‘Every day is different and it’s heavy’: The Uvalde library director on its role as an archive

Tammie Sinclair joined El Progresso Memorial Library shortly after the shooting in 2022. She said it’s been a space for gathering and personal reflection.

By Georgina Barahona & Laura RiceMay 20, 2024 2:15 pm, , , ,

Tammie Sinclair grew up in Uvalde.

“I went to school here. I graduated high school. I went to the junior college and the university here. So Uvalde is my home,” Sinclair said.

She first became a teacher and moved away from her hometown for a little while.

“During COVID, I decided to go back to school since we were forced to be home. And that’s what I started working on, kind of a passion of mine, which was to be a librarian,” Sinclair said.

She decided to finish her degree requirements in Uvalde.

“And then the tragedy happened,” Sinclair said. “And then it was kind of like, ‘you’re going to learn more than you could ever learn.’”

Sinclair herself wasn’t at the library when the shooting happened on May 24, 2022.

“Our regular full-time staff was here, and they could actually hear the shots because the school is not very far away from here,” she said.

She said the team realized immediately that they’d need to play a role in what came next.

“And we knew that the kids, the younger kids that are still here, they needed some kind of normalcy,” Sinclair said. “And so they decided that, ‘we have to do this, we need to open up, we need to continue to be a safe haven, we need to open the doors for people, because now we need each other more than ever.’ And so they did. They opened the next day. They had children’s story hour and continued.”

And then it grew.

“We had people from all over driving in and offering means of support, whether it was almost like a circus – we had miniature ponies in the building, therapy dogs, we had magic shows, face painting, barrel rides outside,” Sinclair said.

“We had bouncy castles right in the middle of the library… So just from that very next day on for the entire year, there’s something every day, if not more than one thing per day, that was going on just to bring some kind of safe place for the community.”

There were also book donations in the thousands. Many, she said, were given out to the community. But they also had to add shelves to the library.

Now, the library is also taking on another mission: serving as a repository for an oral history and archiving donations – especially art pieces.

“What we set up was a tunnel of love,” Sinclair said. “Cards were taped to the walls, and we had all the banners that we received on the walls. Quilts were everywhere. So people would come in and just reflect, I think, take it all in, and had a quiet space to just think.”

Sinclair said some pieces have come directly from the families of those killed in the shooting.
A photo of a small wooden cross with hundreds of rosaries hanging off of it. A sign underneath it reads "DOTS: Don't Offend The Students Do Something!"
She said the archival process can be difficult.

“Every day is different and it’s heavy,” Sinclair said. “One of the items that really hit me the heaviest was these wooden cutouts. There are 21 wooden cutouts of the children and the teachers. And then the one with Irma [Garcia], her husband, Joe, is on it as well. And they’re these beautiful pieces.

I had seen them day in and day out, and we had them in boxes. But when the Harry Ransom Center came in and they made custom boxes for us because you couldn’t just order a box off the shelf, they’re all different… when you put it all together, it felt like I was putting them to bed. ‘Here’s a little pillow for the head.’ It looked like a little piece of cardboard, and then we had tissue paper around them. And then the final piece was to cover them with tissue, and it just felt like tucking them in. And that was a very hard day for me.

I’m a mom, I have young kids as well, and so it’s still hard to talk about it now… So it really is a day by day, instance by instance, conversation by conversation, how the day kind of changes.”

The library is working with the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center and Baylor University on the archives and hope to have both up and running by the end of 2024.

But Sinclair said the library’s mission isn’t just keeping track of the past – it’s ongoing.

“So we are constantly thinking of how we can support, how we can stay up to date, but also thinking about the future. We’re educating people and equipping them with the tools that they need for their future. So that’s kind of what I see,” Sinclair said.

“The library, it holds a significant piece of our past. It prepares us for the future, but it’s also our present things that we need in the moment as well.”

A team of students at Texas State University are working with Professor Eraldo “Dino” Chiecchi to continue to tell the stories of Uvalde. Here are their reflections on the project.

A photo of Georgina Barahona taking a photoGeorgina Barahona
Age: 24
Major: Journalism
Hometown: Austin, TX
Graduation: May or December 2025

My trip to Uvalde was marked by a profound mix of emotions. As a student studying journalism, this story was the most important project that I’ve been apart of. It has been a great honor to go through this experience. I felt nervous as soon as I signed up and I knew that no matter the challenges, I would get through this with the supportive team we had. Through interviews with affected families, I witnessed the raw courage and unwavering solidarity that emerged amidst their darkest of times. Their stories became a testament to the power of the human spirit and the importance of empathy in healing. As I reflect on my time in Uvalde, I’m reminded of the unity and strength a community has when it’s needed most. I thank all the families for allowing the time and space to speak with us.

A photo of Eraldo Chiecchi.Eraldo “Dino” Chiecchi, MFA
Texas State University
Multimedia journalism professor
Uvalde reporting project coordinator
Hometown: El Paso, Texas

This is the second time our journalism students visited Uvalde, Texas, to report on this senseless tragedy – the worst days of the lives of so many people. Our students reported these difficult stories on the mass killing of 19 students and two teachers with grace, empathy and with the respect the victims deserved. Parents of the victims commented to me immediately after the interviews and elsewhere just how well prepared the students were to interview them – even more than some national media. As a result, family members were candid telling the stories. Students and I talked a great deal about vicarious trauma – a real thing among journalists and others who deal with tragedy. Students talked at length, especially on the drive back home. We visited Uvalde on two different days and conducted one interview in Austin. At the end of the project, students produced quality journalism – stories, video and audio pieces, and exceptional photography.

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