Publication Date

March 14, 2024

Perspectives Section

Member Spotlight, Perspectives Daily


  • Latin America/Caribbean



Mara Cota is an academic librarian and tenure-track faculty at San Diego State University Imperial Valley (a satellite campus of SDSU). She lives in Calexico, California, and San Diego, California, and has been a member since 2020.

Mara Cota

Mara Cota

Alma maters: BA (English/drama), Franciscan University of Steubenville, 1997; MA, San Diego State University, 2003; MLIS, San José State University, 2012

Fields of interest: leadership in libraries, generational memory, Mexico/Baja California, Latinx librarianship

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?

My career path has involved many turns. But eventually I found myself working in a library and I realized they were paying me to learn, help people, and be around books (mundane, magical things). Someone suggested a master’s in library science. More school! Right up my alley. I spent about 13 years in public libraries and loved it. But in 2019 I decided that I wanted to try the academic side of the house, both for the teaching and for the scholarship. Academia has an interesting culture and so far I do not regret my decision. Education is transformative. I am lucky to get to work and learn with students as well as fellow faculty.

What do you like the most about where you live and work?

I actually live and work in two cities: San Diego and Calexico. I was born in San Diego and most of my family is nearby so that is my favorite thing about that place (plus nice weather). Calexico is a border town 110 miles east of San Diego. My campus is half a mile from the US-Mexico border. It is in the Imperial Valley, a desert that was irrigated in the early 20th century—an idea I find infinitely fascinating and troubling. What I like the most about the city are the students at my campus. They are dedicated, resilient, intelligent, and courteous. I learn from them constantly.

What projects are you currently working on?

A history of my satellite campus library; establishing and promoting an institutional archive at said library; an article on leading by collaboration for librarians; and always in the background my family history, which is entwined with Mexican history, immigration history and policies, diverse regions and industries.

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?

My interests are always evolving. But my interest in how humans interact seems to be undying. That is a thread that joins the subjects I have studied over the years—literature, theatre, history—and it is definitely something that librarianship could be better at understanding and doing. That is what drives my interest in historical topics as well as in libraries as a institution and a profession.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?

As a librarian, this question makes me want to conduct a reference interview. Here are a couple of choices. Nonfiction: Ghosts of Archive by Verne Harris. Fiction: The Logan Family Saga by Mildred D. Taylor (5 novels, 4 novellas). Both authors will have you thinking and, occasionally, reeling.

What do you value most about the history discipline?

That it is a search for understanding: why things are as they are, who we are, how we can do better. I am fascinated by the role of individual human volition in the course of events. As investigators and explicators of the past historians help us to understand people, institutions, cultures. We need that understanding in order to live responsibly and work toward a more just world. Plus, all that knowledge makes life so much richer.

Why is membership in the AHA important to you?

Belonging to the AHA grants me access to scholarship, ideas, and conversations that I would not experience otherwise. I think I am living my history-professor alternate life vicariously through this group (without the grading). Also, as an academic librarian with a background in history, it is important to keep my disciplinary knowledge current. Finally, I am extremely thankful for the advocacy in which the AHA engages. My one voice could never accomplish what the united voices and the prestige of the organization can.

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

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