Building a Bridge to Cuba

With the restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, the Caribbean country long isolated from the U.S. is now the focus of intense interest among scholars, researchers, and students, including through UCLA’s Study Abroad program.

By Sharon E. Farb, Associate University Librarian for Collection Management and Scholarly Communication
 
WITH THE RESTORATION of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, the Caribbean country long isolated from the U.S. is now the focus of intense interest among scholars, researchers, and students, including through UCLA’s Study Abroad program. The UCLA Library is among the first American research libraries to forge ties with Cuban academic and cultural heritage organizations and individuals. In July 2015 associate university librarian Todd Grappone, librarian Jennifer Osorio, and I visited Cuba to meet with potential partners and assess how the Library can help make Cuban historical and cultural resources publicly available.
 
Traveling to Cuba was an adventure. Much of what we had heard beforehand was true: there is little Internet, the architecture and physical beauty are stunning, the people are warm and welcoming, and the cars are functional works of art. What is more visceral in person, though, is how very close Cuba is to Florida – a short, thirty-minute flight from Miami.
 
One of our areas of interest was how we might work with Cuban partners to digitize, preserve, and provide broad access to at-risk “ephemeral” resources. Materials such as flyers, leaflets, posters, amateur video, and social media posts are largely hidden from researchers and can quickly disappear. Yet they are uniquely valuable documents of grassroots movements, daily life, and underrepresented communities.
 
Our two-pronged approach focused on both official government institutions and grassroots organizations and individuals. Jennifer, Todd, and I visited Cuba’s national library, the Biblioteca Nacional de Cuba José Martí; Instituto de Historia de Cuba; Archivo Nacional de la República de Cuba; and Temple Beth Shalom, the heart of Havana’s resilient Jewish community.
 
We reached agreements to digitize, preserve, and make accessible at-risk ephemeral resources in the Biblioteca Nacional and Instituto de Historia, their first such agreements with a U.S. university. These new partners join our International Digitizing Ephemeral Project, generously supported by Arcadia. Our collaborations continue with visits between Cuba and Los Angeles and ongoing conversations about how best to preserve valuable research materials during this time of transition. Through these ongoing collaborations, we will increase understanding of this complex country.
 
By working with creators and communities to save these fleeting records of Cuban history and culture, the Library is supporting our students and faculty as they conduct research, teach, explore, and create new knowledge.