By Nelson Santana
October 4, 2018
For the first time ever I traveled to another country not named Dominican Republic or United States. It was a worthwhile experience that only the rich culture of the Mexican people could have offered. I experienced some of what my cuates mexicanos from my childhood told me during our years of conversation during my lifetime: there is nothing more authentic than the true Mexican experience. Eduardo, Julio, Alberto, and company, I finally ate authentic tacos, danced authentic rancheras and mariachi music, walked on Mexican soil, and had the time of my life…of course, while working. Below is a summary of my stay in Mexico via the lens of a Dominican librarian at the 2018 SALALM Conference.
The Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM) held its 63rd annual conference this past summer from July 1st through July 4th in Mexico City with the Colegio de México serving as conference host. The conference got off to a great start with an exquisite performance by a local Mexican folkloric dance troupe.
Méjico lindo is just beautiful. I am glad my first time in another country not named United States or Dominican Republic was Mexico as this marvelous country is an exciting venue for any conference. More thrilling perhaps is that the excitement was compounded by two real-life events: first, presidential and local elections occurred on the first day of the conference, while Mexico competed in the World Cup the following day.
On the evening of Election Day—in the capital city at least—thousands of Mexicans, immigrants, tourists and allies gathered around the Hilton hotel in El Paso de la Reforma where President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) delivered his victory speech. Street crowds vehemently shouted, “Presidente, Presidente” and “Obrador, Obrador,” among other things. People from distinct social classes and of different beliefs celebrated López Obrador’s victory, as he comes across as a more progressive politician in comparison to his election rivals—Ricardo Anaya (PAN), José Antonio Meade (PRI), and Jaime Rodríguez Calderón (no political affiliation).
Unlike Sunday night, Monday was akin to a national day of mourning in Mexico as the Mexican national team fell 2-0 to Brazil, ending the nation’s hopes of a World Cup title.
Dominican Studies in Mexico
Although most SALALM conference attendees live in the United States or work in U.S. libraries, archives, and repositories, many others come from different parts of the world including but not limited to Latin America and Europe.
Similar to its sister fields of Cuban and Puerto Rican studies, once more the field of Dominican Studies was represented at the 63rd installment of the SALALM Conference with presentations by Sarah Aponte, chief librarian at the Dominican Studies Institute (CUNY) and me, collection development librarian at Bronx Community College. Aponte participated in a roundtable discussion alongside scholar librarians Pamela Espinoza (Ohio State University), Phillip Jones (Grinnell College) Bronwen K. Maxson (University of Colorado Boulder), and David Wiseman (American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese). Participants discussed intersections in teaching Latin American resources.
I presented the paper, “Competing Identities in a University Library: Decolonizing the Library by Building a Latin American Collection.” In the paper I discussed the importance of growing an academic institution’s collection to reflect the university’s student body. I also discussed my role in building Bronx Community College’s library collection as collection development librarian and also tackled the question of how librarians, partners, and users can use contested space to explore how we influence significance, perspective, and critical reflection in librarianship.
Recognizing Latin Americanist Librarianship
SALALM comprises of multiple committees and subcommittees that honor the works of library and information professionals and graduate students within the field of Latin America. SALALM member Marisol Ramos and her colleagues from the University of Connecticut including Jennifer Snow, Doug Neary, and Rick Sarvas, were awarded the José Medina Toribio Award for their digital humanities project, “Puerto Rico Citizenship Archives Project.” Established in 1981, the José Medina Toribio Award encourages and acknowledges superior accomplishments in research and scholarship.
This year’s Dan C. Hazen Fellowship was awarded to fellow Dominican librarian Betsaida Reyes (University of Kansas) and her colleagues Bronwen K. Maxson (University of Colorado), and Alison Hicks (University College). The Dan C. Hazen Fellowship supports original scholarly research or professional development pertaining to Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Iberia peninsula. Reyes, Maxson, and Hicks’ winning project gathered data pertinent to the work of “information literacy instruction librarians and other information professionals in Mexico,” and also sought to “gain insight into how information professionals can prepare students for ‘global mobility from an information perspective.’”
For the first time in its history, SALALM awarded eight conference attendance scholarships to current Library and Information Science students. The SALALM scholarship holds a special place in my heart. As a former recipient, it allowed me the opportunity to travel for the first time to the Midwest when the conference was held in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2014. Although some of the funds were used to pay for part of my graduate school studies, the experience to travel to a new place—we actually drove past the Sundance Film Festival—is often one of the greatest honors one can be afforded. Hence, I am certain many of SALALM’s scholarship recipients feel the same way about the award.
The scholarship is intended for current Library and Information Science students with an interest in Latin America, the Caribbean, and/or Iberia. Several of this year’s winners, including Jeffrey Delgado and Vanessa Arce, served as rapporteurs of panel sessions. Rapporteurs play a crucial role in the organization as they help to document the conference via reports and proceedings. Associate Professor and Systems Librarian Craig Schroer from the University of West Georgia is SALALM’s principal Rapporteur General, overseeing and ensuring that the conference is documented.
This year’s SALALM Scholarship winners were:
Catholic University of America
University at Buffalo, State University of New York
University of Texas at Austin
Queens College of the City University of New York
Texas Woman's University
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Maryland
University of Washington
This year’s conference theme—the brainchild of SALALM President Suzanne Schadl of the University of New Mexico—was “Sites/Cites, Texts, and Voices in Critical Librarianship: Decolonizing Libraries and Archives” and aimed to explore the following questions:
How can we use contested space to explore how we influence significance, perspective, and critical reflection in our professions?
How do our descriptions of resources or events reinforce or challenge meanings?
How might we address the inequalities of access to electronic platforms and misperceptions about their provision of global resources?
How does a s/cite’s symbolism or repeated appearance (or lack thereof) promote or hinder “impact” in our professions?
What roles do standards and professional benchmarks play in collection building, cataloging, and curricular development?
How does our work promote or hinder information empowerment and global information equality?
How might alternative library and archival practices or tools foster equitable access?
How do current structures affect our successes and failures?
How can we foster critical reflection in our profession?
Founded in 1956 and incorporated as a nonprofit association in 1968, SALALM is an organization comprised of librarians, archivists, book dealers, book professionals, scholars, and students who have an interest in “collecting, preserving, and providing access to Latin American, Caribbean, Iberian, and Latino information resources in all formats.”
The most unfortunate part about the conference was my inability to travel more and enjoy the vast country of Mexico. I have some colleagues who were fortunate enough to visit Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul and some of the ruins in Mexico. I think I may have learned my lesson. Moving forward, I will set aside an extra day or two for excursions at future conferences.
I did, however, have the opportunity to eat authentically delicious Mexican food, dance to awesome live mariachi music, and experience Mexico’s greatest resource: la gente mexicana.
Special Place in my Heart
The Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials is an association that occupies a very special place in my heart. Unlike other associations of which I am a member, SALALM is truly a family. Over the years I have bonded with awesome individuals. As noted earlier, my first conference was in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2014. Many wonderful individuals welcomed me. Roberto Delgadillo was the president that year. Roberto took me under his wings, answered any and all questions I asked, and to this day serves as a mentor. My first conference was extremely memorable as wonderful people came up to me and introduced themselves. Joe Holub was among those kind people. In fact, we interacted prior to my arrival. To this day, I make sure to “hang out” with Joe and Patricio Gavilanes at every conference.
Another brilliant and humane individual is Peter Johnson; I call him Dr. Johnson, even though he prefers to be called Peter. Dr. Johnson is another person with whom I have established a relationship, however, it started during my time at the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute, where he would visit some of the information literacy / Dominican migration history courses Sarah Aponte and I taught.
My earliest recollections of SALALM are via the numerous conversations with my then library supervisor Sarah Aponte and colleague Daisy Domínguez at City College—two people to whom I am indebted. Year-after-year I would hear them discuss SALALM and the conference, piquing my curiosity. As noted already, one day, as a graduate student, I applied for the scholarship and became a recipient.
There is also Craig Schroer, with whom I share rapporteur general duties. Working closely with Craig on these rapporteur reports have not only made me a better note taker, but has also made me better understand the organization and its structure.
One of the great things about SALALM is the networking. Via SALALM, I met Gayle Williams and Jana Krentz and thanks to them I have an upcoming book chapter I co-authored with Sarah Aponte which is scheduled for publication in a volume edited by Gayle and Jana.
Anyone with an interest in Latin America, librarianship, the archival professional, and/or related fields, I recommend you take a look at SALALM.