A Mellon Update

by | Apr 21, 1998

More than 23 Latin American archives and libraries from Mexico to Rio de Janeiro have received grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to upgrade or preserve their facilities. The individual grants, generally up to $20,000, are part of a four-year program administered through the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies under the guidance of Harvard’s Widener Library Latin American specialist Dan Hazen.

“Latin America’s rich documentary heritage is crucial for those who would understand the region’s culture and history. Yet this heritage is at risk,” the guidelines tell applicants. “The region can point with pride to a number of well-organized, fully-supported libraries and archives. In too many cases, though, scarce or unique materials are held by repositories that lack the means either to preserve their holdings or to make them fully available to scholars.”

The Faculty of Anthropological Sciences at the Autonomous University of Yucatan’s photographic archive in Merida, Mexico, for example, needed help to prevent its valuable collection of 500,000 negatives, dating back to 1877, from deteriorating. The collection is used by university students, researchers, and representative of cultural and publishing groups. The archive lacked equipment to create the necessary temperature and humidity controls to preserve the negatives. The archive received a $8,300 grant last year.

In Guatemala, the Center for Mesoamerican Regional Research (CIRMA) sought to create a microformatting unit to enable the Center “to make a significant contribution toward preserving Guatemala’s written memory, now stored in personal, as well as state and municipal archives throughout the country.” The unit intends to rescue and preserve local archives, as well as obtaining a wide range of primary source materials on Guatemala in microformats to strengthen its role as a research library. In addition to personal files on important historical figures, government documentation, and rare and antique books, the Center seeks to collect “sensitive documents,” such as unique, archival materials from Guatemala’s revolutionary organizations, only now emerging from clandestinity. The Center received a $20,000 grant last year.

Other recent grant recipients include the public archive in Rio de Janeiro, the Andrés Bello archive at the University of Chile, the Dr. Manuel Gallardo Library in El Salvador, the historical archive at the Foreign Relations Ministry of Ecuador and the “Rita Suárez del Villar” historical archive in Cienfuegos, Cuba.

The deadlines for grant applications are three times a year, in May, September and December. Small institutions are generally favored over large ones, although the program does not exclude them, notes librarian Hazen.

Spring 1998


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