The city of Santa Fe announced Thursday that Maria Sanchez-Tucker, an 11-year veteran of the Pueblo City-County Library District in Colorado, has been hired as director of the public library system.

Sanchez-Tucker, who starts Aug. 19, replaces Pat Hodapp, who retired in February after 14 years of overseeing the downtown Main Library, the midtown La Farge Branch Library and the Southside Branch Library on Jaguar Drive.

According to city spokeswoman Lilia Chacon, Sanchez-Tucker’s salary will be $83,886 a year.

Sanchez-Tucker’s projects in the Pueblo library system have received national recognition and funding, the city said in a news release.

As Pueblo’s manager of special collections and museum services, Sanchez-Tucker in 2012 expanded a library museum on the First Amendment, the history of journalism and the history of the local newspaper, the Pueblo Chieftain. And in 2018, she spearheaded a Community Digital Memory Lab, which invited the community to preserve family history, digitize collections and research genealogy.

Sanchez-Tucker, 45, a University of New Mexico graduate, said her love for libraries is rooted in childhood visits to a local library with her mother.

“It was this safe space where we could all go and have fun and experience whatever we wanted to learn about,” she said Thursday. “A place that has a wealth of resources right at your fingertips.”

Sanchez-Tucker, said she often hears comments that libraries are outdated or irrelevant, but she disagrees.

“[Libraries are] becoming the heart of the community,” the Pueblo native said. “They increase education outcomes for everybody, foster literacy. They also encourage innovation and creativity. Libraries are a community space where people can come and learn from each other.”

Sanchez-Tucker said said she wants to partner with the community in shaping a vision for the future of the Santa Fe Public Library, and hopes to meet challenges, such as budgetary concerns and staffing, in a joint effort.

“We need to listen to the community and see what areas Santa Fe members would like to see changes in their libraries,” she said.

Sanchez-Tucker earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology at UNM and a Master of Arts in museum science at Texas Tech University.

After receiving her master’s degree, she returned to her hometown and worked at a historical society, which sparked her interest in archives and libraries. She then enrolled in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to earn a second master’s degree in library sciences, Sanchez-Tucker said.

Sanchez-Tucker said she has always wanted to return to New Mexico, and she jumped at the chance to apply for the position in Santa Fe.

Kyra Ochoa, director of the city’s Community Services Department, said there were three finalists for the position after a series of interviews — two candidates from out of state and one from Albuquerque.

“Maria Sanchez-Tucker is a great fit for where we are right now with Santa Fe libraries and where we want to go,” Ochoa said.

Ochoa said the city has an innovative way of looking at its libraries. “The idea of a 21st century library is meeting people where they are and listening to what they need,” she said. “It may be a book, it may be a class, it may be a community — it may be more.”

A $75,000 review of Santa Fe’s public libraries, the first of its kind for the city, will be made public no later than September, Ochoa said, adding the effort will assist officials when it comes to creating library budgets.

Jeffrey Donlan, who has served as the interim director of the Santa Fe Public Library since November when Hodapp took medical leave, said he is eager for Sanchez-Tucker to take on the job. He described the position as both rewarding and challenging, coming at a time when the libraries have experienced short-staffing, with up to 10 vacancies.

“Being a library director is an all-encompassing job and I’m happy to pass it on,” Donlan said. “It’s a really promising time at the library.”