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A Symposium to Center Latin American and Caribbean Partners

This is part one of a two-part interview with the organizers of “Capacity Assessment of Latin American and Caribbean Partners: A Symposium about Open-Access, Technological Needs, and Institutional Sustainability,” which took place virtually April 16-17, 2020. Part two will be published tomorrow, July 14. In this piece, Nicole Kang Ferraiolo, CLIR’s Director of Global Strategic Initiatives, interviews: 

the authors
Left to right: Margie Montañez, Hadassah St. Hubert, Jennifer Isasi, and Nicté Fuller Medina.

Hadassah St. Hubert, CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow at Digital Library of the Caribbean at Florida International University

Jennifer Isasi, Assistant Director of the Digital Pedagogy and Scholarship Office and Director of the Digital Liberal Arts Initiative at Penn State University

Nicté Fuller Medina, CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles Libraries in Data Curation in Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Margie Montañez, Humanities Librarian at the University of New Mexico and a previous CLIR fellow for Data Curation for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at UNM

Can you provide a brief overview of the Latin American and Caribbean partners symposium?

Hadassah St. Hubert: The full title was Capacity Assessment of Latin American and Caribbean Partners: A Symposium about Open Access, Technological Needs and Institutional Sustainability. The symposium was a microgrant project through CLIR’s Data Curation Fellowships in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, funded by the Mellon Foundation. The conference took place April 16th and 17th; it was initially intended to be an in-person event but was held via Zoom and live stream on Facebook because of COVID-19. The intended audience for the symposium was people who do post custodial archival work, our partners in Latin America and the Caribbean, and then funding institutions that support digitization projects in these areas. In total we had 126 people participating via Zoom and over 1,700 views on Facebook.

Nicté Fuller Medina: It was for the cultural heritage institutions, libraries, and archives in Latin America and the Caribbean. It was about connecting them with resources and creating a space for a conversation with institutions in the US and Canada.

Margie Montañez: At the end of the day, we had partners from six different countries: Mexico, Colombia, Haiti, Jamaica, Barbados, and the US.

Jennifer Isasi: Also the keynote was in Argentina and the audience was also from several other countries. 

What were the symposium’s goals?

Margie Montañez: One of the major goals was to find out what the institutions in Latin America and in the Caribbean needed from their US partner institutions. A second goal was to talk with our partner institutions about technical capabilities. Third, we wanted to talk about who they see using their materials and how can we help them get these digitized materials to their intended audiences.

Hadassah St. Hubert: We also wanted to create a set of guidelines and recommendations for libraries and archives in the US and Canada, and for those who fund these projects, based on the conversations at the symposium.

Nicté Fuller Medina: The idea was to get insights from the institutions in the Caribbean and Latin America, so that these partnerships are more transparent, and so there was a platform for those voices. Because of the power dynamic between the so-called global North and global South, a lot of what happens relies on individual institutions. We wanted to be able to provide a broader picture.

Jennifer Isasi: Another thing that we did is bring institutions together from the region. We found that they often don’t know each other, and by creating this group, they can now share information.

What were some of the considerations you had in mind when designing it?

Nicté Fuller Medina: One of the things that we wanted to do was to make sure that the invited institutions from the Caribbean and Latin America had a space to showcase the work that they were doing for an international audience. And then we wanted to put them in the same room with funders to demystify that whole process and put a face to funding programs. The microgrant we received was so important because it takes funding to be able to facilitate participation from the global South because of how the North-South divide operates.

Hadassah St. Hubert: I just wanted to add a brief note about how we selected our keynotes. We did a survey of the Latin American and Caribbean partners before the symposium, and they were chosen as a result of the topics. Open access was one of their topics that they wanted to learn about and that’s why we chose Gimena del Rio Riande.

Margie Montañez: We were very intentional about centering the voices from our partner institutions, so that it wasn’t about the needs of a US researcher or the needs of a US institution.

What are the next steps for this project?

Jennifer Isasi: We are developing guidelines and recommendations with different audiences in mind. We have a section for institutions in the global North that have an interest in digitizing and curating materials from Latin America and the Caribbean; we have a set of recommendations for institutions that are funding these projects, and one for the institutions in the Caribbean and Latin America. I will say that overall, the recommendation is that there be more communication and community creation among them. For instance, US and Canada-based institutions could reduce the burdens on Latin American and Caribbean partners by making paperwork easier or taking on the cost of translation work, particularly in the case of grant applications.

Nicté Fuller Medina: We’ll be making these recommendations public along with the recordings of the sessions. We’re planning to translate them into Spanish, French, and possibly Portuguese. Jennifer has also started working on captioning for the videos. It’s important to us to translate what we are producing so that it’s accessible to institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The second part of this interview, focused on the impact of COVID-19 on the symposium, will be published tomorrow. Recordings of the symposium sessions can be found here. The forthcoming recommendations and guidelines are expected to be available in fall 2020 on the symposium website.

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