Making A Difference: Library Grant to the Galapagos

Photo courtesy of the Corley Smith Library

By Frankie Chen

Just imagine:

300 maps 
3,000 aerial photos 
5,000 unpublished reports 
7,000 books 
20,000 slides

 That is just a small sampling of the more than 100,000 documents found in the collection of the Corley Smith Library. What those numbers fail to fully capture, however, is the significance of this particular collection: located at the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos, it is the largest compilation of Galapagos archive material anywhere in the world. The Galapagos, made famous by Charles Darwin’s 1831 voyage, have played a singular role in the development of our understanding of ecology and evolution.

Since its inauguration in 1964, the Charles Darwin Research Foundation has been amassing materials for the library, created to serve as a central repository of scientific information for the community of the four inhabited islands of the Galapagos. Over the past forty years, the library’s collection has continued to grow. Today, the library contains documents on subjects ranging from the environment and conservation, to evolution and genetics, to development and planning. As such, the library is a valuable source of material for scientific and historical researchers alike.

Even as its collection continues to grow, however, the library has confronted deterioration of documents and photographic material—many of which are original and unpublished—because of inadequate preservation equipment. Citing the Galapagos’ climate, with its high temperatures and humidity, as well as the difficulty of pest control, Graham Watkins, Executive Director of the Charles Darwin Foundation, declared that the “ability to effectively preserve and manage existing archives is becoming increasingly difficult,” in his application for a grant through the Project for Latin American Libraries and Archives.

Happily for the many fragile and irreplaceable materials, the Corley Smith Library was recently awarded that grant. The funds will be used for improvements in storage conditions for original materials, as well as for general infrastructure. Additionally, the funds will go toward cleaning and recovering old or damaged documents. This grant to the Charles Darwin Foundation’s library ensures that the valuable information contained in its archives will be available for future generations.

PLALA was established in 1996 by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is administered by DRCLAS. Its aim is to strengthen the research base for Latin American Studies by means of small grants to Latin American archives and libraries.

LANDMARK MENTAL HEALTH RULING IN BRAZIL

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights recently addressed the issue of mental health disabilities for the first time, ruling in an August 17, 2006 decision that the Brazilian government bore responsibility for the death of a patient in a state-affiliated psychiatric hospital. Professor James Cavallaro, Director of the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program, and a group of HLS students helped bring about the landmark decision, which ruled that Brazil violated the patient’s human rights and his right to life and personal integrity. The decision is believed to the first of its kind in South America. In the months before the ruling, the HLS team worked with the Brazilian NGO Justiça Global, reviewing almost 4,000 pages of documents and advising attorneys on legal strategy.

AIR POLLUTION IN THE US-MEXICO BORDER REGION

Since Fall 2002, the Harvard-based non-profit organization LASPAU: Academic and Professional Programs for the Americas, has been administering the Border Ozone Reduction and Air Quality Improvement Program. The program addresses the extreme air pollution and environmental degradation of the border region between Mexicali, Mexico and Imperial County, California and works to achieve sustainable economic growth that is both socially and environmentally responsible. In Fall 2006, during its third round of funded projects, LASPAU awarded four new research grants, further supporting the development of scientifically based methods to reduce ozone creation and improve air quality. In this way, it is also helping to foster collaborations between academia and the industry, civic, and government sectors.

¡CULTURAS EN EL AIRE!

In October 2005, Professor Luis Cárcamo-Huechante organized ¡Culturas en el Aire!, a well-attended event in Santiago, Chile that brought together indigenous radio communicators with scholars and intellectuals. The initiative featured radio broadcasters and producers from communities ranging from the Mapuche in Chile and Argentina, to the Guarayo Pueblo in Bolivia, to the Quechua in Peru. The event focused on the role of radio as a communicative medium for the indigenous peoples of Latin America and aimed to both revitalize individual communities and encourage cross-cultural creativity among them. ¡Culturas en el Aire! has served as a point of departure for what has since become an extensive collaboration of individuals working to support the airwaves of indigenous communities. The project will be expanding in the coming years, with one specific goal being the establishment of a summer school for the training of young indigenous radio communicators.

Frankie Chen, ’07, concentrates in psychology and Latin American Studies. He is the chief editorial assistant of Revista and is the editor of this new feature.