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Local librarian finds home at UNK library
Emily Wemhoff
Antelope Staff
Photo by Emily Wemhoff

She has traveled the world, learned new languages and found a passion for music all in one place. Tone’ Mendoza, a librarian and diversity specialist at the UNK library, was only 11 years old when she dropped out of school in order to work. After a day of labor, she would spend hours reading and learning anything she could at the local library in Kansas City, where she grew up.
“Going to the library was like going to a supermarket and having anything you want for two weeks,” Mendoza said.
The library soon became her new home and a place where dreamers like herself, found her calling in life.

Q: What really interested you in becoming a librarian?
A: Well, I came from a family of 16 kids. When I was 11 years old I dropped out of school to work. I spent all my extra time at the library in Kansas City. As I got older, my cousin, who never went to school a day in her life, took me to a high school and told the principal that I needed to be in school because I read too much. So I finished high school and then finished school at the University of Kansas. I even went on and received my master’s degree at Emporia State in Kansas.

Q: That is amazing. What made libraries so special to you?
A: The library was my home. I always felt I could go anywhere in the world. So I naturally gravitated towards that. I got the opportunity to go to Emporia State University, the library school, on a fellowship. I guess life takes you where it takes you.

Q: What was it like being raised in such a big family?
A: I am very grateful to my parents for what they taught me and the rest of my family. There is no one in my family that is the same. I think when you have that kind of difference you learn to cooperate more, you learn to get along more and at the same time you learn how to stand up on your two feet. I don’t want people in boxes. I don’t want people who are the same all the time. It does nothing for the adventure.

Q: Was it hard for you going back to school after dropping out?
A: All my brothers and sisters were working by the time they were 11 or 12, so it wasn’t anything unusual to drop out. My first semester of college was the first time in my life that I got straight As. I was ready to pack my bags and go back to Kansas City, because I figured I had failed. Instead when I went to the different offices to check my grades, it was one A after another.
I went up to one of my instructors and said, “It says I got an A."
She told me, “You came here fresh with ideas, and you came here with potential. Nobody cared where you came from. They just wanted to see how you performed, and you got what it takes."
At the end she said, "Go for it girl!" So I did.

Q: How did you stay focused and motivated to continue?
A: I’ve been blessed with people that have extended their knowledge and their spirit and themselves in ways to get me back into school. One thing they taught me is to share with others in helping them in any way you can. That’s the way librarianship is. When people come through the door, we share whatever we know. The sources are unlimited. All you have to do is come through those library doors and say “I need some help.”

Q: I guess we kind of take libraries for granted.
A: We are on this earth for maybe 70, 80 or 90 years. We don’t last very long. With what we can do from the time of our birth to our death is unlimited. In the library you have access to philosophy, music, art, mathematics. You can take these things and make them your own. You can come up with your own ideas and contribute to the world.

Q: How does the library keep up with the changes in the world and the advances in technology?
A: Well, as a liaison, I act as a bridge between the library and different departments on campus. What we do is allocate different funds so that we can purchase materials related to different areas. This includes all kind of materials, such as DVDs, videos, children’s books and all kinds of posters, not just books. At the same time, we are purchasing more and more subscriptions to databases online.
The world is changing, and we need to support our students to help them become familiar and literate in those changes. We too have to change with the times.

Q: What makes this library so unique?
A: I work with other librarians who are scholars, athletes, comics or cutouts. Librarianship is not what people think it is. Librarians know what they are talking about when they talk about resources and how their resources can be used to benefit a purpose. It’s a damn good profession to get into.

Q: What is one thing that you think would get more students into libraries?
A: This is part of my personal journey, but for me, the library is a place for dreamers. It’s where you can take anything you are interested in and explore it. It can teach you so many subtleties about life and about yourself. But you have to have your spirit open to you. You can’t buy into everything so seriously, but if you keep open, it can bring anything in your life you desire.


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