Before library school, I had never worked in a library. So, when I started on my MLIS degree, I was relieved to be hired as a student reference librarian at my university’s business library – that is, until I was left to field questions about multi-level marketing and harmonized codes all by my lonesome. Since I had no prior business background and no reference experience, I used to joke to my friends that it was like trying to learn how to do reference in a foreign language. Then I got my first, full-time professional position: assistant librarian with liaison duties to, among other things, the Spanish program in the World Languages Department.
Having just reading and writing ability in Spanish and no subject knowledge and no concept of how the collection was previously developed and having just graduated from library school and landed my first professional job (during, mind you, the worst economic situation of my lifetime), I was not only unsure how to proceed, but also paralyzed with fear that I would make a mistake so colossal that I would be sent to the cornfields…or, at least, to the unemployment line. So, as you might have guessed, my discovery of SALALM and the 55th conference held in Providence, RI, last July, was a godsend.
In particular, the pre-conference workshop, Latin American and Latino Studies Collection Development & Resources for the Non-Specialist: Tips for Tight Budgets, confirmed that the universe loved me after all. Led by Adan Griego, Anne Barnhart, Roberto Delgadillo, and Darlene Hull, the workshop was basically a daylong crash course on how to best do my job.
The workshop was held at the John Hay Library on Brown’s Campus. Seven of us confused souls sat around tables in a U-shaped configuration in the pretty (but chilly) Lownes Room, wondering whether or not we were allowed to bring in our cups of coffee. The session started with a brief history of the SALALM organization delivered by SALALM’s president, Fernando Acosta-Rodriguez, and the conference arranger, Patricia Figueroa.
After this introduction, Adan directed our attention to the peculiarities and challenges of Spanish Language publishing and distribution in Latin America, identifying the major players (Grupo Planeta, Grupo Santillana, Random House Mondadori) and describing the future of ebooks. I assumed that large media conglomerates, much like those in the United States, dominated the industry. But, until this conversation, I had no inkling that intra-continental distribution was almost non-existent or that print runs were so low in these countries.
Next, we discussed collection development: journals (and e-content), multimedia, websites, and selection tools. Major takeaways include:
- Free online resources from Dialnet, SciELO, FLACSO, Redalyc
- Thousands of rare books from the Benson Collection that are now available through Google Books
- Spanish newspapers (from as far back as 1683) accessible through the Hemeroteca Digital
- An understanding of why acquiring DVDs from Spain and Latin America is challenging (the first challenge being finding a distributor; the second, getting the DVDs to actually play)
- The names of major vendors
- That, in publisher’s catalogs, “edición” means reprint, not edition.
- Theses can be found through the Network Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations and by adding “etd” and “filetype:pdf” to a Google search.
While I was excited to learn something new, I was also relieved to find that I wasn’t totally flailing, that I was already sending my students to some of the best databases and websites (JSTOR, Project Muse, HAPI Online, Handbook of Latin American Studies, LANIC, DOAJ) and that I was already looking at top selection tools (America Reads Spanish and Criticas Reviews).
After this orientation to collection building, the afternoon finished with brownies (!) and also a sort of share-and-tell, in which Darlene Hull, a former bibliographer of Latin American Studies at the University of Connecticut and now book vendor with Libros de Barlovento, described her book buying trips in Santo Domingo. A slideshow of open-air book fairs, disorganized warehouses, and hotel rooms converted into makeshift offices and mailrooms gave us a taste of the tremendous effort (in both the logistical and physical sense of the term) that it takes for vendors to bring materials from Latin America into the US. I left this session with a sense of the value that these vendors add and with the feeling that I should make friends with them as soon as possible.
Most impressive were the facilitators’ enthusiasm, kindness, and willingness to answer questions and offer advice. As the conference continued, I realized that this description was not unique to the workshop’s facilitators but characterized the conference attendees as a whole.
Five days later, as I waited outside my gate at the TF Green Airport, my SALALM LV tote bag loaded and hanging heavily on my shoulder, I found myself eager to return to work so I could implement all of the ideas and advice I’d gleaned from the conference. I also counted myself enormously lucky to be the librarian liaison to my school’s Spanish department. Yes, I still have a lot to learn, but I like what I’m learning (more so than, say, learning about financial ratios). Best of all, between the SALALM conference and the mentoring available through La Cuna, I won’t have to go through this learning experience completely alone.