also read to them.   We have quite a number of children and parents who attend, but never more than.

 We are in the midst of planning several children’s reading programs.  One is the “Summer Reading Game”.  This countywide program is sponsored by the AZ Republic & Arizona Diamondbacks and includes a game board and prizes for the children.  The other program is a Summer Reading Program for teens offered through the Phoenix Library system.  Incentives to read include weekly drawings and prizes.

 Cindy: What are the ages of the kids who come to the library?

Cay:    All ages, different age groups come for different activities.   Children ages three to first grade come to the Wednesday Storytelling Program.  We also have quite a few first graders who participate in the “Goal Reading Program.”  This is a special program started by Skip Rimsza and his wife to encourage reading; children receive a special library card.  There are also a significant number of children who come daily to utilize the library’s computers, their age’s range from 1st grade to Junior High School.

 About the computers…

The library has a total of 14 computers. Four computers are available to access the Public Access Catalogue and various other databases, and the rest are available to surf the Internet, play games and/or create Microsoft Word documents.  The computers are quite popular with the children, often requiring signing onto a waiting list to use one.  It is not uncommon for users to wait an hour to an hour and a half before they can use one.

 Cindy: What is the racial mix of the children coming to Ocotillo? (Please answer only if you feel comfortable…)

Cay:    I’m guessing, but I believe them to be mostly Hispanic, then African American, then Caucasian.

 (They serve their community well…I noticed they have several hundred children and adult Hispanic book titles on the shelves.)

 Cindy: Where are the kids coming from? (Do parents bring in, groups/programs bring in…)

Cay:    It depends on the activity.  Regarding the Children’s Wednesday Program, parents do bring in their children, but the majority of them come from first grade GOAL classes.

 Cindy: Are the kids walking in from home, a nearby neighborhood, or are they driven here by parents, perhaps because its too far to walk?

Cay:    Many kids do walk here, but I couldn’t give you a percentage as to who is walking or who’s being driven here.  They often come by themselves.

 Cindy: Have you seen an increase in kids utilizing the library since you started working here two years ago?  If so is the increase on an individual basis or in groups utilizing the library?

Cay:    Yes, primarily on an individual basis, those children coming in and wanting to use the computers.

 Cindy: Do the facilities need to expand to accommodate the increase?

Cay:    Yes of course, that would be nice, but there are no plans to do this.

 Cindy: Is there anything you’d like to tell the community, either inside or outside of South Phoenix?

Cay:    That South Mountain Village is a nice community and the children are just children, like children everywhere.  Patrons visit this library to do the same kinds of things they do at other libraries.  They come in order to use the computers for doing research, writing documents, playing games.  They also read newspapers and magazines, use research materials in print, find and check out library materials.

Cindy:  What are you most proud of at the Ocotillo Branch Library?

Cay:    That it’s like a family here, many of the patrons come in regularly and we talk about many things.  It’s a nice community and I feel I’m part of it by working here.

 Offering more than just books & information…The Ocotillo Branch Library

 On my final visit to the library (2/16/02) I had the opportunity to meet and speak with other staff members. I met “Billee,” (Branch Manager), Sherri Handley, (Circulation Attendant I), Daniel, (also a Circulation Attendant) and Judy Kennedy, (Library Clerk I).  Judy has worked at the Ocotillo branch for eighteen years and has seen many changes throughout the years.  She took a few moments to tell me about a few of them.  The biggest change has been the numbers of patrons (both adult and children) visiting the library; Judy thinks it’s more than doubled since she started work at the library in 1984.  When I inquired about children utilizing the library, she mentioned that many spend a significant amount of time here.  Judy said some kids walk here from school and stay until their parents pick them up after work.  A few kids stay until the library closes at night (9:00pm Monday thru Thursday and Sundays, 6:00pm Friday-Saturday).  In a sense, she said, they serve as after-school babysitters.  However Judy said this usually isn’t a problem because the kids are pretty well behaved.  But it wasn’t always that way.  According to her, six years ago (before they had the computers), a woman couldn’t leave a purse unattended in the library, without it getting stolen.  She credits the change to the “bad element moving on”.  They have a good group of kids now, and the only recurring problem they have are some children who forget to bring change to use the payphone to call their parents. (Staff lets them use the library phone on these occasions.)  I commented to Judy about how busy the computer area was. (They were all being used when I visited the library and there was a waiting list).  When I asked what the most popular things to do on the computers were she commented that kids seem to enjoy playing games on them (like the Magic School Bus, The Berenstain Bears and Blue’s clues); and the adults use them to write resumes and correspondence.

 For more information about the Ocotillo Branch Library contact them at:

 Phoenix Public Library

Ocotillo Branch

102 W. Southern Avenue

Phoenix, AZ 85041

(Located west of Central Avenue, on Southern Avenue)


602-261-8516 (fax)


 Children’s Storyline (English)            602-262-4868

Children’s Storyline (Spanish)           602-262-4039

Link to a photo tour of the library

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