Interview with SALALM Scholarship Awardee: Theresa Polk

Portrait of Theresa Polk

Theresa Polk.

Theresa Polk is an archivist at the LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at the University of Texas. She earned her MLS from the University of Maryland’s iSchool, specializing in archives. While studying at Maryland, she learned of the SALALM scholarship through the iSchool’s listserv and decided to apply. Polk also holds an MPhil in International Peace Studies, with a specialization in Ethics, from Trinity College Dublin.
What drew you to the field of librarianship/archival studies?
I was working on a human rights project in Guatemala when the Historical Archive of the National Police was uncovered in 2005. Later, as I became more involved in some of the legal cases around human rights violations that took place during Guatemala’s internal conflict, I became increasingly aware of the vital role of archives in transitional processes following political violence or conflict.
How did you become interested in Latin America/Iberia? Describe your language abilities and experiences studying and/or traveling in Latin America.
I had a wonderful literature teacher in high school, who taught a world poetry class. She had an amazing collection that I slowly read my way through during my spare time. As I started to connect the poetry I was reading from Latin America to the historical moment from which it emanated and the struggle for justice, something clicked, and I was hooked. I went to college knowing I would pursue a major in Latin American studies, and was able to spend a year studying abroad in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.
It took a while to find the right opportunity to return, but in 2005, I joined the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala’s (NISGUA) accompaniment team, supporting communities involved in the Rios Montt genocide case and other human rights defenders. It was an amazing, life-changing, and heartbreaking experience that ultimately led me to pursue a career in archives.
Did you know about SALALM before you applied for the scholarship?
Yes, I attended the SALALM conference in 2011 in Philadelphia, when I was still deciding whether an MLS was a good fit for me. It was a great experience and helped me make the decision to begin applying to MLS programs. In 2014, I had intended to attend SALALM in Salt Lake City, but had to cancel my travel plans at the last minute for health reasons.
What was the most interesting or unexpected thing that you learned at the conference?
I knew very little about the field when I attended the 2011 conference; for the most part, it was an opportunity to see if it felt like a good fit for my interests. The human rights theme was very encouraging, and it was exciting to hear about human rights-related collections and work happening in the field. The keynote speaker, the National Security Archive’s Peter Kornbluh, particularly struck a chord. His talk really resonated as he spoke of activist archivists and doing “documentary exhumations” of human rights violations, and I thought, yes, that is what I want to be able to do.
Was SALALM helpful in your career development?
Yes. To begin with, discovering this space within the profession encouraged me to pursue the MLS. I have also really benefited from the mentorship and connections I have made through SALALM, and look forward to becoming more involved in the future.
Did the SALALM scholarship allow you to do something you might not otherwise have been able to do?
The scholarship went mostly to school expenses; however, it eased the financial burden, allowing me to pursue other experiences outside of school, such as internships, conferences, and other professional development opportunities.
Are you currently working with a Latin American/Iberian archival or library collection?
I recently joined the staff of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at the University of Texas at Austin, working on a new post-custodial digital archives initiative. It’s a dream opportunity that allows me to really integrate my experience in the region with my archival training. Previously, I interned in the Hispanic Division at the Library of Congress, and helped process two Latin American ethnographic collections at the National Anthropological Archives (Smithsonian Institution).

Meet the FALL 2013 SALALM Scholarship Winners!

Theresa E. PolkTheresa E. Polk is a second-year MLS student at the University of Maryland’s iSchool, specializing in archives. Alongside her studies, she is a student assistant to the Humanities and Social Science Librarians at Maryland, and serves on the executive board of ALA@UMD, the student chapter of the American Library Association at the iSchool. She has also completed internships at the National Anthropological Archive, the Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress, and in the Repatriation Office of the National Museum of the American Indian. Theresa holds a BA in Latin American Studies from Carleton College, and an MPhil (Distinction) from Trinity College Dublin in International Peace Studies. Her Master’s thesis on gender based violence and impunity in post-conflict Guatemala received the school’s James Haire Memorial Prize for excellence in scholarship.
Prior to pursuing her MLS, Theresa worked in the public policy sector in Washington DC, analyzing the human rights and development implications of climate change, among other social justice issues. However, her interest in archives and access to information was awakened during her time as a human rights observer in Guatemala, supporting conflict-affected communities, families of the disappeared, and human rights defenders. This experience, as well as the 2005 discovery of Guatemala’s Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, helped her to recognize the vital importance of public records for families who were seeking to discover what had happened to their loved ones, and to rebuild shattered lives in the wake of violence.
Ultimately, Theresa hopes to integrate her field experience in Guatemala and commitment to human rights with the technical skills provided by an MLS degree in order to contribute to the preservation of historic memory and construction of human-rights focused archives. She looks forward to collaborating with and learning from colleagues in SALALM as she takes her next steps forward in the profession.
Santana-NelsonNelson Santana is Assistant Librarian at the City University of New York Dominican Studies Institute (CUNY DSI) at City College, where he works closely with Chief Librarian Sarah Aponte in the administration of the Dominican Library. Alongside Chief Librarian Aponte, Nelson regularly teaches workshops on the history of the Dominican Republic, culture, and society, as well as the history of Dominican migration in the United States. He also provides research and reference consultation to library users; plans and conducts research in historical, social, and cultural themes related to the Dominican Republic and Dominican migration; and prepares bibliographies to serve as resource tools; among many other tasks. Nelson supervises and trains college assistants, work-study students, interns and volunteers, working in the Archives and Library.
At the moment, Nelson is pursuing a Master of Science in Library and Information Science with a concentration in Archival Studies at Drexel University. Nelson holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Baruch College and a Master in the Study of the Americas from the Center for Worker Education at the City College of New York’s Division of Interdisciplinary Studies.
Nelson’s research interests include the intellectual history of Dominican migration in the United States, the cultural and political history of the Dominican Republic, and the cultural production that looks at the link between social movements and music in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.  In his MA thesis, “The Political Theology of Juan Paulino’s Club Cívico y Cultural Juan Pablo Duarte” (2012), Nelson argues how Roman Catholicism served as one of the principal driving forces that fueled the founding of one of the earliest Dominican organizations. He used the archival collection of Juan Antonio Paulino, which is housed at the Dominican Archives.
Nelson has presented his research at conferences including “Shifting Tides, Anxious Borders Conference 2013: ‘Reimagining the New World(s)”  at SUNY Binghamton, and “Commodities, Capitalism, and Culture: Latin America and Global Links” at SUNY Stony Brook.
Nelson is the recipient of several awards. At present time he is a Diversity Scholar (2013-2015) for the Association of Research Libraries (ARL).
Among his goals as an information professional, Nelson is interested in improving information literacy among users as well as working alongside his mentor, Chief Librarian Sarah Aponte to continue to disseminate knowledge pertinent to Dominican Studies. As an aspiring academic librarian, Nelson is interested in compiling and providing access to all bibliographical resources relating to Dominican Studies. As an aspiring archivist, Nelson expects to preserve the legacy and document the history of Dominican migrants in the United States.