Rachel Garza Carreón, UI Libraries

Rachel Garza Carreon. Photo by Tim Schoon.

Rachel Garza Carreón grew up hearing that a college education wasn’t part of her future, that professional success was beyond her reach.

Thankfully not all voices were negative, not all doors were closed. Through the opportunities provided by the Upward Bound program and the encouragement she received from mentors, she was able to attend Boston University for her undergraduate degree and the University of Texas at Austin for her master’s. She has gone on to accomplish things once thought to be nothing more than dreams.

Carreón is giving back to the Iowa City community, and encouraging others without support to pursue their dreams.

“You can’t let fear rule your life. I try to remind students that it is okay to think big and want to see the world no matter what anyone has told them.”

A staunch advocate for social justice, Carreón does many things in her role as the outreach, recruitment, and research librarian with University of Iowa Libraries to make the UI a more welcoming place. She spoke with fyi about her work and when she realized her desire to make an impact on people’s lives.

You are involved with the Mujeres Latinas Project—what is that?

The Mujeres Latinas Project of the Iowa Women’s Archives (www.lib.uiowa.edu/iwa/mujeres.html) began in 2004, right before I arrived at the UI. The project was established to collect and preserve materials that document the lives and contributions of Latinas and their families to Iowa history. So far, IWA curator Kären Mason, assistant curator Janet Weaver, and I have collected more than 100 interviews.

A few of my favorite things…
Carne Guisada and Carne Asada Tacos

The book Illusions by Richard Bach

Rock music (Foo Fighters, Linkin Park)

The movie Grosse Pointe Blank

The TV show Leverage

San Antonio Spurs

Before I arrived at the UI, I had experience with oral histories and designing projects similar to this one. It was a perfect match, something I would enjoy doing. It fit my personal interest, because I didn’t know the history of Latinos in Iowa before I began this project. I care about this project, and it made my first few years at Iowa much more comforting because I connected with my culture.

For this project, I traveled throughout Iowa and interviewed families. I would go to community centers, make fliers, and introduce myself to the community. For a project like this one, it is important that you make connections with the families, so they feel comfortable sharing their lives with you. I would ask questions about their background, look at paperwork, and listen to stories about items the families would share with me—mostly pictures, but sometimes objects.

After interviewing the families and collecting items, we would go through the audio, organize pictures, and make the information available to researchers.

What are the Spotlight displays located in the Main Library?

I remember working at the information desk and just staring at this empty wall right across from the desk—it bothered me. I thought it would be nice if that wall could be created into something that represented the cultural houses and LGBT Resource Center on campus.

The first display was about Hispanic Heritage month. It turned out nicely and I received positive feedback, so I continued the project and decided to name it the Spotlight series. Now each display spotlights a different topic, but includes representatives from all of the five groups represented by the houses and center. It is a challenge to get all the elements I need for a display. I am helped by the library’s facilities department and my colleagues John Elson and Carlette Washington-Hoagland.

The display is a living display—it’s interactive, as in you can take the books from the display if you wish. I want a lot of interaction with the displays, and it is constantly changing. It means a lot to me when students become inspired to write a paper by something or person that was featured in the display. There is a comments box by each display and I am always excited to hear what people have to say.

How about the library’s Welcoming Walls?

This project started because I saw an opportunity to utilize a space and make the library more welcoming. Many students said the library was dark and not relatable, so I wanted to create an atmosphere that was colorful and inclusive to different groups.

I wanted to get art from all over that represented many artistic styles and artists. I bought national, local, and student art. I had a vision of what I wanted—I wanted color and the pieces to relate to each other. I created a blueprint of the display, and my vision came together.

This was a huge risk because I asked the university and the library for funding, and I put the entire project together. I am proud of this project, and it is nice when I see students looking at the art or making comments about the art. There is an art guide at the information desk with information on all the art.

As a child, you knew that you wanted your life’s work to have an impact. How have you been able to do this through the activities you are involved with?

After participating in Upward Bound, starting in the eighth grade, I was given opportunities I never would have been able to have. I was taught how to do college applications and financial aid forms on my own. When I said I wanted to go to Boston University they were very supportive of the idea. My goal has been to give back as much as I can. It’s important to me that I help someone every day—whether that is helping students in school, preserving someone’s story through an oral history, or designing something for the libraries.

Volunteerism and standing up for what you believe in are a huge part of my life. You have to stand up and do something, and I try to do that as often as I can.

One such activity is teaching Upward Bound classes for the library in the summer. I love those classes and I love the Upward Bound Program. It’s the core of how you can do life on your own. It’s good preparation, and teaches you to have faith in yourself.

Visit the UI Upward Bound Project website for more information on the project.