Vacation destinations. Home projects. Reading lists. After spending 20 years in the same job, many people start dreaming about the things they'll do once they retire.

Not Sherrie Bradford or Sandra Steely. The Sahuarita Unified School District's longest-serving library technicians have no plans to retire.

Bradford, 61, has been at Sopori Elementary since 1997 and Steely, 63, began her job at Sahuarita Intermediate School in 1999, back when it was actually Sahuarita Elementary School.

Since those days, barcodes have replaced book cards and the internet has replaced encyclopedias, but one thing has remained the same, the women said.

The students.

"I think kids are basically the same. They love adults' attention. They love, whether they admit it or not, they really love to learn new and exciting things," Steely said. 

Dinosaurs, space, animals and gemstones remain favorite topics. R.L. Stine's Goosebumps books were popular in the late '90s, and they're becoming popular again. And Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants and Dog Man books are hugely popular now, too.

Books about kids having real life experiences are always a hit, too, they said.

"We’ve gone from Beverly Cleary’s Ramona-type books to Dork Diaries and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. It’s kids in real life experiences. They just keep reading it," Steely said. "They love fantasies, worlds to escape in. Harry Potter came out and everyone’s interested in magic and fantasy, then Dork Diaries and Diary of a Wimpy Kid came out and so we’re back to realistic fiction."

In the end, it doesn't matter what they're reading, Bradford said.

"If the kids are reading, I don't care what it is," Bradford said. "The more they read, the more they know, and the more they know the more successful they'll be."

Steely agreed.

"A lot of times children need incentives to explore the world of reading because it’s not going to be their choice. They’re competing with video games and television and movies and that whole game thing is a huge draw for their time," Steely said.

She sees graphic novels like the Dog Man series as "a great starter for someone who's not really into reading."

"Graphic novels are great for getting kids to read, but they don't expand their vocabulary and reading paragraphs and creating their own pictures in their mind," Steely said.

Bradford started out her career volunteering at her children's school library in Oregon. When she moved to Amado to be near her parents in Green Valley, she knew she wanted to work in a school again.

She loves introducing children to the Pigeon and Elephant and Piggie book series. 

"One of the things I always tell the kids is that a book on a shelf doesn't do anyone any good," she said.

Steely's mom is a librarian so her decision to work in a library just made sense.

"I love working. Love my job. Best job I’ve ever had. I love working with children. It’s always been a passion for me and I love the whole library experience. Grew up in a library," Steely said. "I have yet to get tired of my job."

Clarisa Nido, the principal at SIS, described Steely in an email as "one-of-a kind" and "irreplaceable."

"(She's) the heart of SIS. She works in the center of the school where she gives the school life and love with her circulation of books and blessing to 460 students, staff, and the entire Sahuarita Intermediate community. Through her time and dedication to SIS, she has pumped care, love and knowledge like oxygen through the body to each and every person she has come in contact with," Nido wrote.

The students at their respective schools visit the library once a week with their class and can pop in any time they like. When they visit with their class, they get 30 minutes to pick out books and read. They spend the remaining 30 minutes learning that week's lesson.

Both librarians decorate and redecorate their libraries throughout the year. Bradford started out the year with a star theme – Let Your Stars Shine. Each child was allowed to decorate their own star and it is now hanging in the mini auditorium where they gather for story time.

Bradford's library is filled with puzzles, games and a train set. Her children are allowed to read to a variety of stuffed animals, but they must be returned to their proper place by the end of the day.

She also has two huge cabinets filled with dozens upon dozens of Beanie Babies. At the end of every year, she gives out the duplicates and triplicates to children in a lottery system.

When Bradford isn't in the library, she can be found helping out in other classrooms and on the playground.

Sopori Principal Jim Heinzelmann said the school will have a tough time when Bradford ultimately decides to retire because she's done so much.

"Students enjoy going to the library as Ms. Bradford remembers the books that the students are looking for and works hard to have those books available when they return to the library," he said.

Steely lets each child check out two books a week. Prior to Wrightson Ridge opening and relieving the overcrowding at SIS, she was loaning out 2,000 books a week to roughly 700 kids. Nowadays, roughly 1,000 books are checked out weekly by the remaining 460 kids.

Bradford has roughly 15,000 books in her library, but every weekend she hits the White Elephant to buy more books out of her own pocket. Her students, who number a whopping 120, can check out up to six books a week as they get older.

Both library techs also add to their libraries annually with proceeds raised through Scholastic book fairs.

Bradford said she loves having so few students because she gets to know them well. She knows all of their names, their strengths and weaknesses, and adjusts accordingly. She even knows those who might need an extra hug or two.

"It's more like a family here than a school," she said. 

While some predict we will all one day be reading books digitally, Bradford and Steely doubt it. 

"I’m still old school in that I think holding a book in my hands and reading it, and turning the pages and exploring its options is still very valuable to us in learning and growing," Steely said. 

"Books will never end. We will have books forever. Books are an expression of self, another world to escape to, a ‘I wonder what would happen if I did...?’ It lets you see experiences through other people’s eyes. It opens the world of information," she said.

Kim Smith | 520-547-9740

Assistant Editor Kim Smith moved to Arizona from Michigan when she was 16. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in journalism in 1989. She has worked at seven newspapers of varying size in Arizona, Texas and Nevada.

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