Archivist Spotlight: Ximena G. Valdivia, Manager, Barry University Archives and Special Collections, Miami Shores, Florida

by Ana D. Rodríguez

Valdivia_Ximena-2016-1

Tell us a little bit about yourself, how you started working in libraries

I come from a humble Chilean family, of which I am the only one who has earned a university degree. Overcoming cultural and economic barriers to success was not too difficult for me because I had a natural aptitude for reading; this is where I got a strong sense of equal rights, dignity, and the will to succeed. My aptitude for reading was also influential when I had to choose a career once I finished high school. After completing a BS in Library Science in Chile, I began to work on diverse projects in different types of libraries. I discovered that technical processing was the activity I liked the most and for which I had innate skills. I started working on cataloging projects for the Biblioteca Nacional de Chile (National Library of Chile), where I had the opportunity to work with wonderful professionals willing to share their knowledge and experience with me. I was sent out to organize and put into operation other collections, such as the library of the Museo Regional de Atacama (Regional Museum of Atacama) and the Archivo Niemeyer at the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural (Niemeyer Archives – National Museum of Natural History). Later, I was invited to work on the Chilean Memory Project (www.memoriachilena.cl), the first digital library in Chile and one of the most prestigious projects of the Libraries, Archives, and Museums National Department (DIBAM). Because of this project, in 2002 I was invited to the Congress of Latin American Cities organized by the University of Miami in Florida.

My arrival to the United States was like a new beginning, for a long time I felt anxious like a kid on the first day of school, not only in a personal way, but also in a professional one. My contact with the American library world showed me that libraries could fulfill their role as a supporter of both the cultural and scientific-technical development of human beings.

When I had reached an acceptable understanding of the language, I volunteered at the University of Miami Libraries. Soon I was hired as a library assistant at the Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC), where I had the opportunity to expand my knowledge in archives; processing important personal and institutional archival collections and working with a great team led by Esperanza de Varona, now retired. My main responsibilities included the creation of finding aids and basic preservation work; occasionally creating metadata for digitized materials or processing films and videos.

Knowing that I needed to complement the experience I gained at the CHC, I studied for my master in Library and Information Science at the University of South Florida. As soon as I graduated in 2009, I started working at the Barry University Archives and Special Collections, initially as an Assistant Archivist and later in 2012 I became the manager of the department.

Describe the mission of Barry University Archives and Special Collections

Our mission statement is very simple and straightforward; we are “committed to collecting, preserving, processing, promoting and providing access to primary source materials that support the research needs of the Barry University community and beyond.” Our collections comprise over 2,500 linear feet of manuscript materials, over 6,000 rare books, some of them dating back to the 17th century, tens of thousands of historical photographs, audio and video recordings, ephemera, architectural drawings, cartographic materials, works of art, artifacts, and digital materials.

A great deal of my time is dedicated to outreach activities to help promote Archives and Special Collections’ mission and services.

Which are some of the most noteworthy collections at Barry University?

Our holdings are particularly strong in documenting the University history, that is how this Archives started in 1991. A few Adrian Dominican Sisters who had retired from their faculty/administrative positions organized the department and did an excellent work in collecting and preserving University Records. Later, we began collecting paper collections and almost by chance.  I would say those collections came to us and we took the responsibility of processing and preserving them. Now I am insistent and not reluctant in asking people for their collections.

Some of the most interesting archival collections we have in our holdings are:

Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh Papers

This unique collection provides a thorough overview of Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh’s life and work providing context for historical and political events that shaped South Florida’s social and cultural landscape.

Monsignor Walsh is best known for his role in Operation Pedro Pan/Cuban Children’s Program, an initiative that brought over 14,000 unaccompanied children from Cuba to escape political indoctrination during the 1960s. Concurrently, serving as Director of the Catholic Welfare Bureau of the Archdiocese of Miami, and in the following 30 years he participated in numerous social initiatives to improve the living conditions of underrepresented groups including children, seniors, HIV/AIDS patients and political refugees from Cuba, Haiti and other areas in the Caribbean and Central America. In addition to working to achieve racial integration in Miami Dade County, he was crucial to fostering community dialogue during the aftermath of the 1980 riots in Miami.

William Lehman Papers

A United States Representative from Florida, 1973-1993. The papers document the various activities in which the Congressman was involved in, gives insight into how he accomplished his goals, and reflects his vision for the future.  The Papers include correspondence, research papers, pamphlets, ephemera, and other materials relating to legislative issues; committee and subcommittee reports, testimonies from hearings, press releases, newsletters, speeches, and clippings; personal correspondence, memberships, campaign materials, and travel materials, photographs, audiotapes, and video tapes.

Congressman William Lehman (1913-2005) was instrumental in transforming both South Florida and the country.  A proponent of mass transit, he secured funds to build Miami-Dade County’s Metrorail and Metromover systems and the Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital.  He revised regulations to facilitate the adoption of children from foreign countries and to enable federal employees to donate their unused sick leave to other employees. To help the State of Florida mitigate the financial impact of the influx of Cuban and Haitian refugees during the 1980s, Lehman joined forces with other Florida congressional representatives to obtain federal funding. In 1988 he met with Fidel Castro, secured the release of longtime political prisoners. He helped acquire funding for Israel and advocated for Soviet Jews seeking resettlement in Israel. Additionally, Lehman worked to pass legislation and secure funding to protect the environment.  He focused on issues directly affecting Florida including oil leasing and offshore drilling, acid rain, the Kissimmee River Restoration Project, the Miami River (Harbor) Project, Munisport/Interama (Dade County, Florida) Superfund proposal, coastal zone management and beach restoration, Everglades protection, traumatic injury treatment, and Hurricane Andrew relief.

 Patricia Minnaugh Puppet Collection

This collection documents Barry graduate-faculty Patricia Minnaugh’s professional work in puppetry from 1979 to 1991.

Although always interested in theatre, Minnaugh’s passion was puppetry. She was an accomplished playwright, who used to write, direct and design her own puppets. In 1990, Puppeteers of America elected her to its national board of directors.

The bulk of the collection consists of scripts, research material, collectibles, personal files and photographs. The collection also includes over a hundred of puppets collected by Mrs. Minnaugh. Puppets are still in process; and these are not available for research or view yet.

 Edouard Duval-Carrié Papers

This small collection documents the work of Haitian-American artist Edouard Duval-Carrié since 1989 through the present. Materials include biographical information, exhibit catalogs, exhibit programs, lobby cards, articles, and clippings.

I would say that the most important collection is Operation Pedro Pan/Cuban Children’s Program Records

Operation Pedro Pan was an initiative to help Cuban parents send their children out of Cuba to avoid Communist indoctrination. Through Operation Pedro Pan, over 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban minors arrived in Miami between December 1960 and October 1962. Of these, almost 7,000 received foster care via the Cuban Children’s Program.  This federally funded foster care program, was developed and headed by Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh in December 1960, and became the model for future nationwide initiatives that would provide federal support for locally administered social services, including those offered by faith-based agencies. The program ended by 1979.

Monsignor Walsh took a special interest in preserving the history of Operation Pedro Pan and the Cuban Children’s Program. Thanks to his efforts, 584 linear feet of records – papers, photographs, films and books – were gathered. These materials constitute the Operation Pedro Pan / Cuban Children’s Program Records (OPP/CCP).

In 1995, Monsignor Walsh deposited these records in the Barry University Archives and Special Collections Department. Since then we have been responsible of processing and preserving the OPP / CCP Records.  Catholic Charities of the archdiocese of Miami is still the owner of the collection and permission to conduct research requires their final approval. We do believe that expanding awareness of this experience for future generations is vital, so we have taken some initiatives in digitizing the collection and making it available to researchers and to the “Pedro Pans”, so you may find some materials available at the Digital Library of the Caribbean.

Collection-level finding aids are currently available online through the library research guides

How is the Latin America and Latin@x experience reflected in the collections of Barry University?

I think I already mentioned something about it. Most of the collections we have are related in some way to the Latin-American experience. I would like to add that for a long time there was no collection development policy to guide our acquisition. There was this idea that we only collected university records and my predecessors did a great work doing that, but we are focusing our work toward improving our holdings. We are working hard to strengthen our relationship with faculty to increase the internal use of these collections and we have some of our records available through the Digital Library of the Caribbean, which has enormously increased our exposure to the community.

How do you envision the field of Latin American librarianship?

I think that the field of Latin American librarianship in the United States is very promising, not only in terms of the number of Hispanics and Latinos dedicated to the profession, but also in terms of developing collections related to Latin America and the Caribbean Area. Now it is better understood that we Hispanics may speak the same language, but we have such a rich history and diverse culture that all those differences among us is worth to record. Being the largest minority in the United States not only gives us more influence in our day to day life, but also a more prominent role in our communities. And we Latinos are willing to contribute to this society in a positive way

What has been the most rewarding part of your career?

There are a few things for which I feel rewarded as a librarian:

  • The satisfaction of being able to assist users who are in need of information is the most important thing. There is a certain democratic principle to this profession and it is very exciting for me to see the difference that I can make in improving people’s lives by performing my work as a librarian.
  • As professionals, we -Librarians/Archivists- are unafraid of sharing with others our knowledge, experience, skills, etc. You can always find a professional who is willing to support any program or a project that will benefit the community at large.
  • And finally, it is very fulfilling to be part of a profession with such great values, our Code of Ethics is wonderful, comprehensive, inclusive… and the best part is that most of us believe in it.

 

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