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Editorially Speaking

Editorially Speaking

The professional interests of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Rosary College have long extended beyond librarianship in the United States. A course on international and comparative librarianship is a regular offering; faculty members have been active abroad as participants in international meetings and as advisors, consultants, and visiting professors. With the founding of TWL these interests took an even more tangible form. About two years ago some of us began thinking of the first voyage of Columbus to the New World, and it seemed almost natural to consider the possibility of a special issue of TWL devoted to librarianship in Latin America.

From that general notion, the present issue has evolved. We decided to concentrate on the contemporary scene, rather than attempting to trace the development of libraries across five centuries; at the same time we realized that it would not be possible to attempt an encyclopedic survey of libraries in each country. So we planned on assembling a number of essays on various aspects of the field by approaching colleagues knowledgeable about Latin America in the broad or narrow sense as authors. We were delighted that so many persons—in Latin America, the United States, and Germany—accepted our invitation to prepare articles for this special issue. Not all those we asked found it possible, for various reasons, to participate in the project, but the range, both geographical and thematic, of paper received, was almost more that we dared hope for. There are articles on individual countries (e.g., Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras) and on public, national, university and special libraries—as well as about library development and bibliographical services in general.

The volume opens with the biography of a “library pioneer,” now the traditional beginning of each issue of TWL. It seemed obvious that Marietta Daniels Shepard, in the forefront of encouraging library development in Latin America for three decades, should be that figure. Susan Shattuck Benson’s sketch is not one giving the “who’s who” type of facts, but a vivid portrayal of a dynamic woman, as seen by one for whom she served as a mentor. The reader of this portrait will surely come to know Marietta the person as well as Marietta the librarian.

Carlos Victor Penna might well be called “the dean of library planning.” He gives us “the story up to now” in terms of the activities of UNESCO and other organizations in this area and shows the potential for greater, faster library development through use of the planning process. Virginia Betancourt Valverde tells how the common problems of the region’s national libraries led to the establishment of a new association—perhaps in part due to the catalyst of the Quincentennial.

Brazil is Latin America’s largest country, and its need for library and better information services matches its size! A giant national textbook program in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in vast increases in the number of books in its schools. Maria Alice Barroso now offers a bold proposal to improve the country’s bibliographical services by bringing state and municipal libraries into a program of cooperation with the National Library.

In her analysis of librarianship in Argentina, Josefa Emilia Sabor, shrewd observer of her country’s politics and culture, traces how the ebb and flow of politics and economics have affected the library scene. The next piece describes an institution which occupies the largest and most splendid library building in all of Latin America. Lina Espitaleta de Villegas recounts how a small collection in Columbia’s central bank has grown into a remarkable organization; a public library and cultural center, open to all from student to scholar to layperson. The New York Public Library and the services planned for the new Bibliothèque de France come immediately to mind as similar operations.

The first step in improving library and information service is to examine the present situation, yet Cheryl Dee’s careful investigation of the literature on medical libraries in the Caribbean and Central America reveals a picture that is both incomplete and sometimes inaccurate. All too often we read about libraries in large countries (e.g., Brazil or Mexico); Marisol Florén focuses on a small country, the Dominican Republic, and shows some of the interface between scientific research and libraries.

The next four articles deal with aspects of the library scene in four Central American republics: Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. Frank Lepkowski shows how cultural and economic differences have led to closed stacks in Nicaraguan universities, while Kent Smith provides an insight into the state of public libraries in the interior of a Third World country. Ana Cecilia Torres and Raquel Flores report on different cooperative activities in Costa Rica and in Guatemala. Rachel Barreto Edensword’s article deals with Central America from the perspective of the libraries maintained or aided by the U.S. Information Agency. The issue closes with a report from Elisabeth Simon on the Latin American activities of the German Library Institute, in which she suggests that the United States and Germany can play complementary roles in aiding library development in Latin America.

The diversity of these articles reflects the varied nature of librarianship in Latin America. Several themes, nevertheless, recur in a number of them; perhaps the most general concern is how to improve library and information service. It is suggested that libraries have failed to keep pace with the information needs of their patrons, yet this has often happened not because they were unwilling but because circumstances had made them unable to do so. The need for overall improvement seems to be almost everywhere. Our authors put forward such suggestions as securing accurate information about present holdings and services as the first step, more cooperation within the profession, planning. Given the historical framework of library and information service in the region, it is not surprising to hear repeated calls for more government action. But with many countries turning toward the private sector in the 1990s, perhaps libraries too should explore non–governmental initiatives and private enterprise assist the work of libraries bringing information to bear on a nation’s economic as well as on its cultural activities.

First class library service requires adequate collections of library materials. Over and over again these essays allude to insufficient library resources—“the book deficit in Latin America,” if you will. The situation became even worse in the 1980s, when more and more institutions had to depend on gift and exchange for nearly all of their acquisitions. In addition, loss of materials took place through civil wars and natural disasters. There is a growing realization that networks can prove effective only if they connect institutions possessing useful and current collections.

Another recurrent theme in these papers is library cooperation. A number of authors suggest that the possibilities for cooperation have not been sufficiently exploited, yet some projects described here serve to remind us that progress through cooperation is often painfully slow—the proverbial “two steps forward, one step backward.”

Other questions appear in these pages. How do political and socio–economic changes affect library and information service? What is the role of library automation in countries where collections are inadequate and most staff lack sufficient training? Can outside agencies, like USIS, the British Council, and the German Library Institute, help libraries in Latin America and what is the most fruitful way to do so? Perhaps our authors raise more questions than they answer, but their comments, suppositions, and suggestions give us much to reflect on. We hope that these papers stimulate our readers to think more about improving library and information service in Latin America than dwelling on its present shortcomings.

The issue of TWL also contains two special features which enhance the fourteen articles. One is a map showing all of Latin America from Mexico to Cape Horn. The other provides photographs of the exhibition on Librarianship in Latin America, mounted in the Rebecca Crown Library, Rosary College, from June 1992 through early 1993, along with most of the text accompanying the publications and other material displayed. At a glance these features may help prepare those less familiar with Latin America for the papers which follow.

Finally it is my pleasant task to thank those who have helped bring these essays into the hands of the reader. We are enormously grateful to all of our contributors, who took time from busy schedules to prepare these articles. Dean Michael E.D. Koenig gave his support to the project from the beginning, and TWL editor Guy A. Marco not only contributed his editorial skills but saw these varied manuscripts through production. Jane Carpenter undertook the difficult job of preparing abstracts of each piece, whether long or short; Emma Molina Widener and Michael Widener turned her succinct paragraphs into equally succinct Spanish. Maribel Pelayo assisted with the translation of articles written in Spanish. We are indebted to Kenneth Gross for the map of Latin America, prepared especially for this number of TWL. Anne Wolf arranged for the photographs of Rosary’s exhibition on Librarianship in Latin America. The office staff of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science aided the issue editor in matters large and small on countless occasions.

We hope that each reader will find this recuerdo del Quinto Centenario both interesting and useful.

W.V.J.

© 1992 Rosary College



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