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blak and white photo of crowd in library reading room
Photo by Angela Kinney. The start of the closing reception in the Hispanic Reading Room.

Developing Connections, not just Collections, at the Library of Congress

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This is a guest post by Alyson Williams, Head of Communities of Practice and Publication in the Latin American, Caribbean and European division. Shortly after her arrival at the Library in late February, Alyson who was serving as Co-Chair of local arrangements for the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM) Conference in 2023 took on coordination for the Library of Congress. Ms. Williams has 11 years of supervisory Library experience, managing teams that work with Communities of Practice at Dumbarton Oaks and the Inter-American Development Bank.

“What I love the most about the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM) Conference is that it offers an exciting, once-a-year opportunity to connect with colleagues across the globe who are passionate about building and providing access to collections from Latin America, the Iberian Peninsula and the Caribbean,” said Angela Kinney, chief of the African, Latin American and Western European (ALAWE) Division.

Library staff members greeted colleagues from 28 states, Puerto Rico and 15 countries during the annual meeting of the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM) in early June. Founded in 1956, the organization brings together librarians, archivists, scholars and vendors to support development of Latin American and Caribbean library collections.

SALALM can be seen as a Community of Practice, or a group of people with common interest who come together to engage in discussions and exchange ideas to build new approaches and solutions (Wenger-Trayner).  This organization of librarians share interests in Latin American Studies librarianship and they gather to interchange and develop new practices, or ways of doing. In addition to the yearly in person meeting, there are virtual sessions that bring members together to discuss or explore specific aspects of the field, such as research Guides or cataloging.

The Library cohosted the June 5–9 meeting, with Georgetown University and Dumbarton Oaks. Librarians from 70 different research institutions and international vendors from 32 companies convened in a local hotel for this 68th annual meeting, traveling to all of the host institutions for meetings and receptions. This combination of locations was perfect for the conference theme “Connection Development: Collaborations and Communities Across the Americas, Iberia, the Caribbean and their Diasporas.”

color photo of people at a presentation in the Library of Congress
Photo by Angela Kinney, ALAWE. Opening session in the Montpelier Room.

“The conference was a fitting demonstration of its theme,” said Suzanne Schadl, Chief of the Latin American, Caribbean and European Division (LACE). “Staff members had opportunities to strengthen and forge connections internally and externally while sharing challenges and solutions in community.” 

While mixing with attendees during the conference, Rio office, ALAWE, and LACE staff members had opportunities to raise awareness of their work, and engage with other community members to discuss relevant issues related to their work and development new solutions and practices.

“Rio office staff were able to discuss the office’s Cooperative Acquisitions Program with representatives from currently participating libraries and developed new connections,” Paul Losch, the office’s field director, said. 

“ALAWE staff forged new connections with vendors in meetings at the exhibition area of the conference,” Kinney said.

Librarians for the Library of Congress presenting
Photo by A. Williams. LACE Staff presentation with Catalina Gómez, Henry Widener, Dani Thurber, & Giselle Avilés (from right to left).

LACE staff presented new projects that highlighted connections and communities of practice that came together around specific initiatives. 

  • Hispanic Reading Room staff collaborated with the MexiCali Biennial, a non-profit visual arts organization focus on California and Mexico, on a blogpost and a series of research guides (Environmental Studies & Art History).
  • The Interconnecting Worlds: Weaving Community Narratives, Andean History & the Library’s Collections project sought to facilitate knowledge sharing and engage in co-creation with indigenous communities in the greater DC region connecting indigenous knowledge with Library of Congress collections. This work is presented in the Interconnecting Worlds research guide.
  • The curator of the PALABRA Archive, a collection of original audio recordings of 20th and 21st century Luso-Hispanic poets and writers reading from their works, presented on efforts to build partnerships and communities with institutes, libraries, university departments, and other organizations.
  • Finally, a member of the Hispanic Reading Room staff collaborated with students in a graduate capstone project. The librarian worked with the students and provided resources related to Brazilian Popular Groups and Brazilian Elections Web Archive.

Library staff also participated in SALALM’s first ever poster session with a poster from National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled highlighting the 10th anniversary of the Marrakesh Treaty that aims to connect scholars with accessible texts across borders, and another outlining the Palabra Archive’s 80th anniversary. Library staff convened a focus group to discuss the Handbook of Latin American Studies, a long-standing project that engages scholars and library collections to produce essays and a curated, annotated bibliography.

color photo of Library of Congress staff at display table
Photo by Angela Kinney, ALAWE. Carlos Olave, LACE (left), and Igor Fazano, Rio Office (right), at the LC Exhibit Table.

In addition to engaging with participants, Library staff were able to connect and build community at the shared Library of Congress table in the Exhibits Hall, as staff from LACE, ALAWE, and RIO do not often have the chance to get together in person. 

On June 8, it was all fun in the Hispanic Reading Room as participants enjoyed the space with food, drink, dancing and — most important —community after several years of meeting virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The gathering was SALALM’s first in-person conference since 2019.

The celebratory event was a wonderful opportunity to introduce SALALM attendees not only to the beautiful reading room, but also to the Jefferson Building and other events, since it occurred on a Thursday evening during Live at the Library.

Photo balcony view of party
Photo by Alyson Williams, LACE. Image of closing reception held in the Hispanic Reading Room.

For 66% of reception attendees, it was their first time in the building. Some expressed awe, while others said they gathered ideas from alcoves of the Hispanic Reading Room.

“Lovely to be at LC in the Hispanic Division,” one attendee commented.

Said another: “Muy feliz!! Contactar con colegas de la Biblioteca del Congreso.” (So happy to make contact with colleagues of the Library of Congress!)

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