A bookstore in Havana

Librarians do a bit more than say ssshhh!

As a librarian I am responsible for physical and electronic materials that drive research, teaching, and discovery for all users – students, faculty, employees, and members of the public. I cultivate these collections of materials in my defined areas and try to have both breadth and depth. Diversity of opinions, strategies, and topics help to find and refine the trends and and gaps in knowledge. Having quality data helps inform a variety of audiences and assists in our understanding of each other and the world. Just as important are the materials are the people. I teach people how to find, navigate, and use the seemingly infinite resources available to students and faculty and I learn a lot in the process and from the products of their work. Excitement, joy, and curiosity should always be encouraged in research and teaching and I think libraries are perfect treasure troves that can and should get the blood flowing. I want to hear about your discoveries, your brainwaves, your “ah hah moments” and your successes. I promise not to stifle or shush anyone.

Libraries have moved on in terms of space – both physically where they are more forum-like and buzzing with chatter than quiet, imposing mausoleums – and often their digital or virtual footprint is mega. Speaking of which, when I let someone know I am a librarian, I often get “I love books!” (me too!) or “I wish I had time to read!” (alas, me too!) and I am often asked if I think the Kindle or ebooks will make their paper cousins obsolete. I am steadfast in my resolve in my reply – absolutely not. It’s horses for courses. Ebooks and paper books are from the same family and we don’t kill our brood. Well, not normally. I feel the two formats have different purposes, different ways of interacting, and different fanbases. Plus one of my favorite lines from the film Auntie Mame sums it up, “books are awfully decorative, don’t you think?” I wouldn’t want to put a bunch of Amazon Fires on a shelf, give me colorful books with proud spines any day.

Through my acquisitions, I am cultivating resources that allow for access, discovery, and engagement with a wealth of resources for our stakeholders and communities at the University of Miami. Every year I grow our print collections at the Cuban Heritage Collection in significant ways. We collect books, journals, newspapers (and a whole lot more) about Cuba, its people, and more is more. Like most libraries space is at a premium so we have to make sure we do not buy books that we already have. I often get donations and gifts of books from wonderful supporters, something I am profoundly grateful for and it hurts my heart a little when I can’t accept a well-meant book as we already have a copy. The Cuban Heritage Collection is truly the largest collection of Cuban materials outside of the island so chances are high that we may have a certain book, especially if it was popular. I do get offered some priceless gems, rare texts, signed copies, and so on, and each addition makes us that bit more unique and comprehensive. It is an obsessive’s dream come true! We do have plenty to acquire still and I work hard to identify key collections that help demonstrate diversity in Cuba’s history, religions, culture, viewpoints, and people.

My vision for my work at the CHC is to continue to grow the collections in the areas of Afro-Cuba, religion, travel, the environment, and the arts, as well as underrepresented cultures, races, and ethnicities in Cuba’s complex and dynamic demographic, which helps underpin the CHC as a unique and powerful part within the larger dynamics of Cuban studies in its broadest context. To that end, I have given Islamic, Asian, Jewish, Afro-Atlantic histories and lived experiences priority attention in collecting and acquiring new materials. I have also acquired books on sex and gender, adding to our existing holdings that focus on LGBTQ+ Cuba and Cubans.

A very enjoyable aspect of my work as a librarian is traveling to different book fairs held around the world. These are often huge, annual events that have stalls and booths set up by publishers. They often last multiple days and some days they are only open to professionals. As Librarian for the Cuban Heritage Collection and Curator of Latin American Collections, I have the bookfairs of Cuba, Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Colombia, and Brazil to choose from. For my work I have found Havana’s Feria del libro and Guadalajara’s Feria internacional del Libro (FIL) are not to be missed.

Havana’s Book Fair

mtsang @ (no spaces)
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