Interview with SALALM Scholarship Awardee: Taylor Leigh

Taylor Leigh received a 2014 SALALM Conference Attendance Scholarship...

Taylor Leigh received a 2014 SALALM Conference Attendance Scholarship to attend SALALM LX at Princeton University in 2015. He received his MLIS from the University of Rhode Island in 2016, and subsequently completed his Ph.D. in Hispanic Studies at Brown University (2018). A current SALALM member, Taylor is the Hispanic Studies & Political Science Librarian at the University of Kentucky.

How did you find out about the SALALM Scholarship?

I had the good fortune of meeting Patricia Figueroa, Curator of Iberian and Latin American Collections at Brown University, as I was completing my Ph.D. in Hispanic Studies. She told me about her work and about SALALM, and, thanks to her encouragement, I decided to get my library degree as I was finishing the Ph.D. It was Patricia who alerted me to the SALALM Scholarship.

Did you know about SALALM before you applied for the scholarship?

I only knew what I had heard from Patricia. I was very excited to hear that there was a professional organization devoted to librarianship and Spanish-language materials!

Where did you earn your MLS/MLIS and what was your area of specialization?

I earned my MLIS from the University of Rhode Island. I took courses in many areas of librarianship, but I focused on academic librarianship. The various practica I did at Brown University Libraries were definitely the highlight of the program.

What drew you to the field of librarianship/archival studies?

I had been interested in library work from an early age thanks to my general love of learning and the writings of Borges. I worked at the library as an undergraduate, but I didn't really consider it a potential professional path until I was doing my master's in Spanish at the University of Georgia. At that time, I had conversations with Laura Shedenhelm about her work and I became interested in librarianship as a career, but I had just been accepted into Ph.D. programs, so the timing was not right. It was during the Ph.D. that I began to understand how my subject knowledge could inform my work as a librarian. The joint experiences of attending SALALM LX, on one hand, and visiting archives and special collections libraries across New England for my dissertation research, on the other, solidified my interest in librarianship.

Do you have other graduate level degrees?

I have a Masters in Spanish from the University of Georgia (2011) and a Ph.D. in Hispanic Studies from Brown University (2018).

How did you become interested in Latin America/Iberia? Describe your language abilities and experiences studying and/or traveling in Latin America.

Again, Borges. I started reading him in high school and he was a revelation for me. I credit him with initiating my general curiosity in languages, cultures, philosophy, and literature. I studied abroad in Valencia, Spain during my undergraduate, and then I lived in Buenos Aires and Mendoza, Argentina for a couple of years after graduating. I have traveled extensively in Spain and the Southern Cone, but I'd love to visit many other parts of Latin America. In terms of research, I wrote my master's thesis on the differing depictions of Rodrigo Díaz (aka El Cid) in the Cantar de Mio Cid and other Latin texts in the medieval period. My dissertation is essentially a work of intellectual history - I look at how Spanish literature was understood and what purposes it served in the development of American culture during the nineteenth century.

Have you worked with a Latin American/Iberian archival or library collection? In what capacity?

As I was completing the MLIS, I worked on the José Rodrigues Miguéis Collection as an archival assistant at Brown University. This was an archival baptism by fire – I was put in charge of processing a 21-box set of multimedia materials in Portuguese and creating the online finding aid. I also worked on a collection development project related to Hispanic Studies holdings at Brown, as well as a special collections project on countercultural Spanish magazines from the Transition Period, both under the guidance of Patricia Figueroa.

What was the most interesting or unexpected thing that you learned at the conference?

I was so excited to simply learn that there was a group of dedicated library professionals collaborating to make research on Latin America possible. Before attending SALALM, I had very little understanding of the behind-the-scenes work that this entails. While at the conference, I specifically remember a LAARP (or maybe LAMP?) session in which SALALM members voted to fund various projects, and I thought, “This is so cool!” In terms of tangible outcomes, SALALM represented a welcome departure from the literature conferences I had attended previously. I also benefited greatly from conversations with Peter Johnson (we roomed together in the dorms!) and I still have notes from those conversations.

Did you attend any committee meetings?

Yes, too many to remember them all. I wanted to survey the entire organization at that first meeting. I even went to the Finance Committee meeting!

If you gave a paper or presentation at the conference, give a brief description.

I did not present at SALALM LX, but I did present the following year at SALALM LXI on the work Patricia Figueroa and I had been doing on the Voces de la Movida project.

Was SALALM helpful in the development of your career? In what way?

SALALM was extremely formative in my career. It presented me with a happy marriage of my two backgrounds: Hispanic Studies and librarianship. After attending SALALM, securing a subject-specialist librarian position became my professional goal. It even informed my dissertation topic. I decided to study George Ticknor (1791-1871), the first Hispanist in the United States and the founder of the Boston Public Library.