Latin American Library Hits New Stride

January 15, 2004

Arthur Nead
Phone: (504) 865-5714

With a new director, important new acquisitions and a dynamically redesigned space, the Latin American Library is moving into a new and vigorous era.

lalib"The Latin American Library is one of the best research libraries of its kind," says Hortensia Calvo, Doris Stone Director of the Latin American Library. "In this area, it helps keep Tulane on the map."

Calvo is the holder of the endowed directorship of the Latin American Library. The position is endowed by the Zemurray Foundation, which also is a principal benefactor of the Roger Thayer Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane.

Calvo came to librarianship by way of teaching literature. She holds a PhD in Spanish literature from Yale University and taught Spanish-American literature at Princeton.

Following that, she participated in a yearlong post-doctoral fellowship program in Latin American research librarianship at Duke University, then she was the bibliographer for Latin America and Iberia at Duke for several years before coming to Tulane. Tulane's Latin American Library was created in 1924 when Samuel Zemurray, president of the Cuyamel Fruit Co., donated the William Gates Collection of rare, early Latin American books and manuscripts to the Department of Middle American Research, the predecessor of the Middle American Research Institute.

At that time the library was housed in Dinwiddie Hall. In 1962, the collection was transferred to the university library system. Since then, it has been part of the special collections division of Howard-Tilton Memorial Library and has been located on the fourth floor of the library building.

"As you can imagine, having begun as the library that supported the Middle American Research Institute, the core disciplinary interests were archeology, anthropology and the history of Mesoamerica," says Calvo.

After 1962, the library expanded its focus from Mesoamerica to include the rest of Latin America, including Brazil. It has also acquired collections on art, architecture, literature and law. "But as with all libraries," says Calvo, "most of the time it's the original strengths that people build on. For example, we have an extensive photographic collection, including early photographs of Latin America, dating from the middle of the 19th century. We have an extensive collection of manuscripts, and we have something that's quite unique--original indigenous painted manuscripts."

A reorganization of space in the library building earlier this year benefited the Latin American Library, which gained approximately 1,000 square feet. This additional space made it possible for Calvo, together with Robert Gonzalez, assistant professor of architecture at Tulane, to design a Borgesian labyrinth of rooms to house the library's many treasures. Among these is a collection of rubbings of pre-Columbian Maya monuments made by Merle Greene Robertson over a period of some 30 years beginning in the 1960s.

Robertson has donated her entire collection of more than 2,000 rubbings to the library, together with her field notes and maps showing the locations of the monuments. The renovation created a much-needed special collections reading room, a large conference room, gallery space for exhibits in the general reading room and more spacious work areas for staff.

The library now houses all volumes of Latin American literature and literary criticism that until earlier this year were part of the general collection of the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library. Moving these books to the Latin American Library has meant that more students and faculty are now going to the fourth floor of the library building to do research and consult the materials.

"I redesigned the space in order to accommodate a reference desk, so we can provide specialized reference on Latin America to students, faculty and researchers," says Calvo. "When the desk is up and running, the reference librarians will be there to help orient researchers who are new to the library and teach them the essential research tools for Latin American research." The enlarged and redesigned space opens up new avenues of service for the library, according to Calvo. "We've always had the substance," she says. "Now we have the space to go with the substance."

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