During the last few weeks, I have received several emails and phone calls from SALALM members wishing to discuss their ideas for the Providence 2010 conference program, and also from others who simply wanted to express that they were glad to learn that SALALM would dedicate a whole conference to examining how recent technological and economic trends are transforming the way in which we make available documentation, information, and an important part of the cultural production from Latin America. To those who contacted me, thank you very much for your interest and support.
One of these callers also recommended stating more clearly to the SALALM membership why I think that this is an important and timely topic. I will follow the advice and be very straightforward.
Just as many SALALM members eloquently expressed during the New Orleans and Berlin conferences, I also am concerned about the potentially adverse effects that recent trends will have on the strength of future Latin American research library collections and, consequently, on Latin American Studies scholarship. New technologies, to be sure, do offer fantastic opportunities in the areas of publishing, scholarly communication and access delivery, among others. But the way in which research libraries - often forced by economic circumstances- are implementing new models of acquiring, processing, reformatting and sharing information may unintentionally produce not only negative, but irreparable consequences that will limit the possibilities for future Latin American Studies research.
For example, in one scenario that was discussed during the Berlin conference, research libraries continue to seek badly needed savings by uncritically adopting new acquisitions models that privilege large book distributors, discourage competition, and leave aside the smaller vendors that cannot afford to absorb new costs. The undesired outcome is the crippling of a bibliographic distribution network that SALALM successfully contributed to develop over several decades. With a diminished network, it becomes increasingly difficult and costly, if not impossible, to acquire the noncommercial, nonmainstream, and marginal materials that can only provide a balanced representation of the multiple perspectives, sectors and voices found across Latin American societies. If that scenario becomes a reality, it would represent a major failure on the part of the research libraries. What can and should we, as an organization and as individuals, do about this?
It really is not a matter of resisting change or of sticking to the practices that we know well. It is a matter of first, assessing both the opportunities and the risks presented by those trends, and then advocating for and putting forward the arguments in favor of the practices and strategies that will ensure that research libraries will continue to support Latin American Studies research well into the future. All of this will require increasing levels of collaboration and dialogue within and beyond SALALM. Hopefully, our 2010 meeting in Providence will serve as a broad forum for moving in that direction.
On a different note, as most of you surely know, SALALM isn’t exactly in great financial shape. To generate some savings, the Executive Board recently accepted a recommendation from the Finance Committee requesting that SALALM ceases to contribute matching funds to the Marietta Daniels Shepard Scholarship Fund. As SALALM’s Treasure Jane Garner explained, the scholarship fund has already reached and exceeded the endowment goal. At this moment, what the School of Information at the University of Texas-Austin (http://www.ischool.utexas.edu/) really needs from SALALM is assistance in finding qualified candidates who can make use of the scholarship. The Marietta Daniels Shepard Scholarship Fund’s objective is to support “a student who is committed to fostering the development of libraries in Latin America and the Caribbean by pursuing a professional career in one or more of the countries of Latin America or the Caribbean.” If you know potential candidates who may benefit from the scholarship, please refer them to UT’s School of Information.
Hasta la próxima!