Written By: Adina Vega

The amazing architecture of the Rawlings Library in Pueblo, CO

The Pueblo City-County Library District (PCCLD) is a public library system serving Pueblo County, Colorado. The Robert Hoag Rawlings Public Library’s main branch is in the Mesa Junction neighborhood. The Rawlings Library pays homage to the original Pueblo library, which dates back to 1902. The main branch also hosts the InfoZone News Museum, which features vintage equipment from The Pueblo Chieftain, a history of newspapers, art exhibits, and films. The Local History and Genealogy Department is on the library’s third floor. The department has collected, preserved, and provided access to local historical-interest materials since the late 1800s. It includes reference materials and online information resources to assist with historical research. This department houses a specialized non-circulating collection of rare materials related to the history of Colorado, the Rocky Mountains West, and Northern New Mexico, emphasizing Pueblo and the Arkansas River Valley. The department also offers a circulating collection on the history and culture of the American Southwest, Southern Colorado, and Colorado, as well as books on genealogy research. Jasel Cantu is the Local History and Genealogy Librarian for PCCLD. We asked her a series of questions to understand what it’s like to be in her position and the challenges she faced to get there.

Jasel Cantu, Local History and Genealogy Librarian with Pueblo City-County Library District

  1. What is your name, title, and place of employment, and how long have you worked there? What do you enjoy most about your position?

My name is Jasel Cantu. My title is Local History and Genealogy Librarian with Pueblo City-County Library District, and I have been here for almost three years.

I enjoy working with patrons on their genealogy research and my department’s collection acquisition.

  1. What pathway did you study during your MLS studies? Which school did you choose? When did you graduate?

My concentration is in Archives. I attended Emporia State University in Kansas and graduated in 2021.

  1. If an MLS student is interested in special librarianship but unsure, what advice would you give them?

I recommend they ask themselves what they do and do not like to do. This area can be research-heavy, and you must stay up-to-date with new technology and research databases. If you do not like to do research, then I would not recommend this area. I also do not recommend special librarianship for disorganized individuals. You must be very organized in librarianship, especially in special librarianship.

  1. What do you see in your future as a special librarian? Do you want to continue your schooling?

I continue training and taking professional development classes. Attending webinars and keeping up with the latest trends and technology is a good idea.

  1. What challenges did you face during school and after graduation? What was your job search experience like?

My challenge was balancing my full-time job and attending school part-time. I dedicated my weekends to school, and if needed, I had to change my schedule or take vacation time from my job to finish assignments. I could not set aside my work or schoolwork and had to treat them equally important. My job also required a lot of travel, so I had to balance school and classes around that as well. Sometimes, I attended courses in different states or on the road and could not always answer emails promptly. I informed my classmates if we were in group projects so they knew where I was or when I could respond to them if I were on the road. Another challenge was COVID, which changed how we attended classes. I could not take an internship, which hurt me since I did not have library work experience. When applying for jobs, I had to explain that I did not have archival internships or library work experience due to COVID and a lack of opportunities due to my full-time job in social services and not in a library. I received my MLS when I wanted a career change, and my background was in literature, government, journalism, marketing, and social services. The lack of library work experience did hurt me, and I am certain I was passed over for jobs as a result. In applications and interviews, I would explain that while I did not work in a library, I worked in social services, which gave me experience working with people, especially at-risk people. I still did a lot of research relevant to my job experience, including archival research. I explained how my experience and training would help my library work, which it has, but I had to make up a lot of missed experience.

  1. What work projects or plans would you like to accomplish in the next year?

My department was awarded a Mellon grant to set up digital memory labs in rural areas. I want to start this with my department within a year. This is an exciting project.

  1. What was one of the most exciting pieces of history you’ve been able to handle and research?

I have researched the Italian community in Pueblo, Italian mines, and railroad workers. I have learned a lot about this community and found a small Italian cemetery in a rural location built for the railroad. I want to continue researching and writing an article about it.

  1. Why do you think special libraries are essential to the library world?

Libraries and librarians have to serve a large variety of needs for patrons and the community. It can differ from day to day and with the weather, such as providing a list of shelters in cold weather, teaching a person how to use a USB drive or scan a document to email, hosting a field trip, helping a person find a book, and teaching a patron how to use a research database. It is good to have a separate department and librarians to assist with a specific need that allows the rest of the library and librarians to address other patron needs. In my experience, assisting a patron with research can be time-consuming, and depending on their research, it may take weeks with multiple visits and inquiries. I can use this time to assist the patron and allow librarians to assist other patrons without sacrificing their time or attention. It is also good to keep special libraries in a separate area and department to attend to patron needs such as a quiet space, special computers, and having the reference collection nearby. It is a bad design to have a children’s area too close to a special library, causing noise, but it is still best practice to have an area nearby for researchers’ children or to have materials on hand for their children. I can attest that special libraries are in demand, and we have a steady and constant stream of students, patrons, and researchers coming to our department for assistance.

  1. Describe a touching or exciting experience you’ve had helping a patron find a piece of information.

One New Jersey patron wanted help finding local information on an uncle from the early 1900s. He only had family lore, possible dates, and a name. I found this uncle in Italian newspapers and shared the information with them. The patron had been told his uncle lost a leg from “train-hopping” from New York City to Pueblo in the early 1900s to get a job. However, it turned out that this uncle had been a victim of police brutality on his way from New York City to Pueblo. He had not been “train-hopping” he was waiting to board a train in St. Louis when he was beaten and shot in apparent anti-Italian violence and had to have a leg amputated. The local community brought him to Pueblo and arranged his care since he could no longer work. It was shocking for the patron; now he knew the truth about his uncle.

  1. What are your favorite genres to read? Do you have a favorite book?

I like to read a different genre after each book, with my favorite genres being science fiction and fantasy. Since I began this position, I primarily read a lot of history and memoirs since I do the collection acquisition for my department. As a result, I read science fiction anthologies, a short story I can finish in one day between each history book to cleanse my palate. The anthologies I recommend are the “American Best Short Stories” series, which has new books every year, including Best Mystery, Best Short Story, Best Horror, Best Science Fiction, etc. I also recommend the new ‘Weird Tales’ anthology that just came out. My favorite all-time book is “Bless Me, Ultima” it spoke to me as a Tejana who grew up on a farm with Mexican culture around me.

Categories: iSchool SLA


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