I just got back from vacation. Normally I don’t take vacations in January, but this year was an exception as we were celebrating my partner’s retirement. After weeks of batting around ideas, we finally settled on a place we both love: the Southwest. So, with cheap tickets, a rental car and a Google document with our itinerary, we were off.
As wonderful as it was to be in my beloved West – those skies, that sun, the Mexican food – I still had classes to attend and papers to write. So, we made sure to book rooms that had WiFi and my partner brought plenty of reading material so that, when I was in class, he had something to do.
When you are on the road do you pay attention to where a library is situated when we are in an unfamiliar area? Do you take pictures of the outside, or even go in? I do this quite frequently both with libraries and independent bookstores. Perhaps it was because I had just read an article for class on the Bisbee Arizona Library winning Best Small Library for 2019, but something drove me to walk into another small library in Ajo, Arizona, and I am happy I did.
Our reason for spending the night in Ajo was due to it’s proximity to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, an amazing park that we had never visited. Ajo was once a thriving community that had an active copper mine for many years. Now, it is slowly reinventing itself with a cooperative arts community that has created an Inn and Conference Center from the old elementary school and an arts school in the old high school.
The Salazar-Ajo Library, which is part of the Pima County Library System, is a real gem. Situated on the plaza, the central hub of town with galleries, coffee shops and the post office close by, it was humming with activity when I walked in last Wednesday at 4:00 pm. There were older adults reading newspapers and catching up in the front area, with a large group of young adults working cooperatively together on a bank of computers and study tables. One volunteer was double-checking a student’s math homework with the assistance of one of the librarians. There was a lovely children’s area with bright dinosaurs painted on the walls – a nod to the prehistoric landscape that is predominate in desert country. I found a cart of library discards to browse, placed next to the seed catalog I snapped a picture of after asking permission of the staff.
Lately, I have been questioning my decision to transition to a public library career after so many years of working in an academic library. My age and my lack of experience in a public library have felt like barriers. However, after walking into this thriving library in a border community that has a large Homeland Security presence and a wall being constructed not too far away, I believe I have made the right decision. Libraries are a bastion of the democratic values I hold dear and this is especially true of public libraries. I believe there will be a library out there for me, one that has an engaged population, who are open to new ideas and interesting programs. So, I will continue to seek out public libraries when I am on the road. I advise you to do the same – you never know what may come out of it.
Photo of Salazar-Ajo Library taken by Lisa Ladd