The second post in the IAS blog series on the role of international collections and their collectors in promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion was contributed by Holly Ackerman, Head, International & Area Studies Dept. and Librarian for Latin American, Iberian and Latino/a/x Studies.
The need to collaborate in collecting has risen swiftly on library agendas everywhere as a result of both the financial crisis accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic and the simultaneous rise in concern about promoting and augmenting diversity, equity and inclusion. Everyone is asking, “How can we collect and spotlight a wider range of voices, cultures, races, languages, genders, and cross-cutting themes even as our budgets stumble and fall?”
Here at Duke University Libraries, we are fortunate to participate in a long and healthy tradition of cooperation within the Triangle Research Libraries Network (TRLN), where the collaboration between Duke’s International and Area Studies Department (IAS) and UNC’s Global Resources and Area Studies Section (GRAS) is particularly vigorous. But other, lesser-known national projects have also steadily obtained unique, difficult-to-acquire, ethnically- and linguistically-diverse materials. One of these, which I will describe in this blog post, is the Latin American & Caribbean Distributed Resources Project (DRP).
Coordination of DRP is located at the Center for Research Libraries in Chicago as part of their overall Global Resources Program and is now celebrating twenty-five years of systematically assuring deep collecting of culturally and linguistically diverse materials from the thirty-three countries in the region.
What is the Distributed Resources Project?
DRP is a pledge made by 35 university research libraries in 1995, to reallocate a portion of their collections budget for Latin America toward enhanced coverage of ‘non-core’ materials in order to collect more deeply in specific areas of institutional specialization. Each institution chose 1-3 subjects of particular strength at their university where other universities would have interest but probably lack funds to collect deeply. The project deliberately built on existing strengths, believing it would lead to long-range commitment. After 25 years it’s still working!
Chosen subjects included particular countries, geographic regions, or unique subjects such as the African Diaspora in Latin America (the U. of Wisconsin) or Indigenous Languages and Literature (Indiana University). Duke University initially chose to collect on Latin American & Caribbean Labor History and the struggles for justice that accompany labor organizing. In 2003, we added a second focus on Political Humor & Caricature. Each institution began by diverting 7% of their overall budget for Latin American Studies to the selected resource area while relying on other institutions to pick up deep collecting in their chosen area. Each institution also pledged to rapidly process materials acquired by DRP so that they would be rapidly available to users everywhere via their institution’s interlibrary loan service.
Over time these small amounts have grown and in the last two annual reports (with only 25 of 35 members reporting) collective spending ranged from $400,000 to $500,000 per year. Over the life of the program, more than $10 million has been devoted to this deep collecting dive. Small initial steps have resulted in distinctive collections (in local languages) that are rapidly available, and, equally important, are known to Latin American Studies librarians everywhere.
How do we obtain the DRP materials?
First, you put on your walking shoes. I remember well walking the “miles of aisles” at Guadalajara, Mexico’s huge national book fair a few years ago, where hundreds of exhibitors offer limited-edition books in Spanish, Portuguese, and indigenous languages published throughout Latin America.
Over 800,000 thousand people attend this fair annually. Schoolchildren from every part of Mexico are bused to the fair to encourage their interest in books and reading. The kids rub shoulders with world-class intellectuals who speak about their work. And, of course, Latin American Studies Librarians are there is such large numbers that they give us a couple of days before the fair opens to the public to be sure that the books make it into libraries throughout the world.
At each stand I routinely ask whether they have materials in our DRP collecting areas. One vendor pulled out a box that was not on display containing a series called The History of Graphic Humor (La historia del humor gráfico), in thirteen volumes, one on each major country in Latin America and Iberia. In order to feature local appreciation of humor in each country, the publisher engaged a well-known local historian of the subject as the author. The books contained history and illustrative examples of political satire and popular cartoons from colonial days to the present.
They had just one complete set at the fair and I got it. A great find for our deep collecting! Each year when students in Spanish and Latin American Studies courses ask me where they can find political cartoons and learn about the graphic artists, I see the value of that purchase. And those numbers are growing as more students include primary, graphic materials in their class presentations.
Another way to meet our DRP commitment is to couple conference attendance with book-buying. In 2018, I was able to participate in the annual Latin American Studies Association Congress in Barcelona, which is the publishing capital of Spain. I extended my stay for a couple of days to go to over 20 specialized bookstores and publishing houses. Best known and unique among the bookstores is El Lokal, which is located in a section of town historically renowned as the site of labor-organizing and -protest. The district was the epicenter of resistance to the fascist Franco regime and you can feel history in those streets.
In a very small space, the book store carries a huge cross-section of Marxist, anarchist, Trotskyist and other leftist thought . And since El Lokal is also a publisher, the store is chock-full of books about everything related to the labor movement, from labor resistance in Spain to indigenous resistance to forced labor under Spanish colonization in what is today Latin America.
In other words, this independent, specialized, local bookstore is a veritable treasure trove for a librarian tasked with finding and acquiring unique material on Iberian and Latin American labor history, politics, and theory. This sort of in-country “shopping” not only deepens our DRP collection but also saves money. Our regular Spanish book vendor worked with me to have all the books I selected (at a discount negotiated at each store in Barcelona) moved to their warehouse in Madrid and sent to Durham simply at the shipping cost. Those savings outstrip the cost of the book-buying trip itself.
These are just a couple of examples among many of how we in IAS cooperate with other libraries to be sure that collecting on unique and important subjects is systematically covered and not forgotten in hard times.
The Duke University Libraries can also be proud of the fact that Deborah Jakubs, Ph.D. , Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian, Vice Provost for Library Affairs, and Duke’s former Latin American Librarian, was one of the founders of the Global Resources Program of which the DRP is a part. When asked how she and her colleagues came up with the idea for this exemplar of cooperative collection development she replied, “We were trying different ‘proof of concept’ approaches to sharing responsibility for collection building in area studies.” In difficult financial times such as the present, the DRP members have turned that proof of concept into a tradition assuring that diverse perspectives from Spain, Latin America, and the Caribbean will be represented in the distinctive holdings of Duke University Library and, thanks to interlibrary loan and resource-sharing arrangements with TRLN and the IvyPlus Libraries Confederation, in university research libraries throughout the United States.
Those wishing to read more about the Global Resources Projects on Latin America will want to consult the description offered by one of the founders of this initiative, the late Associate Librarian of Harvard College for Collection Development, Dan Hazen, “The Latin Americanist Research Resources Project: A New Direction for Monographic Cooperation?” ARL: A Bimonthly Newsletter of Research Library Issues and Actions (April 1997), pp. 1-6.