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Hands Across the Americas

Doe Curator is Campus Ambassador to Iberoamerican National Libraries

By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs
Posted November 17, 1999

When Carlos Delgado, at a meeting of Latin American librarians, referred in passing to "withdrawing" materials from a research collection, many in the audience were shocked.

As head of Latin American collections at Doe Library, Delgado has served for the past six years as an ambassador from Berkeley to the national libraries of 22 Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries in South America and the Caribbean.

None of these institutions are as flush as Doe or Bancroft in their leanest years. Some depend solely on depository copies, submitted by their nations' publishers, to add to their collections. So discarding materials seemed an alarming proposition.

Delgado -- with support from The Library, the Center for Latin American Studies and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese -- returned to the next annual meeting of the decade-old Association of Iberoamerican National Libraries. This time he brought Dan Hazen, a former Berkeley librarian who now heads the Latin American collection at Harvard, to speak on collection development -- goals, principles, standard practices. Delgado then gave what turned out to be an "incredibly popular" lecture on why and how to discard materials from a collection in order to optimize service to patrons and the use of valuable library space.

What is important is "the content, not so much the format," he told a group member who was keeping 50 copies of each issue of a fraying antique publication on her shelves. Delgado shared alternatives used at Berkeley -- "how we store materials in low-use areas, sell them, or use them for exchange."

The Doe curator was invited to represent The Library in the group, now an intergovernmental organization, in 1994. As the only member from outside Latin America, he helps to "filter information" to the Latin American national libraries, which operate in very different contexts, and with less resources, than their counterparts in the developed world.

The national library of Venezuela, for example, recently received a grant from the Mellon Foundation to digitize a collection of 19th-century newspapers. Realizing that they needed more technical support, Delgado helped connect them with digitization experts at Cornell University.

The Latin American librarians are eager to discuss trends in librarianship, how to serve both scholars and the general public, and the future of libraries. In answer to the "eternal question" of members -- how to develop the electronic library -- Delgado finds himself hammering on the issue of copyright.

"You can't put things on the Web without looking into who owns it," he emphasizes. "The subject is not a surprise" to members, he says. "But my insistent concern is. I'm trying to push them in the direction of complying with a global reality."

Berkeley's participation in the group has reciprocal benefits for the Doe collection and Berkeley students.

As a by-product of his ambassadorial forays, Delgado usually returns from association meetings with new treasures for the Latin American collection, donated by member institutions.

"I look for things of interest to students and faculty, especially in humanities and social sciences," he says. If given the opportunity to select materials, Delgado keeps an eye out particularly for materials on hot topics like women's issues, marginalized groups and economic integration.

Sometimes he is able to make a personal contact for a campus scholar that makes a significance to his or her research project.

"I pick up the phone and say 'this student is coming down there; treat her like you treat me.'" If you're a grad student doing research in Latin America, Delgado notes, your experience is going to be much better "if you have the director of a national library waiting for you in the office."



November 17 - 23, 1999 (Volume 28, Number 15)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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