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Latin American material elsewhere in the British Library

In the United Kingdom, the most extensive resources for Latin American studies, in the widest variety of formats, are those of the British Library. It has no physically separate Latin American collection; the holdings are dispersed throughout its component departments.

The British Library's Philatelic Collection includes not only Latin American postage stamps, but also revenue material, fiscal stamps, postal stationery, and other associated items. The Librarianship and Information Sciences Service (formerly the Library Association Library) has, since 1933, built up a substantial collection of monographs, serials and theses on librarianship and information science in Latin America. In the Music Library there is to be found a rich variety of Latin American material, ranging from classical scores to popular songs, and the Map Library includes plans and charts, both printed and in manuscript. Extensive support literature for both the Music and Map libraries is dispersed throughout the general collections of printed books. It includes works on the history of Latin American music, and on its composers, on the development of indigenous instruments, and studies of the social significance of musical trends, for example, of the tango. Geographical works are supplemented by histories of exploration and travel journals, as well as by books on the development of Latin American mapmaking.

Those whose interest is in the science, technology and industry of Latin America will find their research needs fulfilled by the Science Technology and Business' extensive holdings of current and archival monographs and serials on the life sciences and technologies, medicine, biotechnology, earth sciences, astronomy and pure mathematics. Patent specifications, trade marks, directories, market surveys, trade literature and company information are also acquired, the collections being made more widely available by means of the Business and Biotechnology Information Services supplemented by a linguistic aid service for those with an insufficient reading knowledge of Spanish or Portuguese.

British Library Newspapers houses not only daily publications, but also serials with a less than monthly frequency. Its Latin American collections are somewhat uneven; even by the early 1960's, only three current daily titles were taken, and by the late 1970's the figure had increased only to 17. It was recognised that prompt action was required to improve holdings in an area of notorious difficulty, where The British Library was one of the very few libraries in Great Britain, if not the only one, to possess the acquisition, processing, storage and conservation resources necessary to build and maintain a strong collection. Consequently, at the beginning of the 1980s, a thorough review was carried out jointly by Newspapers staff and the Hispanic Section. Currently received titles were scrutinised, and compared with publications hitherto unrepresented in the collection. The resultant improvement was remarkable, and by 1985, at least one current title, either in hard copy or microform, was being received from every country of Latin America. The larger countries were represented by a wider selection, in order adequately to reflect variations in regional political and cultural opinion.

In addition to current publications, approximately 1000 earlier titles are held, dating from the early 19th century. Constant attempts are made to remedy inadequacies by purchasing on the secondhand market or by acquiring microfilm from other libraries. Examples of items added to the collection in recent years are complete runs of the Montevideo fort nightly El Investigador (1833), and of 0 Besouro, an illustrated satirical review published in Rio de Janeiro from 1878 to 1879, and a substantial microfilm backfile of the Buenos Aires Herald.

Britsih Library Newspapers also holds collections of press cuttings containing items of Latin American interest, most notably the International Information Bureau Collection (1915-1920), the League of Nations Union Intelligence Department Collection (1920-1924) and the Foreign Research and Press Service Collection (1939-1946). Newspaper storage and preservation problems are eased by an extensive microfilming programme. Copies of some films are made available for sale and in the case of less rare items, the originals themselves are dispersed, after filming, to other libraries.

In 1983, The British Library incorporated the British Institute of Recorded Sound, a unique resource centre for the study of all kinds of music, literature, social and zoological sciences. The Institute, renamed The Sound Archive, now holds a total of around three quarters of a million discs, over 45,000 hours of tape recordings and a growing collection of video materials, together with books and periodicals on all aspects of recorded sound. Latin American researchers have access to thousands of relevant recordings, not only of classical compositions, but also of popular and traditional music, as well as of writers reading and discussing their work and of dramatic performances.

The collections are publicized through lectures, and in reproductions of recordings. Recent examples are a lecture on Bolivian music (Spring, 1988) and an item issued as part of the Archive's World and Traditional Music and entitled 'Music of the Tukano and Cuna peoples of Colombia', a collection of field recordings made in 1960-1961 featuring music for ritual and festival.

The Department of Manuscripts holds a considerable number of items of Latin American interest. See Taylor's article 'Manuscritos hispánicos de la British Library'. The foundation collections, Cotton, Egerton, Harley, Sloane and Royal, include official transcripts of government reports, manuscript maps, journals of voyages (most notably of the seventeenth century) and examples of picture writing. Similar material is to be found throughout the series of Additional Manuscripts, together with sailing charts, travel accounts, views of scenery and towns, and works in Indian languages, including grammars and vocabularies, Bibles and sermons.

The following are just a few examples of the Latin American content of some of the named manuscript Collections: the Coventry papers (indigenous languages), the South Sea Company papers and correspondence, 1711-1856 and the Vansittart papers (maps and charts, Spanish and Portuguese colonial reports), the Sir Woodbine Parish papers (on the government of Buenos Aires, and on the Falkland Islands and Patagonia), the correspondence of Jeremy Bentham (including letters from Bernardino Rivadavia, José del Valle and Francisco de Paula Santander), the Venezuelan papers (a collection of transcripts of official documents relating to the Spanish occupation in Trinidad, Margarita, Guiana, Venezuela and other adjacent provinces, and to the position there of the English, Dutch, French and Portuguese, 1530-1824), the British Guiana papers (a collection of transcripts of official and other documents relating to the Portuguese occupation of Maranhão, Grão Pará and the adjoining parts of Brazil, 1624-1822), the papers of Sir Austen Henry Layard, UnderSecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 1852 and 1861-1866 (miscellaneous items on or from most Latin American countries), the Mackenzie papers, the Collingwood papers (trade material and items on slavery), the Aberdeen papers (a rich and varied collection of nineteenth century manuscripts, with special emphasis on Brazil) and the Quechua language collection of Sir Clements Robert Markham. Further references can easily be gleaned from the catalogues compiled by Pascual de Gayangos and Peter Walne.

The examples listed above show the bias of the collection as a whole towards historical and political material rather than literature, and a scarcity of 20th-century items. Today, the Department is obliged by its financial circumstances to concentrate on the purchase of British material and there are few resources available for the acquisition of manuscripts from Latin America. However, the papers of British statesmen and businessmen can often provide a fruitful source for the study of at least some aspects of the area.


Hispanic Section
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7569
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7784