LIBRARIAN PERSPECTIVES: Carlos Alberto Martínez and Rubén Pérez Cantor, Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro, Querétaro, Mexico
This time around we interviewed two librarians from Querétaro, Mexico, a city located 218 kilometers to the northeast of Mexico City. Carlos Alberto Martínez Hernández, General Manager for Libraries and Rubén Pérez Cantor, responsible for Collection Development at Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro (UAQ), argue for the need of a critical vision within the librarian profession. They also discuss the importance of libraries in Mexico’s future, and the imperative to develop a variety of reading competencies among users.
Q: What is the role of libraries in Mexico?
Carlos Alberto: Public libraries have been abandoned for 30 years or more, although there are a few honorable examples within the country. However, for the municipalities as well as for Secretaría de Cultura (Culture Ministry), public libraries are in the last place of their priority list. The disdain with which culture is seen in our country has contributed to give little attention to our public libraries.
On the other hand, university libraries, which take the lead in the librarianship world, have a large amount of human and material resources that allow them to develop certain activities and projects. The main difficulty within university libraries is ourselves. We professional, technical or empirical librarians have the obligation to change our profile and role within universities. It is not enough to have information skills without reading skills and vice versa, just to point towards one situation.
Rubén: Considering the environment of excessive violence and anxiety that reigns in our country, I believe that the role of libraries goes from being a mere book warehouse to being a critical mind generator, minds which are prepared to face any challenge they encounter. The librarian needs to be a guide that leads users through knowledge. Therefore, I do not forsee a better future for Mexico without libraries.
Q: How does a typical work day look for you?
Carlos Alberto: I am responsible overall for the libraries, so I regularly have work meetings with the staff responsible for each of the individual libraries. Then, I follow up with library services. We also develop a collaborative work with other areas, for example, Infrastructure or Collection Development. Thus, one of my vital activities is to change the role of the librarian within our university.
Rubén: As the person responsible for Collection Development, my daily work involves being up to date with the publishing landscape, either contacting suppliers or exploring online catalogues. A requisite to select bibliographic material is to have previously evaluated the collections within the university libraries. We must deal with obsolete material or in bad shape, so we can make new acquisitions. Another source of books comes from donations, a medium by which we constantly receive the materials we need to evaluate; we must only receive texts that are relevant to our curricula. An important part of our function is to be up to date with curricula and basic bibliography; we must evaluate the percentage of coverage within our catalogue.
Q: Does your library have a special project you want to talk about?
Carlos Alberto: Yes. We have a project to turn our libraries into places with more participation from academics. For example, we are working with the Digital Humanities Network, and until last year we had organized three workshops together with scholars from UNAM’s Facultad de Filosofía y Letras. We also have a project to train students from our university’s Facultad de Letras. We teach librarians to develop reading competencies. Last, we have a project to promote reading with administrative workers in the university.
Rubén: Dirección General de Bibliotecas (General Library Direction) has a weekly space in university radio where my colleague Carlos Alberto Martínez and I recommend books, magazines and databases from the library system. We are interested in changing the figure of the librarian from someone who only organizes books to that of a reader engaged with the institution, someone who can make literary suggestions that suit each user.
Q: What do you think will be the role of your library in the next 10 years?
Carlos Alberto: We librarians need to have didactic, reading, and informational skills, just to mention a few. With this, the library should have a central place in academic formation within the community of our university.
Rubén: At Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro, we must claim a central role in the intellectual maturation of students.
The library must diversify its services and adapt to the ebook world without losing sight of printed books. The library must cease to be, for many, that place into which they go to the restroom or to get an internet connection. I hope that in the next 10 years we can capture the attention of those potential users through strategies such as a consolidated cultural agenda, and a variety of materials that interest them.
Q: What is the biggest challenge we face as information professionals towards the library of the future? (Question submitted by our former interviewee, Lucía Brito, from UNAM)
Carlos Alberto: Reading a lot of history, to stop using cliché terms and phrases like “Information or Knowledge Society”, “Need for information”, “Post-Truth”, and “Fake News”, among many others. Namely, to have a critical vision of our profession.
Rubén: To adapt as organically as possible to a digital world, without losing sight of the analogous one.
Q: What would you like to ask to the next librarian we interview?
Carlos Alberto: Why are humanities so important for the information professional?
Rubén: If your son or daughter would like to follow your steps in the library, what advice would you give him/her?