In March 1968, Mexican-American students in several East Los Angeles high schools walked out of their classrooms demanding a better education. One of their complaints was the lack of information about their own history and culture. In February 1969, a coalition of ethnic student groups at the University of California, Berkeley also protested for a better education. The Third World Liberation Front strike called for the inclusion of Chicano, Native American, African-American, and Asian-American courses in the university curriculum. Students formed small alternative reading rooms to collect and share the newspapers, newsletters, pamphlets, posters, and flyers that documented their revolutionary era.
One reading room became the Chicano Studies Collection, whose main goal has been to continue what these students began: to collect, preserve, and make accessible the historical and cultural documents of the Chicano experience. The serials collection was especially important because it was historical evidence of the political and literary expression of an entire cultural group. Although periodical literature had always been an important expression of the Chicano community, bibliographic access to it was only minimally available. In fact, one scholar had asserted that there was not very much literature about Mexican-Americans mainly because Mexican-Americans had not written about themselves. This belied a long tradition of Spanish-language periodicals and personal accounts which later scholars would acknowledge and place in its context within Chicano literary history.
A turning point was the 1960s and the Chicano Movement, which brought forth a blossoming of political and cultural publications along with an assertion of civil rights. In the mid-1970s, a group of Chicano librarians established the Chicano Periodical Indexing Project, whose goal was to index the contents of the journals, newspapers, and magazines that conveyed the intellectual and cultural expression of that civil rights movement. They were resolved that the literary output of Chicanos would never again be forgotten or overlooked because of lack of access. In 1976, the Chicano Studies Collection made a commitment to develop and sustain an automated database and thus institutionalize this major effort. Important Chicano Movement era publications indexed in the database include El Grito, Aztlán, Caracol, De Colores, Regeneración, and Revista Chicano-Riqueña.
The Chicano Studies Collection, which in 1997 became a component of the Ethnic Studies Library at the University of California, Berkeley, has continued to produce the Chicano Database to the present time. The database evolved over the years from a printed index published commercially, to an in-house library publication, to a CD-ROM database (the first ethnic studies bibliographic database available in that format), to a Research Libraries Group database, and now to an OCLC database distributed to research libraries across the United States. Its unique contribution to subject access is the controlled vocabulary of the Chicano Thesaurus, which includes specific cultural terms in both English and Spanish and terms politically sensitive to the Chicano experience. A companion microfilming project of the Chicano Studies Collection preserves and makes accessible Chicano community newspapers and journals from the 1800s to the present.
Collection Profile and Overview: Lillian Castillo-Speed
Illustrations: Dan Johnston