Pueblo’s libraries are among the 10 institutions being recognized for their community work. Jon Walker, executive director for the library district, says libraries aren’t just warehouses for books anymore. Instead, he says, they’re places where anyone can access the information they need to live in the 21st century.
“We’re going to try and plug you in and help you gain that information and that learning and knowledge,” Walker says. “We don’t do it for you, but we support you in that endeavor.”
One of the people the library helped is Puebloan Mandy Brown, who had experienced homelessness.
“My life was a series of picking bad people and I would start getting on my feet and I’d start doing better and boom there I was in a shelter again,” she says.
Brown initially went to Pueblo’s main library because she wanted to escape the heat and she knew the building was air conditioned. Then she says, even though she was so intimidated by technology she couldn’t even stand next to a computer, the staff got her to try a computer class. Once Brown had some basic skills, a librarian suggested places she could apply for work.
“I was like they think I can hold down a job? And then one day somebody brought up school. And they said well you’re going to go to PCC (Pueblo Community College) aren’t you? And I looked at them like you’ve got to be crazy,” Brown says, “the next time I came in I wanted them to be proud of me, and they were!”
She says it’s because of the library staff that she enrolled in the nursing program at PCC. Now Brown has her own apartment.
“They believed in me and so it made me start believing in me,” she says.
Because of work like this, Pueblo’s libraries are getting the 2018 National Medal for Museum and Library Services. And both Walker and Brown are headed to Washington, DC next week for the awards ceremony on May 24.
Earlier this year, as the result of a huge social media campaign, the district was also voted best library in the country—an award given by the group Engaging Local Government Leaders.