Pueblo Library District launches digital archiving project to preserve history around southeastern Colorado

Pueblo City County Library District
Pueblo City County Library District Local History and Genealogy Department Manager Aaron Ramirez studies historical railway maps in the archive vault.

Some of southeastern Colorado’s history can be told through photos and videos of everyday life. Those are among the things the Pueblo City-County Library District wants to capture in its Shared Memories project.

Currently, the program has a Digital Memory Lab with various digitizing technologies at the Rawlings Library in Pueblo. The goal is to expand this project to reach rural and marginalized communities around southeast Colorado and help people collect and digitize their images, recordings and more.

“Our priority is preservation and raising awareness of the importance of their family, of their personal collections here in southeastern Colorado,” said Aaron Ramirez, who leads the district’s local history and genealogy department.

Ramirez said PCCLD will provide the tools to help get those materials digitized and archived and the project is for people from all walks of life.

“If you're not rich or famous, you don't make it into the history books,” he said. “This is an effort to share the culture of southeastern Colorado and help preserve that culture.”

A $250,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation will fund six permanent and five mobile memory labs. They'll go to 16 counties in southern Colorado, stretching from San Luis Valley to the Eastern Plains, according to Ramirez.

The new regional memory labs will provide equipment and training at no cost to users for do-it-yourself digitization of all kinds of materials, including photographs, slides, documents, floppy disks, and outdated video and audio media like film movies, VHS tapes and cassettes. Recording equipment for oral histories will also be available. 

Ramirez said users will keep their items and are not required to share them publicly.

“A goal of this project is to not be extractive,” he said. “We've seen colonial type strategies of coming in and taking history and culture and artifacts and things from a people and doing with them as an archivist might," he said, alluding to museums or other institutions keeping them for exhibition, study, or other uses.

"If the participants are willing to share their images, their visual recordings, their sound recordings with us," he said, "we will happily help them share." Ramirez said they want to reach communities like Hispanic/Latino/a, African American and rural residents and  “fill in the historical record of these missing voices."

Pueblo City-County Library District
Members of the Southern Colorado Charro Association, a group of Hispanic equestrians and ranchers in Pueblo County gather to digitize their personal collections during a scanning day hosted by the Pueblo City County Library District.

A $15,000 grant from a similar program at the library in Washington, D.C. helped the district set up its first memory lab for people in Pueblo County. Ramirez said those facilities have been used more than 100 times since 2021, so the work is already underway on a smaller scale.

The Pueblo Library main branch has hosted community events including a scanning day for the Southern Colorado Charro Association, a group of Hispanic equestrians and ranchers active in Pueblo County.

Members of the group digitized their personal collections and some chose to share their content through the library’s online archive.

“The main goal we were after was to scan things and help people preserve their history,” Ramirez said, “but sort of a side effect was that these people all sharing their experiences in this group were able to come together (to reconnect) and chat and reminisce about pastimes and take a second look at these photos and materials.”

Ramirez said PCCLD plans to reach out to other libraries in the Southeastern Colorado region, along with various groups that might be interested in either housing a permanent memory lab or hosting a mobile setup.