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Collaborative Caribbean Collections

General information

Vasconcelos Library, Mexico DF (
Vasconcelos' Library, Mexico DF (picture:

About this Initiative

Collaborative Caribbean Collections is a library initiative that aims to connect directly with all UVA members who research the Greater Caribbean Region and Indigenous Studies in the Americas with the purpose of :

  • Identifying, targeting, acquiring, and providing books and other physical material published in geographical areas where COVID has disrupted the distribution of their intellectual production since January 2020, and 
  • Discovering future trends in use and needs among UVA academics and students that will help the library administration to refine the acquisition system in geographic areas that will help diversify our collections.

By focusing on these areas our interest is triple: to serve our community that is most affected; to continue collaborating with other North American institutions; and to continue protecting intellectual thought diversity.

This initiative has been organized by four librarians from the Arts & Humanities Library Department:
Miguel Angel Valladares Llata
, Research Librarian for Latin American Studies,
Lucie Stylianopoulos, NAIS@UVA, Research Librarian for Art, Archaeology, Classics and Indigenous Studies,
Sherri Brown, Research Librarian for English and Digital Humanities
Katrina Spencer, Librarian for African American & African Studies. 

With received support from two Library Departments: Collection Management and Resource Acquisition & Description, and generous funding from the Center for Global Inquiry & Innovation, (CGII).

A plan of action

We began planning this initiative after the first wave of the pandemic was over and libraries were trying to resume normal services during Fall semester, 2020. At that time librarians in the United States (1) were seriously concerned how to maintain (or re-initiate) print book acquisition from countries where trade was totally disrupted by the pandemic.

In fact, during the first 6 months of the pandemic, most U.S. universities were unable to acquire current print material produced in any area outside of the United States. The fact that every U.S. university library acquisition process was shut down during that period, and that the country’s borders were closed for much of 2020, means that most intellectual production from 2018, 2019, and early 2020 has not arrived yet to any U.S. library, and that a considerable number of books may take many months to arrive, if they do arrive at all (2).

UVA librarians were especially concerned about books coming from the Caribbean Area since our library did not have a tradition of acquiring books directly from this geographical area, and interlibrary loan will not be an option--not only because these services were totally closed across U.S. institutions, but also many books never will arrive to any library. During the beginning of Fall semester, faculty as well as many graduate students began to communicate their concerns when we were participating in The Greater Caribbean Studies Network and in Indigenous Studies meetings.

By late September, we began planning an action to overcome, as much as possible, this situation. We worked in two directions: first, contacting regional vendors to analyze their individual situations, and second, exploring how to obtain special funding to acquire the available print material.

From September to December 2020, we established a direct channel of communication with several vendors in the region. We agreed that vendors will provide us lists of titles they can send immediately. After reviewing the received material, we will publish the bibliographic information on our website so that members of the UVA community can directly choose the appropriate material for their research or teaching. Initially we will request material we consider most in danger of being lost (everything published after 2017-2018), but also, we have accepted direct recommendations from these vendors about the possible acquisition of older material, when it was appropriate.

The following vendors were invited to participate in this initiative:

  • Retta Libros. Books from Cuba, Venezuela, and Colombia. We are confronting special difficulties to obtain books from Cuba and Venezuela. By February 13, 2021, more than 6,000 books are still blocked in La Havana Customs. We may need to acquire material from Cuba in the next fiscal year.
  • Libros de Barlovento. Books from Puerto Rico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and West Indies countries. They re-opened during the Holidays. By January we have received a decent number of titles.
  • Howard Karno Books, Inc. Books about Caribbean Art and Caribbean Indigenous Studies. We have received a great selection of titles from Mexico. By mid-January we have gathered a considerable number of titles.
  • Libros Centroamericanos;. Books from Central American countries.
  • Libros Latinos. Books from the West Indies and Indigenous Studies from Mexico.
  • Gavilanes Books. Books from Cuba.

By December 12, 2020 we received a $15,000 grant from CGII plus full support from the library to launch this initiative. By February 15, 2021,  we have everything ready to be able to send the first official message to UVA faculty, students, and other scholars, inviting their participation.

Goals of this initiative

Our first goal is to directly support the research process of scholars who work in Indigenous and Caribbean Studies, specifically focused on the Greater Caribbean Area--a geographical area that comprises 26 sovereign nations, 12 dependent territories, 5 official languages and 59 living languages. UVA-related scholars are participating in the ad-hoc group, the Greater Caribbean Studies Network, created in 2019, thanks to the energy of Drs. Charlotte Rogers (Spanish) and Njelle W. Hamilton (English), who have hosted conferences, research labs, and art exhibits. After just a few months, more than 50 faculty and graduate students, representing interdisciplinary fields, have joined the group. Moreover, another group of UVA scholars are grouping around UVA Indigenous Studies where Caribbean cultures and languages are being researched. A new generation of graduate students--seven were admitted to UVA for the Fall 2019--were attracted by the possibility of being able to work in English, French, and Spanish Caribbean-related topics. When we were hit by the pandemic, at least three librarians were working in this group to identify needs and plan the future of acquiring resources.

Our second goal is to to continue constructing what a U.S. research library does very well despite the pandemic and economic crises: it brings broader representation to campus by diversifying collections, promoting international voices, perspectives, and ideas that will support and help our future students’ continued work. This project represents an additional initiative that will help our library to contribute to the effort to decolonize knowledge--an effort that is widely embraced by most US institutions of higher education.

Our third goal is to delineate a plan of action for continued acquisition of material directly from this geographical area.



(1). You can read the following resolutions and statements, all of them endorsed by UVA Library:

(2) This is an estimate established by the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materia, (SALALM) collections committee without taking into account the potential consequences affecting major research universities due to the 20 percent reduction in their purchasing budgets (Harvard, Yale, Indiana, Stanford), or the possible consequences affecting certain research universities that face the economic crisis by promoting early retirement, an action that will considerably influence the internal processes of acquisitions of those universities (for example, the recent retirement of the director of the Latin America, Spain, and Portugal acquisition program at Harvard University Library). To illustrate the current situation, please see the following chart with current statistics reflecting print collections of materials published in three Caribbean countries in American institutions. Books coming from these countries can be extrapolated to the entire Caribbean region since these countries are the target countries for many US libraries regarding different book trades. Note the sharp decrease of material during the two to three years before the pandemic.

 Books in Print present in United States institutions (From OCLC November 1, 2020)

Books published in 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Haiti 230 270 255 179 137 128 79 44 1
Cuba 790 820 810 890 600 510 390 107 5
Jamaica 496 499 410 335 337 297 285 194 24