Archivist Spotlight: Ana Rodríguez, MLIS, MA, Archival Assistant at the University of Florida Smathers Libraries

Ana Rodríguez is currently on the LACCHA steering committee.

Tell us about your career. What position do you hold now, and what position(s) have you held prior?

For the past seventeen years I have been involved with learning environments such as art collections, museums, and libraries. These combined experiences have allowed me to acquire a knowledge base in the areas of art documentation, exhibits preparation, description of archival visual materials, and various aspects of special collections librarianship. My knowledge of Spanish language and Latin American and Caribbean arts and culture has been the nexus of all my working experiences.

My journey started in Puerto Rico where I worked for almost five years at the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña (ICP), a local government agency responsible for disseminating and preserving the cultural heritage of the island. At the ICP I held the position of assistant registrar, which for somebody like me whose undergraduate major was art history meant the world. The job itself was very much an intensive course of Puerto Rican art history; I spent my days registering incoming acquisitions such as paintings and graphic prints, supervising the transit of loaned artwork, or visiting La Fortaleza, the official residence of the governor, to conduct inventory and condition reports of paintings and sculptures. It was a dream to work at the ICP but soon enough professional and personal aspirations took me to relocate to Miami, Florida in late 2003.

The transition from the island to the mainland wasn’t easy but thankfully I had family in Miami which helped during this time. My first archival job was with the Jewish Museum of Florida in Miami Beach, where I worked as a registrar of collections and archives. Working with very minimal supervision, I learned to build an archive from the ground up. My main responsibility was the registry of documents, photographs, and to a minimal extent, 3d objects. At the museum I worked with the public almost on a daily basis, plus had for the first time the opportunity to get involved with exhibits preparation. That indeed was the most rewarding aspect of this job. I worked at the Museum until the summer of 2006 when I got hired to work in the Newsroom Library of The Miami Herald.

The Herald is a major chapter of my professional life. It was a dream to work in the newsroom of the city’s main newspaper. I was a newsroom archivist, a position that entailed reviewing and archiving stories and photo content published by El Nuevo Herald, the Herald’s Spanish publication, into a corporate database. These stories were also sent to Newsbank, a database commonly found in many national academic libraries. Digitization eventually became a major component of my job. Because the library, at the time of my hiring, lacked a database or catalog of the paper’s photo collection, the library engineered a major scanning enterprise to build its digital presence. I took part of this pioneering scanning endeavor in many capacities; curating material, implementing basic preservation routines, and of course scanning, ingesting, and creating metadata records. My tenure at the Herald provided me with a progressive outlook of the librarianship profession,  what definitely factored in my decision to pursue a MLS. Unfortunately the 2008 financial crisis hit newspapers adversely, what turned my position to a part-time job. This led me to an unexpected job hunt that resulted in my eventual employment at the University of Miami Libraries.

At the University of Miami I worked for almost five years at the Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC), a special collection department devoted to collecting and preserving materials related to the Cuban diaspora in Miami, and from before and after the Cuban Revolution. At the CHC I worked as a metadata assistant creating descriptive records for a wide variety of rare materials such as photographs, books, and periodicals. I was part of a digitization team tasked with the planning and execution of projects to transform and create access of highly-valued historical   objects. Performing my metadata work allowed me to collect an invaluable intellectual asset pertaining to Cuban history of the arts, architecture, culture, religion, and many other subjects. Among my most esteemed projects are the Lydia Cabrera Papers, the Patronato de Matanzas Records, and the Osvaldo Sánchez Film Collection.

My eventual return to graduate school prompted my move to Gainesville, Florida in the fall 2013. Looking to specialize in an area related to special collections, I pursued a master’s degree in art history with a focus on Latin American art. I completed this degree this past spring semester with a thesis on the work of Puerto Rican printmaker Lorenzo Homar with the Plenas portfolio.

Since May 2015 I’ve been working on a part-time basis at the University of Florida Smathers Library in archival projects dealing, initially, with the arrangement and description of manuscript collections. I began working specifically with the Latin American and Caribbean Collection (LACC), processing collections and authoring finding aids of exemplary material focusing on literature and history. Among some notable titles are the Luis García Pimentel Collection and the Efraín Barradas Collection. As I have noted before in a blog post published in Memoria, the García Pimentel constitutes an instrumental archival experience that introduced me to a chapter of Mexico’s history.  As a result of its historic richness last semester I curated a digital exhibit based on the notarial and legal aspects found within this collection.

This summer I’m working with the library’s Special and Subject Area Studies  department on a research project about the Chesterfield Smith Papers. Smith (1917-2003) was a highly successful and respected Florida lawyer who fought to bring diversity into the legal profession. The goal of this project is to gather information to build a knowledge base about the history of legal profession in Florida.

You mentioned writing a thesis. What is the topic of your thesis?

My thesis is titled Dancing Plena with the Bishop: An Analysis of Lorenzo Homar’s El Obispo de Ponce Linocut Print. Lorenzo Homar (1913-2004) was a prolific printmaker whose work is considered canon of the Puerto Rican printmaking tradition. In 1954 Homar along with fellow artist Rafael Tufiño created the graphic prints portfolio Las Plenas. Comprised of twelve linocut prints, the portfolio was designed as an homage to Manuel Jimenez “Canario,” the man responsible for disseminating a musical genre known as plena. My thesis focuses on one particular print created by Homar titled El Obispo de Ponce, in which the figure of the first bishop assigned to the city of Ponce is depicted surrounded by a group of figures identified as townsfolk or churchgoers. My argument revolves around the portrayal of the townsfolk or churchgoers and their connection to the bishop, in regard to Homar’s depiction of them as followers of the bishop. I was particularly interested in discerning whether, like the song it is inspired by, Homar’s print is critical of the bishop and the Church, or whether it is more critical of the people who honor the bishop and follow the Church. This thesis is a main requirement to earn a master’s degree in art history, which I’m happy to share I successfully defended last month.

What is your impression of Latin American & Caribbean studies in the U.S.?

Considering my current experience here at the University of Florida (UF), and my prior work at the University of Miami (UM), every program is unique, fragmented, and dependent on its geographic limitations and faculty expertise. For example here in  Florida, the emphasis is on Cuban subjects due to our proximity to the island and the events (Cuban Revolution, diaspora) that have tied both territories historically. If you research higher learning institutions in New York and New Jersey you’ll see the same level of granularity is applied towards the Puerto Rican and Dominican experience in the US. Same happens in Texas with Mexican studies. But on the other hand Florida is a melting pot of many Latin American countries. Miami is definitely a preferred destination and home base for many Caribbean and South and Central American peoples. This factor could serve as a grounding seed to expand, diversify, and include the studies of other regions, and that way start equally documenting and researching their histories and experiences in the mainland.

How has LACCHA enriched and contributed to your career?

LACCHA has given me a renewed sense of community and purpose in terms of my identity as a Latin American archival professional. The unity, camaraderie, and sense of agency I have experienced in this roundtable reinforces my desire to continue working to enhance and maintain the rich legacy of our heritage. It has also given me the opportunity to get involved with initiatives such as the webinar series Desmatelando Fronteras/Breaking Down Borders, aimed to unite and promote the work of Latin American archives and libraries both inside and outside of the main US. My association with LACCHA reminds me that the definition of diversity has a stake within our centers of work and within the core of SAA. Regarding my link with LACCHA, I endeavor to continue working with Desmantelando Fronteras, and to help promote participation of lesser known archives within and outside our borders.

 

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