The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is a research library on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin whose mission is to acquire and provide access to materials on Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and the Hispanic presence in the United States. Works, dating from the 15th century to the present, may be in any language including indigenous languages.
In 1920, representatives of the University of Texas attending President Álvaro Obregón's inauguration in Mexico City were surprised to find for sale the first edition of Bernal Díaz del Castillo's True History of the Conquest of New Spain (1632). That purchase led the university to buy the Genaro García library, an exquisite collection for the study of Mexico, the Americas, the West Indies, and Spain. Building on this extraordinary resource, the University Library decided to form a Latin American Collection in 1926. Its first librarian, Carlos E. Castañeda, laid a foundation upon which Nettie Lee Benson, his successor after 1943, was able to construct one of the world's most important libraries of Latin Americana. The collection grew by purchase, gifts, and exchange agreements with Latin American governments, academic societies, and cultural organizations. Whole libraries were added on: Mexico and the Spanish Southwest, Guatemala and Central America, and Chile and the countries of the Río de la Plata including Brazil. The Mexican American Library Program, established in 1974, now includes all ethnic groups with roots in Latin America living in North America. It has amassed both a superior print collection as well as archival collections related to organizations, political and civil rights activists, educators, artists, and literary authors.
Foremost among the library's collections are the 247 volumes selected in 1937 from the Joaquín García Icazbalceta library. Among its treasures are a priceless series of original 16th-century reports and maps relating to Mexico and Guatemala known as the relaciones geográficas; and a large body of the first books published in the New World, those published in Mexico City from 1543 to 1600. Among the unique donations to the Benson was that by former university faculty member Dorothy Schons, who bequeathed first editions by the 17th-century luminary Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz along with the Libro de profesiones with the nun's religious vows signed in her blood.
While the Benson Collection is heralded for its unparalleled historical collections, its principal area of growth for the last half-century has been contemporary information in all formats. This pattern of growth is exemplified by its volume count: from 30,000 in 1943, to 305,000 in 1975, to 960,000 today. In the past, the Benson has received numerous federal grants to take the lead in creating automated library records and to microfilm books and newspapers. Today's technology has prompted the partnership of the University of Texas Libraries and Google Books to ensure that Latin American publications are represented in the digital age. Outreach also includes exhibitions, symposia, specialized reference service, and in-house publications.
Collection Profile and Overview: Adán Benavides
Illustrations: Uri Kolodney
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