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Five Questions, Intern Edition: Tania M. Ríos Marrero, 2021 Junior Fellow

Photo of Tania M. Rios Marrero

Genesis Báez, photographer. Tania M. Ríos Marrero. 2021.

What is your background?

I am a graduate student in the Master of Library and Information Science program at the University of Washington Information School and anticipating graduation in Spring 2022. In the last few years, I have become increasingly interested in the ways librarianship intersects with the digital humanities, and with Caribbean digital studies in particular. Before pursuing this path, I was working as a community organizer at the Free Library of Philadelphia, where I built programs, organized events, and facilitated stronger connections and collaborations between neighborhood library staff and community members.

How did you learn about the intern program and why did you want to work at the Library of Congress?

I learned about the Junior Fellows program through one of my mentors at the UW iSchool. My curiosity was piqued by the description for the Latin American Food Studies project of the Science, Technology and Business Division. Outside of my career in libraries, I am invested in self-study of regenerative local food systems and agroecological food growing methods. I have not yet seen much intersection between the broad area of food studies and the library and information sciences, and I was (and still am!) excited by that prospect and potential. I moved home to Puerto Rico at the beginning of 2021 and felt the internship would provide an opportunity to explore that intersection.

How would you describe your internship?

I was given a large amount of creative liberty from the outset of the program. Early on, my project mentor invited me to enroll in the ArcGIS Story Maps training series, and I was glad to. I had seen examples of Story Maps in my digital humanities coursework. Producing a Story Map that would highlight and engage materials in the Library’s collections soon became my primary goal for the fellowship. Choosing and narrowing a topic was a big challenge – the Library’s collections are expansive and my time in the Junior Fellows program was so limited.

I knew I wanted to work in some capacity with the Farm Security Administration photographs of Puerto Rico housed in the Prints & Photographs Division. This collection is one of the largest visual archives of mid-twentieth century Puerto Rico and its images are at once beautiful and troubling. Of this collection, I was asking questions like:

  • Who were the FSA photographers visiting Puerto Rico in the mid-twentieth century, and why were they there?
  • In what ways did these images influence or justify the design and implementation of American policy in Puerto Rico?
  • How have these images contributed to the construction of a contemporary Puerto Rican historiography?

I was fortunate to be simultaneously attending workshops by Dr. Schuyler Esprit as part of the dLOC Data Series (an initiative of the Digital Library of the Caribbean, Florida International University/University of Florida). Of archives and library collections, she prompted us to ask: “Who/what is the story in the archive?” “Who owns the narratives and/or the histories?” and, “How do we engage the silences?”

I contemplated these questions and eagerly researched the provenance of the FSA collection. I learned about photographers Louise and Edwin Rosskam and Jack Delano, about the social documentary trends in photography, and about the programs and reforms of the New Deal – especially as they related to agriculture. I began to see the collection with new eyes.

For the purposes of the Story Map, I narrowed my focus towards a group of photographs depicting a sugar industry strike in 1942. Because the metadata records for these photographs lack descriptive detail, my intention was to use the Story Map as a way of adding context to the collection – by bringing forward underrepresented aspects of those images; articulating what I believe to be significant about that specific moment in Puerto Rican history; and drawing connections between land use, food production and the organized labor movement in the mid-twentieth century. So the Story Map,  “¡a la huelga todos!,The 1942 Sugar Industry Strike in Puerto Rico,would be in conversation with other Library of Congress resources, I curated a list of recommended LC digital collections and literature in the LC catalog so that library users may choose to explore the topics further.

Also a part of my project was my participation in the Library’s web archiving initiatives. I selected and nominated sites for preservation in the Food & Foodways Web Archive Collection with a focus on present-day land-based community initiatives and food justice work in Puerto Rico.

What has amazed you the most about the Library?

Working in close collaboration with LC staff in the ST&B Division and in the Hispanic Reading Room has been a huge pleasure. I received mentorship and support from many staff members while developing my research focus, as well as unwavering encouragement and feedback throughout the process. I was amazed by the interdisciplinary and diverse skill sets and experiences held by staff across the divisions and feel privileged to come away from the fellowship having made many sincere and inspiring connections. What amazes me the most about any library organization is always the people working ‘behind the scenes’ to make things happen – and the Library of Congress is no exception!

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