Library in Uvalde Hires Archivist to Preserve Mementos Honoring the 21 Victims

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Uvalde’s El Progreso Memorial Library was founded in 1903. In addition to books, access to the internet, and learning resources, the library has a local history room and archive.

"We've had an archive at the library for many decades. Virginia Davis is our professionally trained archivist," said Mendell Morgan, the director of the local public library.

"We will always have this as a very deep scar on the soul of our community, but it's not the only thing about our community. And I would like people to know that Uvalde is much more than what happened, that we had a colorful history. We're the town who produced the governor of the State of Texas, Dolph Briscoe; was the home of John Nance Garner, who was the former vice president of the United States; home of Matthew McConaughey."

However, the library's role shifted towards one of a community and healing hub.

"We are grateful for every single card, letter, thought, prayer, every dollar sent, every book," Morgan said. "It took us 119 years to build a collection of 76,000 items, and then to have 9,000 more sent in just a few months has been also overwhelming for our cataloger."

The change began the day after the Robb Elementary shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead.

"My first thought was that we needed to keep as normal an operation going as possible because we could no longer serve the people who sadly passed away as a result of the tragedy," Morgan said. "I felt we needed to be thoughtful of the people who were still living, and that certainly included the preschoolers who normally come to their story hour on Wednesday morning."

The children and their parents experienced a first moment of joy.

"They were acting like children normally do. They were laughing and smiling and interacting," Morgan said.

People from across the nation felt compelled to offer their time to host free special programs and events for the children and community of Uvalde.

Meanwhile, the mementos continued to fill the library.

"I was very grateful because we had an outreach by Eric Lipner, who is the director of Humanities Texas in Austin, and he perceived that we were going to need help," Morgan said. "Eric realized that in the midst of this tragedy, we were being bombarded and inundated with things that it was significant and they need to be held and maintained for posterity. So, he said, I'm aware that there is funding under the National Endowment for the Humanities."

Through a grant, El Progreso Memorial Library was able to hire an archivist solely dedicated to the Los Angelitos de Robb Archive.

"We were so fortunate that one of the candidates was Tammi Sinclair," Morgan said. "She's a Uvalde girl. She was born and reared here, was a teacher in the schools, and had gone away to work for the Texas Education Agency in Austin."

Morgan knew she was the perfect fit for the job.

"Her heart was really in doing library work and archives. So, during the last few years, she had enrolled at the University of North Texas and has just finished her Master of Library Information Science with a focus in archival work," Morgan said.

Since January, Sinclair has helped catalog and preserve the wave of love that followed the massacre.

"These are not strangers to me," Sinclair said. "And I will say I didn't know everyone, but it is Uvalde and we're a tight-knit community."

Her role is to go through the thousands of items donated and fill out the deed of gift receipt.

"We've really focused on making sure that the most sensitive materials that we are properly storing them with archival quality boxes and tissue paper. We use acid-free tissue paper," Sinclair said. "If we think if these were just left outside or not properly stored, what are they going to look like? Some of these items would be nonexistent because of the elements, right? Acid in the rain could deteriorate if it was a textile and it's left out in the rain. And then you bring it in and there's mold. So, we have to really be careful with those things."

She thinks about the impact the archive will have for years and centuries to come.

"One beautiful thing is keeping their stories alive, and that we remember them and really just doing justice. And these collections are for the families, for survivors, for researchers, also for the people, the artist or the children," Sinclair said. "This is a piece of our history that people will never forget. We will never forget that this happened, and we want to keep that piece of history preserved."

While the salary for the archivist is only good for a year, El Progreso Memorial Library explores other options to keep Sinclair as a full-time employee.

"I imagine by the end of December she will have done the majority of that work and then the grant will end. So, I had proposed to the board that at the time that happened, I felt it would be time for me to step down as library director," Morgan said. "And I would like to have her appointed to run the library and oversee the special archives as well. And then I would like to stay on to help try to raise funds for some projects that we have to improve the library building."

Currently, the library has a display of 21 hand-painted wood cutouts that capture the unique personality of each victim. The display is in a glass case located in the lobby of the library across from its bookstore.

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