Librarians without Borders: Cuban librarians dedicated to advancing the profession in Latin America and beyond

Guest post by Natalie Baur, CHC Archivist

In October and November, along with another colleague from University of Florida, I gave an online presentation about managing special collections library and archives materials to Latin American librarians from México, Ecuador, Honduras, Perú, Colombia, and many more. The experience was transformative, and I am passionate about continuing to work with my Latin American colleagues in library and archives development in the region. But I’m hardly the first person to work to promote collaboration in the library world across borders and language. I often look to Cuban librarian Jorge Aguayo, founder of the School of Library Science at the University of Havana, for inspiration. His papers are housed here at the Cuban Heritage Collection, and the pamphlets, letters and clippings tell us the story of a man passionate about promoting librarianship in Cuba, Latin America, and beyond.

Aguayo collaborated with U.S. librarians on many occasions. In 1941, the American Library Association invited him to address the Committee on Library Cooperation with Latin America at the 63rd annual conference in Boston, Massachusetts. In his speech, Aguayo addressed  the committee on the growth of libraries in Cuba and the hopes he had for Cuban and U.S. cooperation in strengthening libraries in both countries. These were not empty words. Aguayo continued his mission for international library cooperation at the global level, corresponding with librarians as far away as India.

As he became recognized for his work, international organizations sought Aguayo’s expertise in Latin American librarianship and often consulted with him on international matters. Aguayo traveled to Washington, D.C. in 1945 to serve as a consultant on Latin American library affairs at the Library of Congress. Shortly after,  the Foreign Service of the United States of America invited him as a guest consultant in library science for the U.S. Department of State to further understanding between the U.S. and Latin America.  Aguayo also wrote prolifically, contributing many pamphlets and books on theory and practice in library science in both English and Spanish. Even after leaving Cuba in 1960, Aguayo continued to work to promote Latin American libraries in his role as librarian at the Organization of American States’ Columbus Memorial Library in Washington, D.C.

Jorge Aguayo recognized that access to information was a powerful tool for promoting understanding and collaboration. Librarians today continue in Aguayo’s tradition, and because his papers have been preserved and made available at the CHC, we can learn valuable lessons from a leader with a global vision of bettering one’s corner of the world through partnership.

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