A year in review: 2016-2017

Spring has sprung and I figured it was time to do a quick update on my year in review–what a year it has been. It has been a time of ruptures, change, struggle, and growth. But all said and done, I’ve enjoyed the ride and I am looking forward to the projects and work that will come with the groundwork I’ve laid during the past twelve months:

April and May 2016 were the last two months of my Fulbright grant (you can read about my thoughts on that in my post for the SAA ERS Blog) , and I was working on doing my final interviews and preparing to return to the United States to begin a PhD program. The prospect of leaving Mexico City was tough on me, but I planned on tying Mexico into my PhD research as a way to keep Mexico

Centro Histórico, Ciudad de México (by Natalie Baur. Ambrotype, 2017)

and my Mexican colleagues in my life.

June came and I set off to Quito and Cañar in Ecuador to work with Judy Blankenship on the Archivo Cultural de Cañar. I worked with Judy the year before during the Itinerant Archivists’ inaugural study trip to Ecuador, where we had meetings with archivists in Quito and the town and indigenous communities of Cañar. Judy and I continue our work together and I’m looking forward to returning in December 2017 for more work on the project.

July and August 2016 was a time I took advantage to be in Mexico City and reflect on the experiences I had during my Fulbright year and think about the directions I wanted to go in, both in my personal and professional life. I was fortunate to be named a member of the DocNow Advisory Board, and I attended our first meeting in August at Washington University in St. Louis. Reconnecting with dear colleagues in the US was a precious gift in that transitory moment of my life.

As September 2016 rolled around, I accepted a position as Digital Preservation Librarian at El Colegio de México. It was a dream come true: however, a gut-wrenching decision because in the end I gave up my fellowship and spot in the PhD program I had planned to begin that same month. I knew I needed to stay in Mexico City. The job was amazing, I was excited to work with my new colleagues, and most of all, be able to stay, long-term, in the city I have come to love.

October 2016-December 2016 were spent learning the ropes of my new job and new institution. In November, I was fortunate to be able to attend, for the first time, the Digital Library Forum and National Digital Stewardship Alliance meetings in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I experienced the US Presidential elections in the United States with new and old colleagues, many of whom are some of my dearest friends. We grieved together, we sorted things out together. And my resolve to work and collaborate across borders solidified and swelled exponentially that week.

January 2017-April 2017 were months of a Spring of new projects, new collaborations, and new friendships. I began to explore Mexico City on foot in earnest and take up some new hobbies, including ambrotype photography. I submitted my first grant proposal to a Mexican funding agency. Big things have been put in motion and in the next few months I can’t wait to share these new projects, initiatives and collaborations with you all.




June: Going home…to Ecuador


Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador

I have a long history with Ecuador, and it’s a place that, with each time I am here, it feels even more familiar. It’s home. However, I can’t lie, it was so, so very difficult to leave Mexico a few days ago. I’ll be going back soon enough though, for a few more months of work and reflection. But June is dedicated to my other home, Ecuador. After leaving Mexico City bound for a quick overnight stay in Miami, I hopped on a plane bound for Quito, where I spent a deliciously chilly night under the watchful eye of the Cotopaxi volcano. After three days of travel, I finally arrived at my final destination, the charmingly colonial southern city of Cuenca, where I will be based for the next few weeks working with my friend, colleague and leader of the Archivo Cultural de Cañar project, Judy Blankenship.

I’m here in Ecuador to work. And to process all the incredible and transformational things that happened in the past year in Mexico. Even though I didn’t plan it this way, I think it’s better that I am doing this in Ecuador, rather than the United States. It’s hard to explain, but having a third place to work out all the complexities of my time in Mexico is turning out to be a wise way to decompress.

So what will I be doing here for the next few weeks?

  • I plan on spending a lot of time in Cañar, an Ecuadorian province about an hour north of Cuenca. Judy and I will be working on developing documentation and training for digitization and metadata workflows for the Archivo Digital de Cañar. The digital archive will serve as a platform to document primarily the visual and oral heritage of the town of Cañar and the Cañari communities nearby. I’ll be writing more in detail as we begin work in earnest this week about the community’s involvement in the project, Judy’s role as founder and director, and my role as consulting archivist.
  • Networking with local archivists and librarians in Cuenca, and celebrating International Day of Archives on June, 9.
  • Workshopping with local cultural heritage institutions on building sustainable digitization and digital preservation programs and initiatives at their archives and libraries.
  • Presenting on my Fulbright experiences in Mexico alongside Fulbright scholars in Ecuador at an event sponsored by the Fulbright commission in Quito.

It’s a lot to do in three weeks, but I am looking forward to sharing my experiences in Mexico and the knowledge I’ve gained while working and living there with the Ecuadorian library and archives community. You can say it’s all coming full circle.

Eating a bolón de queso and eggs at the Quito airport before setting off for Cuenca. Quite a hearty breakfast!

Eating a bolón de queso and eggs at the Quito airport before setting off for Cuenca. Quite a hearty breakfast!


A year of Pan-American LIS: some thoughts

La Fonoteca Nacional, Coyoacán, Ciudad de México

La Fonoteca Nacional, Coyoacán, Ciudad de México

I’ve been in Mexico nearly a year, and my Fulbright-Garcia Robles grant is up in two weeks. I’ve learned a lot here. I’ve learned a lot about things I didn’t necessarily start out to learn, which have been some of the most valuable parts of my stay here. Talking to people, writing to people, and visiting institutions to get an overall idea of how Mexican galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAMs) are dealing with the implications of taking on the responsibility of being the custodians of an onslaught of digital information and cultural heritage has been the core of my experience. I’ve also seen the imbalance of a global dialogue, one that tends to mirror the imbalances of global power and access to resources between the United States and the Global South.

My challenge is that the LIS community in the United States take a step away from eurocentricity (and whiteness) and embrace the fact that the Western hemisphere includes all of the Americas and the Caribbean. In fact, those of you familiar with my work know that I’ve written about this before (both in English and Spanish.) Sure, the United States shares a lot of history with Europe and European traditions, but it’s always been more than that, contrary to what many of our high school history text books might allude. The Indigenous, African, Creole, Mestizo, Asian, European–all of these traditions and cultures have agency and a role in the history and present of the United States, and we share that history of multiculturalism, slavery, colonization, and amalgamation with all of the Americas. We already know the LIS profession in the US has what Chris Bourg terms a problem with the “unbearable whiteness of librarianship.” This needs to change within the US LIS profession, but I argue we must also go one step further. We need to recognize that the US profession in large part has an isolationist attitude toward librarianship and professional practice. There is a need for greater consideration of geographic diversity, to recognize, without having to think about it too hard, that the US is part of the Americas and that the US LIS profession does not exist in a vacuum confined by the linguistic and cultural borders of the idea of a white, Anglo “America.”

La Fototeca Nacional, Pachuca, México

La Fototeca Nacional, Pachuca, México

GLAM professionals in Latin America and the Caribbean are paying attention to what is going on in the United States, but I would argue that few and far between in the US are paying attention to what our colleagues are accomplishing to the South. This has to change. For example, the Internet Archive purports to archive the web, and does have some measures in place for international outreach and is working with some Latin American institutions on capturing national domains. But many of its initiatives and programs are still US/English-centric, especially those programs that are innovative and attempt to harness the power of the Internet to bring about social and political change. There are individual, somewhat isolated efforts to mitigate this, such as the web archiving focusing on Latin American issues done at the University of Miami and the University of Texas at Austin. All worthy initiatives. But let’s take it further.

From the nearly forty institutions that I have had the opportunity to visit and get to know in Mexico, many of the challenges we face in the “knowledge economy” of the the 21st century are more often similar, not different, across borders. Mexican universities are building scholarly repositories and scholarly communications programs that champion the Open Access ethos, and they have arguably been Open Access advocates for much longer than most libraries in the US have been at it. They are finding ways to promote national and regional scholarship in a way that does not privilege the mega vendor system of knowledge distribution that has entrenched itself in US academic libraries. Museums, such as the Museo Universitario del Chopo, are experimenting with and making progress with capturing and preserving digital forms of art. Archives are digitizing their collections, but are also confronting many of the same major issues that archivists in the US encounter when it comes to project management, resources, and long-term digital preservation of these costly projects.

But what is really at stake is more than just technology, LIS practices, and the Open Access movement. As the US LIS profession (hopefully) diversifies and undergoes transformation, it simply cannot remain geographically isolated. This geographic isolation is just a further contributor to the whiteness issue in LIS. This growth and transformation period will not only require diversifying the ranks of librarians and archivists in the US, but will also require opening the borders of collaboration, discussion and sharing; and placing the US in context with a Pan-American approach to information work and knowledge economies. There are already some great efforts underway to get this started, like the work of GlobalDH; the more than sixty-year-old professional organization, Society for the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials; and the Latin American and Caribbean Cultural Heritage Archives roundtable of the Society of American Archivists, namely the group’s Desmantelando Fronteras/Breaking Down Borders webinar series. Many large professional organizations such as the American Library Association and the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) have groups focusing on Latin America and the Caribbean. These are all good starts, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to true inclusion and admitting the fact that US LIS is not a dangling extension of Europe; we are the Americas.

Salimos de la bóveda / Out of the Vault: 50 years of the Archivo Histórico UNAM

I only went to the Museo Universitario de Ciencias y Artes (MUCA) at thSalimos de la bóvedae Ciudad Universitaria campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México by accident. It was an unplanned visit during a day meandering the campus with a visitor, taking in the rhythms of university life and stopping by the ofrendas set up around campus for Día de los Muertos. What a pleasant surprise to see that the current MUCA exhibit celebrates the 50th anniversary of the foundation of UNAM’s university archives (AHUNAM), aptly titled Salimos de la bóveda: a 50 años del Archivo Histórico de la UNAM.

Many people don’t know what an archive looks like, what’s in an archive, and what kinds of work goes on in an archive. This exhibit is a creative teaching tool for getting a sense of what’s at the Archivo Histórico de la UNAM, and what’s going on behind the scenes, in spaces where regular users and visitors might not usually get a chance to see. Each of the fondos, or collections, held at the AHUNAM is featured with selections of documents, photographs and objects on display alongside a brief collection description (a scope and contents note, for those familiar with archival lingo), the size (or, extent) of the collection, the date ranges for the collection, and some information about what type of inventory or finding aid is available.

A full-scale representation of the Ignacio García Téllez demystifies the life of an archives behind closed doors.

The displays are mounted on walls of boxes, provoking our imaginations of what we perceive an archive to be and transposing that alongside exhibits that actually show us what archives are and what they look like. One example is the exhibit area featuring the Ignacio García Téllez papers. A full-scale representation of the papers of the former University rector demystifies the life of an archives behind closed doors. We usually think of archives as resting inertly behind closed doors, somewhere deep and unseen inside a locked vault. But the door is open to us, and we are invited in to take a look, to see where a living archive waits for us to come and ask of it our questions. The boxes are ordered on the shelves, just like the actual collection that is housed at the AHUNAM. We learn about the García Téllez’s life and his archive, but we also learn about the acid free boxes, the organizational structure of the archive, and how all the boxes look together on the shelves, and even how the archivists use the stepping stools to reach the top shelves to pull boxes for the researchers, like us, who come to consult the archive. Now, we know the archive, where it lives and how it lives. Because archives are alive.

Preservation lab exhibitArchives need routine maintenance and regular preventative care, just like any living creature. We see preservation tools and explanations of the preservation and conservation techniques employed by the AHUNAM to care for its collections displayed dynamically, giving us the sense that the conservationist has just left the lab for her lunch break. We get the feeling that it is an active space, a space that is constantly in motion, with a purpose to ensure that future generations will be able to visit and make meanings from the materials residing within the archive.

And finally, there is the acknowledgement of the role of the digital through online Digital collections AHUNAMcatalogs and finding aids, and digitized collections. We can consult the online catalog and the digitized collections, and prepare for our very own visit to the AHUNAM to see some of the materials we learned about in the exhibit. While not much was referenced regarding born-digital materials and current collecting efforts of born-digital faculty papers, I hope to find out more about these types of projects during my Fulbright research in Mexico.

Perhaps one day we will figure out a way to transmit the wonder and complexity of the digital realm into an exhibit that plays to our wonder of and fascination with the physical traits of archives, as we know them in our imaginations. Salimos de la bóveda is an enormously creative work of outreach and advocacy. It gives us a glimpse into the secret lives of archives–archives that are living, rich and complex. The invitation has been extended to us to come and get to know, and tell, the stories that are playing out behind open doors.

Salimos de la bóveda: a 50 años del Archivo Histórico de la UNAM is on display at the Museo Universitario de Ciencias y Artes at the Ciudad Universitaria campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (Mexico City) until December 5, 2015.





México: the journey begins

A little over  a month ago, I finished up attending the Society of American Archivists conference in Cleveland, and two days later I was moving to Mexico City for my 2015-2016 Fulbright-García Robles project. It’s been a whirlwind of a time, and I’m still learning the ropes and settling in at my host institution, the Instituto de Investigaciones Bibliotecológicas y de la Información at the Universidad Nacional Autónomo de México.


Biblioturismo: Colombia

This summer, I decided to take a short vacation to Colombia. My initial intent was not to turn the trip into a library-and-archives-bonanza, but that’s pretty much what it ended up being, to my delight. I love to travel, and this trip to Colombia was to get to know a place I’ve wanted to visit for a very long time, and to visit colleagues whom I’ve come to call friends through our work on the Infotecarios blog.  (more…)

Hello world!

Hello! ¡Hola!

Welcome to my professional website. Here you will (soon) be able to find information about my work in libraries and archives. Stay tuned as I begin building this space.

¡Bienvenidos! En este espacio virtual, próximamente se encontrará información sobre mi trabajo en bibliotecas y archivos.