Opening Remarks from SALALM's President Fernando Acosta Rodriguez

Some of the very productive discussion...

Some of the very productive discussion that have taken place at SALALM have already been posted by others, but I wanted to share with us all the remarks from SALALM's president at yesterday's opening session.

"Good morning, bienvenidos, bemvindo, welcome to the 55th meeting of the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM). My name is Fernando Acosta-Rodríguez, I am serving this year as President of SALALM, and I am also the Librarian for Latin American, Iberian and Latino Studies at the Princeton University Library.

I want to start by thanking very specially our hosts in Providence, the Brown University Library, the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Brown, the John Carter Brown Library, and the Local arrangements group lead by Patricia Figueroa for making this conference possible and for their amazing generosity and hospitality. It is a pleasure to visit your beautiful campus, its libraries, and the city of Providence.

I also want to offer my special thanks to the Princeton University Library, which was another generous sponsor of this event, and to the vendors that have sponsored the coffee and bagel, ice cream and smoothie breaks that will make our conference a more enjoyable one. They are, in alphabetical order, Gale-Cengage Learning, Iberbook Sánchez Cuesta, Iberoamericana-Editorial Vervuert, Libros Centroamericanos, Puvill Libros, Retta Libros, and Susan Bach Books from Brazil.

I have to admit that in many respects, the theme of this year's conference, The Future of Latin American Library Collections and Research: Contributing and Adapting to New Trends in Research Libraries, is not really a response to new or recent developments. I say that because many of these developments, at least those having to do with the incorporation of digital technologies into libraries, originated more than two decades ago, and research libraries have been both adapting to and implementing them since then. Latin American Studies and area studies librarians, the collections for which they are responsible, and also scholarly research and teaching in these disciplines, have of course always been a part of this process, even if sometimes from the fringes of the research library world.

On that note, please allow me to read a couple of quotes:

1. “Area studies collections, which had comprised the library vanguard, are perceived as relics of an outdated library philosophy emphasizing ownership over access, and of disciplines somewhere between quaint and archaic in their dependence on print formats.

Scholarly communication in general, as well as for area and LAS, is becoming ever more complex. The evolving process is straining all aspects of the traditional system. For research libraries, reduced buying power and diminished coverage are among the most immediately dramatic results. Our efforts to anticipate, react to, and utilize these changes will become increasingly crucial as we attempt to maintain the information base necessary for our scholars.”

2. “The increased availability of information in digitized format is leading to shifts in research libraries' acquisitions patterns, reducing the portion of library budgets available for conventionally published materials…

Developing current and future cooperative arrangements among libraries is an important component of the project. The issues include: …delivery mechanisms for full text as well as bibliographic information to scholars throughout North America; and the need to further understanding broadly among librarians and scholars that the physical location of foreign language collections need not limit their utility geographically.

The first quote is from an article titled “Latin American Studies, Information Resources and Library Collections: the contexts of crisis,” by Dan Hazen, from Harvard University who is probably sitting somewhere around here. The second one is from an article by Jeffrey Gardner titled “Scholarship, research libraries and foreign publishing in the 1990s”. Both appeared in the Papers of the 36th Annual Meeting of SALALM, which was cohosted by University of California-San Diego, and San Diego State University, in June of 1991, almost twenty years ago.

So, fundamental concerns, key questions, aren't new. What is different today is that we apparently are in a juncture where technological capacity and know-how, economic incentives and constraints, as well as personal preferences and biases among the various categories of stakeholders, are truly converging into new dominant models of access and of scholarly communications. The shift has already taken place in many disciplines, in the natural and physical sciences in particular, and is rapidly gaining steam across the social sciences and the humanities.

It truly is time then, as our colleague David Block invited us to do two years ago during the SALALM meeting at New Orleans, through his paper titled “Where are we; Where we may be going, What will we do there?”, to examine what all of these apparently systemic changes mean from the perspective of Latin American Studies, and of other area studies too.

This is essential because the conditions and circumstances that characterize our area of responsibility (the academic field of Latin American Studies, and in a broader sense, the intellectual-creative expression production that originates in the region – two things that aren't exactly the same) do not, at least in my opinion, always fit well with the new models being implemented. To be sure, major changes in publishing, scholarly communications, and distribution are also taking place across Latin America, of course, but these are not always be related to the same set of circumstances that have driven change across the research libraries that most of us work at.

Some questions for us then are, what can we do to avoid or minimize the possibility of an increasing disconnect, in some areas, between the Latin American reality that we wish to document and to represent, and the systems of collection development and scholarly communication that scholars rely on? Conversely, how do we take better advantage of new technologies and other factors to reduce long existing documentation gaps? How can we achieve this when most Latin American Studies librarians are tremendously overstretched as they have had to undertake an increasingly wider range of duties and subject areas, not to mention the cases where even libraries with venerable Latin American Studies traditions have left vacancies unfilled for prolonged periods of time, leaving us wondering if these are permanent decisions? How do we achieve this when, amid talk of the need to globalize education, Latin American and area studies programs apparently lose weight and presence in many of our campuses and are slotted into generic international categories?

We are not going to answer these questions during the next three days, but I think that the program will help us to examine them, and many other related ones, from a wide variety of perspectives. At a minimum, it will at least help us to be better informed and to learn from each other's experiences, ideas and strategies. Ideally, it will stimulate us to think about and propose new ways of acting in coordination to successfully adapt to and influence future developments affecting our field. We'll see. "

Many thanks to Fernando who endured my many pleas to have his remarks forwarded to me so that I could include them here.