Archivist Spotlight: Itza Carbajal, Metadata Librarian, LILLAS Benson Library, University of Texas Austin

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Tell us about your beginnings in librarianship and archival science, what sparked your interest in the field?

Prior to my graduate degree in Information Studies I worked as a cultural arts programmer in San Antonio, Texas with a 30 years old non-profit called the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. While there, I came across a small sized room full of what I now call records. Back now I would have probably called it stuff or things. These things consisted of everything from newspaper clippings, grant submissions and paperwork, legal proceedings, VHS tapes, life size puppets to protest banners, flyers, leaflets, newspapers, and magazines. These records documented almost every aspect of the organization’s history as well those communities the organization worked with and for. For some reason I became obsessed with creating order out of what many staff considered disorder, but as I sought out guidance on how to organize these sorts of things I quickly realized that I lacked the proper training to do it. As a result, I decided to pursue a degree in archival studies and my hope had initially been to learn more about community archives and how it related to efforts such as the ones I was involved with while at the Esperanza. Long story short, I applied to the University of Texas at Austin School of Information in hopes of remaining in close proximity to the Esperanza to continue the community archives work I had started before I left.

Your current position as metadata librarian at LILAS Benson Collections, what does it entail?

Working as a metadata librarian on exclusively post-custodial projects means I am responsible for many unusual tasks as well as those typical of an information professional working with digital collections. I personally consider myself a trained archivist and my current work duties more closely reflect the responsibilities of a digital archivist with an emphasis on metadata collecting, managing, and development of practices. As we work to build post-custodialism at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Special Collection, I work on several tasks from normalizing and managing existing metadata from previous Latin American partners to creating methods for the collection of new metadata from our more recent Latin American partners. This can include learning more about the diverse metadata needs of our partners to thinking through how the creation of metadata would benefit the multiple stakeholders of the project. In addition to strengthening our post custodial work, I also consult on the technical and metadata specific aspects of our soon to be now digital repository system with a particular focus on incorporating linked data principles. On other occasions, I work on revaluating or consulting with the librarians and archivists at the Benson regarding their metadata practices or special projects in hopes of empowering the full LLILAS Benson team to adequately create, manage, and reuse our collections’ metadata.

Can you share with us any other project or initiative dealing with Latin American or Latino communities?

At the Benson we always have exciting projects with some in very early stages to others in a more mature phase. I previously mentioned my work with post-custodialism, so I love to share information on the project, Latin American Digital Initiatives (https://ladi.lib.utexas.edu/) This project started around 2013-2014 with featured collections coming from partners in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. My current position contributes to the growth of this project with new partners coming in from Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil. The Benson is also conducting groundbreaking work in transcription using the software known as From the Page (https://fromthepage.com/) as well as hosting multiple post-doctoral scholars with one currently focused on reevaluating the older digital collection, the Archivo Historico de la Policia Nacional de Guatemala (Read CLIR scholar Hannah Alpert-Abrams article on her current position: https://www.clir.org/2018/01/partnering-digital-archives-human-rights-guatemala/) .

Outside of the Benson, I really enjoy looking through community digital archives projects, organizational community archives, or community driven digital records such as the following to name a few:

How do you envision the field of Latin American librarianship (in terms of archival collection development and outreach)?

As a first generation daughter of Honduran parents, I oftentimes wonder how the US latinx communities and Latin American communities will continue to converge. As an archivist and metadata librarian, I oftentimes see these convergences or possible points of intersection when I look at the materials and the things they document. For the Central American communities I exists in or work with, the changes in migratory practices whether forced or long existing really have an impact on who these records document and where they end up. I suspect and frankly hope that this intersection will strengthen the bonds between our geographical regions and that libraries in particular those with a digital footprints will create connections across borders, lands, and time.

Finally, what has been the most rewarding part of your career as a multicultural librarian?

Working in multicultural context whether directly through the materials I engage with or through the collections my colleagues develop and manage has really given me multiple opportunities to learn, unlearn, and appreciate the breath of Latin America and what some call Latinidad. I was not born in Honduras and that has oftentimes created a cultural barrier between my parents, my family that still lives in Honduras, as well as between other recently arrived Hondurans and me. I grew up with a different language, cultural practices, values, food, expectations, etc. that even though I frequently traveled back and forth between Honduras and the States I am still very much a gringa in some respects. One of the most rewarding aspects of working at a Latin American Special Collection is the ability to continue learning about not only the history of the country I know I should have a connection with, but also about the people, the current realities, and the ways in which both of my worlds continue to collide. One of the biggest fears includes the fact that I could be the generation that disrupts or distances itself from my parents and grandparents cultural history and practices. I hope that by being constantly surrounded by Latin American materials, people, and information there is less of a chance that I forget, overlook, or ignore the things I do not see on a day to day.

 

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Archivist Spotlight: Natalia Fernández, Multicultural Librarian, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon

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By: Ana D. Rodriguez

Tell us about your beginnings in librarianship and archival science, what sparked your interest in the field?

I grew up in “The Old Pueblo” Tucson, Arizona, and attended the University of Arizona for both my undergraduate and graduate studies. As an undergraduate, I majored in Art History and Spanish Literature. During my undergraduate years, I began thinking about graduate school when a friend told me about the university’s master degree program in information resources and library science. I began working at the university’s main library as a shelver and pager, and I spoke to a number of librarians about their work. My first experience in a special collections and archives was during my honors thesis research process, and the type of work done by archivists fascinated me. As someone who naturally loves to organize and categorize materials, the concept of being able to do that as a career seemed too good to be true, and it also seemed like a good match for my undergraduate studies. In 2008, I became a part of the University of Arizona’s Knowledge River program, a program that focuses on community-based librarianship and archival work to serve traditionally underserved populations. In addition to the program, I interned with as many archival repositories as I could and, again, sought out advice from others within the profession. My supervisors’ commitment to using history as a means to empower communities, educate the public, and celebrate heritage inspired me greatly.

How instrumental was the Knowledge River program in your career?

The University of Arizona’s Knowledge River (KR) program focuses on community-based librarianship and partnerships with traditionally underserved communities, with a focus on Latinx and Native American communities. The program trains future librarians to have a better understanding of library and information issues from the perspectives of Latinx and Native Americans, as well as to be advocates for culturally sensitive library and information services. I am currently the Curator and Archivist of the Oregon Multicultural Archives and OSU Queer Archives, as well as an associate professor, at the Oregon State University Libraries and Press Special Collections and Archives Research Center in Corvallis, Oregon. The Knowledge River program was quite instrumental in securing my position.

The KR program offers a great combination of theory, practice, and network building. As part of the program, all KR scholars are required to complete the course “Information Environments from Library and Hispanic and Native American Perspectives” during their first semester. The knowledge gained in this course was fundamental for me as I then applied a more critical lens to my other courses that did not include non-traditional perspectives. As part of the program, I worked as a graduate assistant at the University of Arizona Library Special Collections, which has a wide variety of materials pertaining to the Latinx community. I also worked as a graduate assistant for a local tribal community’s summer early literacy program. Because of my employment experiences as a KR scholar, I obtained internships and student jobs at a variety of other archival repositories. In part, this job experience helped me secure my current position. The other piece of the Knowledge River program that was instrumental in starting my career was the network of Knowledge River scholars and the reputation of the program within the field. While at the University of Arizona, my supervisor at the time had also graduated as a KR scholar. She had worked for my now current institution and acted as a reference. Now in its 16th cohort (I was in cohort 7), it is incredible to think about the ever expanding network of amazing KR graduates.

What does your current position as Multicultural Librarian at Oregon State University, entail (types of ethnic communities you’re working with)?

In November of 2010, I began my job as the curator and archivist of Oregon State University Oregon Multicultural Archives (OMA). In 2014, I co-founded the OSU Queer Archives (OSQA). The mission of the OMA is to assist in preserving the histories and sharing the stories that document Oregon’s African American, Asian American, Latinx, and Native American communities. OSQA’s mission is to preserve and share the stories, histories, and experiences of LGBTQ+ people within the OSU and Corvallis communities. The majority of my job for both archives is to collect materials, from both individuals and organizations, to add to the archives. I also curate exhibits and collaborate with other organizations on special projects as well as with professors for their classes.

Talk to us about the Latinos en Oregón Oral History project, how it started, objectives, and response from the community?

As the curator and archivist of the Oregon Multicultural Archives, I develop relationships with communities of color to share information about the process of documenting their histories, the opportunity to do so, and the importance of ensuring that their stories are preserved and made accessible to current and future generations. In the summer of 2014, I took a variety of research trips across the state and spoke with museum curators and archivists about their current and future plans to document local area communities of color. One of the predominant topics of discussion was the need to connect with local Latinx communities and better represent their experiences in the historical record. According to the August 2016 report, “Latinos in Oregon: Trends and Opportunities in a Changing State”, Oregon’s Latinx population in 2014 was 12% of the state’s population, up from 8% in 2000. Various archival repositories in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, located in western Oregon, such as the Oregon Historical Society, Pacific University, and the University of Oregon, have oral history collections documenting the Latinx experiences in their areas. However, the institutions with which I spoke in central Oregon did not; they recognized the growth of the Latinx population in their local communities and the need to document the Latinx experience. In early 2015, recalling my conversations and the research I had conducted, I had the opportunity to connect with members of the Madras, Oregon, Latinx community, and I jumped at the chance. Madras is a small town in central Oregon with a population of about 6,000 people, 38.5% of which are Latinx. In the spring of 2015, I began the Latinos en Oregón oral history project in Madras, Oregon.

The purpose of the Latinos en Oregón oral history project is to document the Oregon Latinx community’s stories, from their perspectives. Through the OMA, I wanted to connect with local communities to document the stories of everyday life – the family stories, traditions, opinions, and diverse perspectives – of Latinx communities in Oregon. The project has various objectives including: creating an archival collection for public access to increase awareness of the contributions and challenges of Latinx community members in Oregon; honoring and celebrating the state’s Latinx communities; establishing and strengthening relationships with and within the Latinx community; and most importantly, providing the opportunity for Latinx communities to be empowered to share their stories and have them become a part of the larger Oregon historical narrative.

In central Oregon, the project’s first collaboration began with the Oregon State University Juntos program, a program that partners with schools to provide Latinx families across Oregon with the knowledge and resources to gain access to higher education. In collaboration with my community liaison, I developed a set of questions that were modified based on each individual’s needs; but overall, there were five main sections for each oral history interview: family/ancestors, immigration stories, life in Oregon, topics/traditions, and plans for the future. The oral histories I conducted included questions about the interviewees’ childhoods and educational experiences, opportunities to share the stories of why and how they moved to Oregon, as well as their thoughts regarding life in Madras and the connections, or lack thereof, between the Latinx community and non-Latinx community members. A large portion of each interview consisted of the interviewees sharing their thoughts on a range of topics covering a variety of life experiences: cultural celebrations and traditions, religion, values, hobbies, etc.

The community response has been amazing. In 2016, I expanded the project to Yamhill County in collaboration with the county cultural trust, the local historical society, and the Latinx community organization Unidos, along with a dedicated group of community volunteers. In Clackamas County, Oregon, I partnered with the Canby Public Library, and most recently I began a collaboration with the Hood River Museum to expand the project in that region. For each collaboration, I worked with community liaisons who have already established trusting relationships with community members and who can act as advocates for the project. Early on, I realized I needed to build project capacity and sustainability, but also that I did not need to be the only one conducting interviews. I developed a flexible project workflow where I could conduct interviews in some areas, and train local community members in others. The result is that oral history interviews are added to the Oregon Multicultural Archives, but this approach expands the scale of the project and allows for deeper engagement within communities.

How do you envision the field of Latin American librarianship (in terms of archival collection development and outreach)?

Whenever I work on the Latinos en Oregón oral history project, I am reminded of how much more there is to document, analyze, and to celebrate. Listening to the interviewees’ stories of migration and settlement, their childhood experiences and thoughts on a variety of topics and family traditions, as well as their hopes and dreams for their futures and those of their children, is truly inspiring. The oral history collection is available for the communities themselves as well as to the public so others can learn this rich history. The field of Latin American librarianship plays such a powerful role in fostering understanding that enables people to consider the positive impact Latinx community members have had in their local towns, how people have adapted, and how communities have changed as a result of their presence. Due to our current political and social climate, now more than ever it is essential that we document, share, learn from, and celebrate the stories of Latinx communities, as well as other traditionally underrepresented groups. In this way, I hope that these stories encourage people to speak with empathy in their conversations, and perhaps have a broader and better understanding of what it means to be an Oregonian, and to be an American.

Finally, what has been the most rewarding part of your career as a multicultural librarian?

Along with the value of archival collections, especially oral histories, for scholarly purposes and the edification of the public, creating an opportunity for a community to tell its story can offer benefits to the community members themselves. A common response I receive when I ask an individual or family to share their stories is that they feel they have no story to tell. They may say that they consider their lives too ordinary for anyone to want to hear or that their kind of life’s story is one that is not typically told. As an archivist, it is incredibly rewarding to speak with community members about how much their stories matter, and about the positive impact that their stories could potentially have to those who listen to them. For communities who have been traditionally marginalized in both the historical record and in historiography, oral histories can be a form of empowerment, a way in which they can literally add their voice to the narrative. In addition, the process of sharing their story can be a personal opportunity for self-reflection and appreciation for the struggles they have endured and their life’s accomplishments thus far.

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

by Ana D. Rodríguez

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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.

 

Reflections on a Getty Intern “Study Trip” to Photography Archives in Mexico

By: Charisma Lee, Getty Research Institute Graduate Intern, Vocabulary Program

From this past September through May, I had the privilege of working as a graduate intern in the Getty Vocabularies, at the Getty Research Institute at J. Paul Getty Trust. In addition to regular duties, interns are allowed time off for educational travel. The “study trip,” as it’s more informally known, encourages individuals to pursue their professional and personal research interests at a location of their choice. Some have used this opportunity to make advances in dissertation research, broaden their networks, or simply visit institutions and collections which for various reasons would be more difficult to access without Getty support.

I took my cue from the Getty initiatives Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA and Connecting Art Histories to craft a project that would explore visual heritage documentation in Mexico. Unsure of where to start, I contacted Natalie Baur at Colegio de México. Natalie suggested possible contacts and became a guide through the process. Karen Heller, an assistant curator in the Getty’s Department of Photographs, was kind enough to discuss my project and suggest additional collections, both in Mexico City and beyond. For reasons of length, in this blog post I am focusing on my visits with two different kinds of organizations: federally-supported and community based.

The Fototeca Nacional in Pachuca and the Chiapas Photography Project in San Cristóbal de las Casas provide an interesting comparison between a federally-supported institution and a community-based collection. First, The Fototeca Nacional is best known as the home of the Casasola Archives, the foundational collection comprising photographs taken and collected by Agustín Casasola and his descendants. The founder of one of the world’s first photographic agencies, Casasola saw it as his mission to document the history of Mexico, whether through his lens or others’. By the time the collection arrived in state custody in the 1970s, it included photographs by nearly 500 photographers.

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Sign for Casasola Archives at Fototeca Nacional in Pachuca, Hidalgo, México

The Casasola archives provide visual records of events from the late 19th century onwards, witnessed by the likes of Hugo Brehme, Antonio Garduño, and the Mayo brothers. Many more photographers were uncredited, and the Fototeca Nacional continues to work at identifying these individuals. The Casasola archives and the rest of the Fototeca’s collections can be combed through online via simple search by keyword. Typing “Casasola,” for instance, will yield more than 2000 photos as well as associated search terms that metadata technicians have captured. For more advanced inputs—e.g. photographic process and image format— the user has to create an account.

Given my interest in cataloging and discoverability, I spoke at length with the cataloging team. It was especially interesting to discover that the Fototeca maintains its own thesaurus. While similar in function to the Getty’s Art & Architecture Thesaurus, the Fototeca’s thesaurus is a monolingual resource for internal use only. It does not appear online, although the vocabulary terms are used in the metadata for each digitized photograph. The Fototeca’s website does provide a list of the types of descriptive and technical information that staff try to record when processing collections. Relationships between terms and concepts is reflected only in a list of searches by previous users, whether or not immediately relevant.

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Screenshot of search term “Casasola” on the Fototeca website. Note the “people also searched for” and “most frequent searches” sections.

 

The second institution I want to discuss is the Chiapas Photography Project (CPP). One can glimpse samples of work done on its website, but its complete inventory is offline. Founder Carlota Duarte maintains a three-ring binder, with texts outlining CPP history and activities since the project’s inception in 1992. There is an overview of the collection, and a complete list of works by participants, most of whom are Ts’eltal or Tzotzil Maya. Digitization activities are in another section; in some cases, the reasons for digitizing a photograph is given (e.g. for publication or an exhibition). The binder also includes press clippings about exhibits and excerpts from dissertations and theses, names of past staff and volunteers, and lists of CPP collaborations with other projects.

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Some of the first zines, or fotonovelas, as CPP calls them, of CPP work, at the Chiapas Photography Project in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, México

I discovered CPP as I was leafing through a catalog of modern photography in Latin America. The blurb accompanying a piece by Maruch Santíz Goméz mentioned the artist’s involvement with CPP. Later I learned that the project uses photography to center the perspectives of local community members from various ethnicities and faith practices. For instance, when support for the CPP’s Archivo Fotográfico Indígena ended in 2012 (until then housed at the local social research institute), the participating photographers collectively decided that the original works would be returned to their creators. The CPP staff, themselves photographers, continue to assist community members with developing photography skills and exhibiting and publishing their work.

At the moment it is unclear where the holdings of this decidedly community-oriented project will find a permanent home. Whether this home will be in the U.S. or in Mexico is also undecided. Underlying this issue of affiliation are intersecting considerations of value and sustainability. Where might collections like those of the CPP find the optimal conditions for scholarly and financial support? Where might staff and users be located so such resources can be properly be cared for, promoted, and most importantly, utilized?

These concerns are central to the information professions, and I continue to reflect on them more deeply with time and distance. Truthfully, the photography fan in me was more immediately enamored with the mere existence of these resources, rather than academic questions. Still, speaking with individuals who are similarly excited was refreshing. Though at times I’ve questioned my involvement in libraries and archives, exchanges like those I had in Mexico assure me that I’m on the right path.

Archivist Spotlight: Elvia Arroyo-Ramírez, Processing Archivist for Latin American Manuscript Collections, Princeton University

(editor’s note: Elvia was recently elected to the SAA 2018 Nominating Committee)

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Elvia Arroyo-Ramírez, at Calle Londres, Mexico City, in front of Frida Kahnlo’s “Casa Azul.”

Please give a brief introduction of yourself and your interests in Latin American and Caribbean cultural heritage archives.

Hi there, I am the Processing Archivist for Latin American Manuscript Collections at Princeton University. Prior to my current position I was a project archivist at the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, an independent grassroots archive that collects social movement posters with strong concentrations in the Vietnam War era and 20th-21st century Latin America.

As a daughter of Mexican immigrants, my interests in Latin American and Caribbean cultural heritage archives stem from a very personal place and are closely tied to my identity. I feel very privileged to lend my labor to—and make accessible—the archives of Latin American and Latinx individuals and communities. It is also a privilege to put my language skills to use and work with Spanish language materials on a daily basis.

Tell us about your work at Princeton University Library Rare Books & Special Collections Department as the Latin America Processing Archivist. What are some of the collections you’ve worked with?

Princeton has extensive holdings of literary correspondence, manuscripts, and personal papers of contemporary Latin American authors, critics, and other intellectuals, with special emphasis on authors of the Boom (1960s-1970s) era. We have about 70 author archives and related collections that are processed and readily available for access.

Since I’ve started my position in June 2015, I’ve mostly concentrated on the backlog of unprocessed collections. These include the organizational and editorial files of the Mexican literary journals Plural (1971-1976) and Vuelta (1976-1998), both edited by Octavio Paz; the papers of Argentine poet and human rights activist Juan Gelman (1930-2014); and numerous other smaller collections and new additions to existing collections. I am currently processing the papers of the late Ricardo Piglia (1941-2017) who just passed away earlier this year, and the papers of Edgardo Cozarinsky (1939- ).

I am also working on an audiovisual migration project to digitize the audio cassette and reel-to-reel assets found in our Latin American collections. We have collections that feature audio recordings of authors such as Pablo Neruda, Elena Garro, Julio Cortázar, Gabriel García Márquez, José Donoso, and many more. I am very excited about this project as it is a pilot project that will help inform the start of a reformatting program to digitize other AV materials held in our manuscript collections.

You recently presented at the Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group (PASIG) this fall, and posted your comments on medium at https://medium.com/on-archivy/invisible-defaults-and-perceived-limitations-processing-the-juan-gelman-files-4187fdd36759#.u2k2zc6nc. How do you see the future of archives, especially digital archives, in relation to traditionally marginalized groups?

There seems to be a tendency to fully endorse technologies as egalitarian and democratic. That thanks to current technologies, information can now not only be immediately accessible, it is also accessible to a wider audience, and more folks can create and contribute content. Yes, there is truth to this; however, we cannot simply rely on this blanket promise without holding accountable those that are building the tools or otherwise making this information accessible. There has been recent critical scholarship (OLITA spotlight talk at the Ontario Library Association, 2015) about the implicit biases in the way technologies are built and how they simply mirror the biases and perspectives of those that build them. This argument elucidates that the same systemic structures that exist and oppress minority or marginalized groups in society are perpetuated in the technological tools we use to access information because the industries that make these tools, and related industries that purpose them, are created and used by the majority white and the majority male. Understanding this, how does that affect the preservation and access to digital archives of those from traditionally marginalized groups?

In my talk I argue that it takes critical awareness, consciousness, and ethical responsibility to uphold the cultural and political integrity of archival collections that are located outside of the majority, which I called the (in)visible default of “western, white, straight, and male”   and collections that are not in English. Without active intervention to uphold the cultural and political integrity of archival collections of creators that are not English speaking, western, white, straight, or male, we run the risk of projecting this default onto them in the ways that we preserve and provide access to them.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your work? The most challenging?

The most rewarding parts of my day are getting to learn about individuals I never met through the ways they lived, wrote, thought, and interacted with others felt vis-a-vis the traces they left behind. When I was a child I liked to scavenge through my mother’s purse while she and my father were out dancing during family parties. I liked to pull everything out of her purse to figure out what everything was and why my mom needed to carry it. I think there’s something in this weird childhood pastime that has endured in adulthood. My work is part detective, part psychologist and getting to figure out and preserve the puzzle of a person or an organization’s records and projecting this out to the world for access is still the coolest and most rewarding part of what I get to dedicate my 9-5 to.

What I find the most challenging in this field is remaining critical and constructive about the silences or deliberate obstructions in archival representation, in particular when it affects the representation of marginalized communities. The majority of archival collections I currently work with come from the established literary canons of Latin America; this is a fact that does not escape me. Though through my writing, presentations, and other outlets I try to contribute critical thought and perspective to these issues in the field.

Finally, what advice and words of wisdom would you give to new and aspiring archivists?

Even though I have about 6 years of post-MLIS experience working in archives, I still consider myself an early career professional so I am learning with everyone who is getting started in this field. I’ve recently offered some advice to students and new professionals in the SAA SNAP blog. Beside what I said there, all I can offer is my experience—what has worked and not worked for me. For both grad school and taking the job at Princeton, I’ve had to move away from my family and friends which is part of the challenge of working in archives. If you are able to pick up and relocate to gain the experience you need to get your foot through the door, do it. I recognize that because I did not have any geographical limitations or familial responsibilities of taking care of an elderly parent or children of my own, that I could do that easily.

Archivist Spotlight: Rachel E. Winston, Black Diaspora Archivist at the LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections (University of Texas at Austin)

rachelwinston

Please give a brief introduction of yourself and your interests in Latin American and Caribbean cultural heritage archives.

My name is Rachel E. Winston—I am a graduate of Davidson College (Anthropology and French), the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and The University of Texas at Austin (MSIS). Throughout my educational and professional career, I’ve been passionate about representation and access within cultural institutions and in community programming initiatives. As an archivist, I’m interested in the ways in which people of color are represented, described and preserved in our institutions, and further, dismantling imposed barriers to access for these kinds of materials.

You recently started in the newly created Black Diaspora Archivist position at the LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at the University of Texas at Austin. Tell us a little bit about the new role and your goals for collecting and establishing the Black Diaspora archive.

The Black Diaspora Archive is a collaborative initiative between UT Libraries, Black Studies and LLILAS Benson. In my role as Black Diaspora Archivist, I’m leading the university’s effort in developing a special collection that documents the Black experience throughout the Americas and the Caribbean.  One of the things I’m most excited about is being able to highlight the experiences and works of people of color as told/documented by they themselves—there’s a huge void in this space.  I’m especially grateful to be doing this work at LLILAS Benson where there is real concern for ethical collecting, social justice and post-custodial archival practice.

What has been the most rewarding part of your career? Any advice to fellow new professionals?

Getting this job! In a lot of ways, I was preparing myself for this position before it even existed and I’m looking forward the achievements the Black Diaspora Archive will make in the years to come. To those who are committed to countering or changing the narrative and creating space for others in our field—stay encouraged and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Archivist Spotlight: Ana Rodríguez, MLIS, MA, Archival Assistant at the University of Florida Smathers Libraries

Ana Rodríguez is currently on the LACCHA steering committee.

Tell us about your career. What position do you hold now, and what position(s) have you held prior?

For the past seventeen years I have been involved with learning environments such as art collections, museums, and libraries. These combined experiences have allowed me to acquire a knowledge base in the areas of art documentation, exhibits preparation, description of archival visual materials, and various aspects of special collections librarianship. My knowledge of Spanish language and Latin American and Caribbean arts and culture has been the nexus of all my working experiences.

My journey started in Puerto Rico where I worked for almost five years at the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña (ICP), a local government agency responsible for disseminating and preserving the cultural heritage of the island. At the ICP I held the position of assistant registrar, which for somebody like me whose undergraduate major was art history meant the world. The job itself was very much an intensive course of Puerto Rican art history; I spent my days registering incoming acquisitions such as paintings and graphic prints, supervising the transit of loaned artwork, or visiting La Fortaleza, the official residence of the governor, to conduct inventory and condition reports of paintings and sculptures. It was a dream to work at the ICP but soon enough professional and personal aspirations took me to relocate to Miami, Florida in late 2003.

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