By MEG SMITH
On Oct. 12, 1939, the Hispanic Reading Room at the Library of Congress opened its doors and provided access to the world's finest collection of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American materials and artifacts.
Today the Hispanic Division is still recognized as the foremost source of scholarly material on Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking cultures. "The Hispanic Division has been and continues to be an internationally recognized center for Iberian, Latin American and Caribbean studies," said Latin American Studies Association President Franklin W. Knight in a speech at the Library last year.
Sixty years after the debut of the Library's first area studies reading room, the Hispanic Division has acquired 2.4 million books and periodicals and 10.5 million items including maps, manuscripts, prints, photographs, voice recordings, motion pictures and sheet music. The materials focus on Luso-Hispanic history and culture (Luso refers to Portuguese-speaking cultures; Hispanic refers to Spanish-speaking cultures).
The Hispanic Foundation (now Hispanic Division) was established July 1, 1939, by the Library to serve as a global center for research in Luso-Hispanic studies and to collect materials as widely as possible in history and culture. Both the division and the reading room were the vision of Hispanic Society of New York (now Hispanic Society of America) founder Archer M. Huntington, who provided funds for the acquisition and maintenance of materials. More than 200,000 books have been purchased with endowed funds from Huntington.
Division Chief Georgette Magassy Dorn estimates that almost half of the 7,000 scholars who come to the reading room each year are foreign. "Scholars come from all over the world. Most of them are professors, graduate students, undergraduates, journalists, but the great majority are academics. And they come from places as diverse as India, Japan, Poland, Germany and Spain," she said.
Associate Librarian for Library Services Winston Tabb noted that "the division is proud of its service to Congress and remains very responsive to congressional inquiries. For example, in 1995 the Division compiled for Congress the book Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995, which is available on the division's Web site.
"The division also frequently does translations for Congress and assists the interns of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute when they conduct research in the Library. In response to a congressional request, the Hispanic Division helped develop a Web site on Puerto Rico in the Spanish-American War, and it is currently helping the National Digital Library Program develop a special offering on the history of Puerto Rico," he added.
In 1936 Huntington gave the Library of Congress funds for the reading room and named it the Hispanic Society Room of Spanish and Portuguese Arts and Letters. He commissioned Folger Shakespeare Library architect Paul Philippe Cret to design the reading room in the Thomas Jefferson building in the style of the Spanish Renaissance. When it was completed, Huntington and Division Chief Lewis Hanke commissioned a mural of Christopher Columbus's coat of arms painted on stainless steel -- the first mural of its kind. And in 1941 the Brazilian government and Nelson Rockefeller commissioned Brazilian painter Cândido Portinari to paint four murals on the walls of the reading room's vestibule depicting early scenes of Iberian conquest in Latin America.
Hanke was a close friend of Huntington's who came from the faculty of Harvard University. Under Hanke, the division expanded the scope of its collection to include more Latin American materials while still remaining a dominant repository of Iberian materials.
Hanke began the Handbook of Latin American Studies in 1935 while at Harvard. The Handbook is the most complete annotated, multilingual bibliography of Hispanic materials ever assembled, and Hanke made it the main source for the division's collections.
Updated and published yearly, the Handbook is still the most famous of the Hispanic Division's publications. Each volume is compiled with annotations by 130 scholars and contains more than 5,000 new entries of scholarly publications in the humanities and social sciences.
"The presence of the Handbook makes the division unique" because of its scope and its use as a guide to acquisitions, Ms. Dorn said.
The division also publishes several guides to its special collections, including The Harkness Collection in the Library of Congress: Manuscripts Concerning Mexico, A Guide and The Lowery Collection: A Descriptive List of Maps of the Spanish Possessions Within the Present Limits of the United States, 1502-1820. Many of the special collections guides are on the division's home page at www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic.
Ms. Dorn attributes the Web site's usefulness as a research tool to the efforts of Reading Room Head Everette Larson. "Everette has been at the forefront of providing electronic reference to our scholars," she said.
Luso-Brazilian Specialist Iêda Siqueira Wiarda said the Web site allows more researchers to use the division's resources than ever before. "You don't see all the researchers out in the reading room anymore. Many requests come in by fax and e-mail. We are truly in contact with most of the world," she said.
According to Ms. Dorn, Dr. Billington's enthusiastic support for digitizing the collections has led to plans for a new initiative with the Library's Brazilian materials. In a September 1998 speech at a World Bank Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Dr. Billington reiterated his desire to see more nations, particularly Brazil, make their national treasures and historical documents available to the world through digitization. He said he was "intrigued by Brazil as a multicultural frontier society, with many parallels to U.S. history.
"A 'Brazilian memory' project [patterned after the Library's American Memory online collections) could create a bridge of understanding between the United States and Brazil," he said.
Although the project is still in its planning stages, Ms. Wiarda is optimistic that it will grow to become a partnership between the Brazilian government and the Library of Congress. "I think this is a very imaginative initiative. We are working toward its implementation and we hope to accomplish some of the first steps in 2000," she said.
Because researchers from all over the world seek materials at the Library of Congress, the division has sought to communicate with its worldwide audience through the new electronic resources that have recently emerged.
In 1995 joint funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Fundación MAPFRE América of Spain (MAPFRE) enabled the division to publish all 53 volumes of the Handbook on CD-ROM. Dolores Martin, who edited the Handbook for 25 years, supervised the conversion before her retirement in June 1999. With funding from Hanke's family, the information on the CD-ROM and its annual updates since 1995 were put on the Handbook's Web site at memory.loc.gov/hlas.
The searchable Web site has instructions in English and Spanish and receives 30,000 hits a month. Most of the searches are performed in Spanish, illustrating the Handbook's importance among Hispanic researchers.
An affiliate of MAPFRE, the Fundación Histórica Tavera, is just completing an updated version of the CD-ROM that includes the most recent editions of the Handbook.
Another popular collection traces its origins to the early years of the division. Under Hanke's leadership, the division selected its first Specialist in Hispanic Culture, Chilean poet Francisco Aguilera, in 1942. In addition to serving as Handbook editor and assistant chief from 1947 to 1956, Aguilera created one of the division's signature collections: an archive of voice recordings of prominent literary figures and poets known as the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape.
"He was a visionary. In 1942 and '43 recording authors was like going to the moon. It was truly unusual," said Ms. Dorn, who recorded authors with Aguilera before he retired in 1969.
Between 1958 and 1961 Aguilera made three trips to Latin America and recorded 140 writers, including Jorge Luis Borges, Quechua poet Andrés Alencastre, Brazilian prose writer Nélida Piñon and Nobel Prize winner Miguel Angel Asturias.
When Nobel Prize-winning luminaries held readings in the United States, Aguilera and Ms. Dorn would be on hand to record their historic appearances. They captured the voices of Octavio Paz, Camilo José Camilo Cela, Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Garcia Márquez this way.
Gabriel Garcia Márquez was "extremely difficult" to capture on tape, according to Ms. Dorn, because of his dislike of the United States. His first visit to Washington, D.C., was in 1977 and only lasted two days. Ms. Dorn and Dolores Martin rushed to set up an appointment with him. "It was a real coup to record him," she said. "We called him at the hotel where he was staying. He said, 'Well, I can record this morning.' So we jumped in our car and we got it."
"He read from Autumn of the Patriarch, which was then unpublished," she said. "Some of the things he read did not make it into the book."
Officials from the Library of Congress field office in Rio de Janeiro, established in 1966, recorded more than 70 of the archive's 82 Brazilian literary figures. Because of the work of the field office, the Library's collection of Brazilian materials is the most extensive in the world.
Ms. Dorn also arranged for the United States Information Agency to record writers for the archive at its offices in Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Port-au-Prince and Rio de Janeiro.
The number of recordings continued to grow after Ms. Dorn became curator of the archive in 1969. There are now more than 640 recordings, including the voices of modern writers Isabel Allende, Ana Castillo and José María Merino.
In the 1960s and 1970s, division chiefs Howard F. Cline and Mary Ellis Kahler strengthened the division's outreach programs with other libraries and Hispanic associations.
During his 1952-1971 tenure as chief, Cline co-founded the Seminar on the Acquisitions of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM), "a seminal and pioneering organization of librarians and area specialists, which is a vital network for acquisitions," according to the Winter 1999 newsletter of the Archer M. Huntington Society. Cline and future division Chief Cole Blasier established the Latin American Studies Association at the Library in 1966. Since then the international organization has grown to 5,000 active members. He also supervised the compilation of the 16-volume Handbook of Middle American Indians.
Ms. Kahler became chief of the newly renamed Latin American, Portuguese and Spanish Division in 1973. She greatly increased the division's holdings of Portuguese and Brazilian materials and published guides to the manuscript collections to make them more accessible to researchers. She left the post in 1978 to become field director of the Rio de Janeiro office.
William E. Carter left the directorship of Latin American Studies at the University of Florida to serve as chief from 1978 to 1983. He successfully campaigned to have the division revert to its original name to reflect the intent of its founder. He also actively acquired materials relating to indigenous peoples and cultures of Latin America and the Caribbean and strengthened ties to the Caribbean and Luso-Hispanic embassies and nongovernmental organizations abroad.
During literary critic Sara Castro Klaren's tenure as chief from 1984 to 1986, the division hosted a major exhibition on Miguel de Cervantes. Her successor, political scientist Cole Blasier, appointed Ms. Wiarda as the first Luso-Brazilian specialist and Barbara Tenenbaum as the first Mexican specialist.
In addition to providing detailed reference service, specialists are charged with enhancing the Library's collections in their subject area, according to Ms. Wiarda. "The foundations, embassies and authors get to know us on a personal basis, and they want to make sure that their books are in the Library," she said.
Ms. Dorn estimated that the Library acquires 1,400 new Luso-Hispanic titles a year through the efforts of its specialists.
From her curatorship of the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape, Ms. Dorn became head of reference and specialist in Hispanic culture and then assumed the chief's position in 1994. Ms. Dorn teaches history at Georgetown University and has focused on preparing a new generation of Hispanic scholars by improving and expanding a program that brings academic interns to the division and also by raising money for graduate student fellowships in Hispanic studies.
Ms. Dorn's goals for the future include using the new technology at hand to provide greater access to the Library's materials for Spanish-speaking scholars. "Our Web page gets twice as many visits to the Spanish version as the English. This is something that puzzles us a great deal because in Latin America the access to the Web is not as widespread as it is here and in Spain," she said. "We would like to put more of our collections online, and we've been working at putting up some of our rare materials on the Web.
"We also want to reach out to [school-age children]. We're very conscious of schools' needs, and the library's role in education," she said.
In close cooperation with universities, scholars and embassies, the division organizes about 25 symposia, lectures, poetry readings and other special events each year. On Oct. 20-21, the Library will sponsor a major symposium on Octavio Paz with the Mexican Embassy.
The Hispanic Division's 60th anniversary celebration will be held Columbus Day, Oct. 12. Ms. Dorn said the all-day program will include a panel discussion at the National Digital Library Learning Center in the Madison building. Division specialists in the morning will talk about the Library's Luso-Hispanic holdings "from Columbus to the Internet." An afternoon panel, made up of experts in Luso-Hispanic studies, will talk about scholarship over the past 60 years. A reception will be held in the evening featuring keynote speakers Ambassador of Spain Antonio Oyarzábal and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.). (For more information on anniversary activities and other programs, access the division's special events Web page at www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/events.html.)
"I fully expect that the division's traditions of excellent service, excellent relationships with the research community, outstanding professional dedication to the building of the Library's collections and vigorous dedication to public programming will continue," said Mr. Tabb. "I also expect that the division, which has been in the forefront of using electronic media to disseminate the Library's holdings, will continue in a leadership role in the electronic information age."
Ms. Smith is a former intern in the Public Affairs Office.