This article by Librarian Janet Quackenbush was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on March 16, 2019.
Follow Arizona 86 west from Tucson until it ends and make a right onto Arizona 85. Travel another 10 miles and you’ll find Ajo.
Most people traveling that way head south to Rocky Point and miss our lovely historical mining town with a beautiful plaza and the Salazar-Ajo Library — a 5,000-square-foot gem serving residents of Ajo, Why, Lukeville, and the Tohono O’odham Nation.
I grew up in a small town on the shores of the Little Calumet River in Chesterton, Indiana. I enjoy life in a small town, especially the history and sense of community. Although I’m far from Indiana now, I’m still in a small town I love dearly. Here in Ajo I manage the Salazar-Ajo Library — the first branch of the Pima County Public Library system, which opened in 1946.
Near the back door of the library, I can see a cross in memory of John Campbell Greenway. He was a Rough Rider, a close friend of Teddy Roosevelt, and a mining engineer who designed the town of Ajo for the Calumet and Arizona Mining Co. To my right, I see Artist Alley, full of colorful murals depicting local culture.
I’ll always remember going to my local library when I was in elementary school. My favorite assigned task was to look up three books in the card catalog and then go searching for them. My early love for the library has continued through adulthood; I still enjoy finding those books and feeling them in my hands.
In my late 40s, I applied for a Pima County clerical job. Lo and behold, it was at the Miller-Golf Links Library. I found the job I truly loved.
The card catalog is now online and much more efficient, but I do miss the lovely wooden drawers and index cards with Dewey Decimal notations.
After a few years as a library clerk, I began graduate school at the University of Arizona with the help of the Friends of the Green Valley Library scholarship program. I graduated in 2013 with my master of arts in library science.
This year, I became the manager of the Salazar-Ajo Library. Ajo is a community of fewer than 4,000 people and the population can vary greatly with winter visitors.
Look closely and you’ll see the historic neighborhood that still looks very similar to what John and Isabella Greenway (founder of the Arizona Inn) designed. You might notice the renovated Curley School from 1917 or some of the Sears and Roebuck kit homes constructed to house mining company employees. Here’s a fun fact: Each home has a garage. They were built that way to attract prospective employees. The idea being that if you worked for the mine, you could afford an automobile.
Let’s get back to the library. Inside you’ll find an interesting collection of books, computers, seeds (yes, seeds!) for checkout, a great printer, and friendly staff and customers.
You might meet a longtime customer like Julia Fulkerson who, at 100 years old, stops by every few weeks to get her books at the self-checkout. Many local poets, artists and authors frequent the library, including Tom Kiefer, whose “El Sueño Americano — The American Dream” exhibition is getting international notoriety.
Out for a drive? Come to Ajo! Circle the beautiful plaza and swing by the library. You will find friendly staff in our quaint library filled with Ajo residents and our winter visitors, depending on the time of year. Stay for a few nights and you won’t hear much noise but the howling coyotes of the desert. If you’re just swinging through, you can still check out a book. Items can be returned to any of our 26 libraries around Pima County.
I am delighted to be a part of this community. Coming from the banks of the Little Calumet to the historic home of the Calumet and Arizona Mining Co., it seems fitting for me to end up here.
Janet Quackenbush manages the Salazar-Ajo Library. She graduated with an M.A. from the University of Arizona and a B.A. from Purdue University. She enjoys researching Arizona history, walking the railroad tracks of Ajo and the Alamo Canyon of Organ Pipe National Monument.