Assessing the Center’s Latin American Collection

In September 2002 the Center’s Collections and Services Advisory Panel (CSAP) contracted with David Block, Director of World Area Collections at Cornell University Library, to conduct an assessment of the Latin American segment of the Center’s Foreign Documents Collection. The objective was to gain an understanding of the extent and content of the collection and to use the information to generate recommendations for development of the collection.

Extent of Collection

The Center’s Latin American government documents are held within its general and area studies collections in original and microform formats. The corpus is described and accessible through 3,421 records in the Center’s online catalog. More than 75 percent of the materials, which are primarily serials, were identified as “legacy” collections that were deposited in the early 1950s by the Center’s founding members.

The collection includes materials from 19 Latin American counties: Argentina (609 items), Brazil (579 items), Mexico (434 items), Venezuela (366 items), Colombia (294 items), Cuba (185 items), Costa Rica (165 items), Guatemala (127 items), Chile (120 items), Uruguay (111 items), Peru (107 items), Bolivia (101 items), Ecuador (79 items), El Salvador (57 items), Haiti (35 items), Panama (30 items), Nicaragua (17 items), Paraguay (13 items), and Guadeloupe (2 items).

Content of Collection

An evaluation of the strength of the Center’s holdings was conducted by comparing the Center’s holdings of materials from Brazil, Cuba, and Mexico to the definitive compilation of Latin American official serials contained in Mesa’s Latin American Serial Documents (1). These three countries were selected for comparison due to their size, administrative complexity, and potential interest to North American researchers. The comparison indicated that the Center holds 23 percent of the titles identified by Mesa (Brazil, 21 percent; Cuba, 43 percent; and Mexico, 15 percent), which was characterized as a “respectable” collection.

Further review of the collection revealed a consistent but modest number of titles within any single administrative body. In addition, runs of a given title were sometimes short and incomplete. When the Center’s holdings were compared with those in other libraries with strong collections from these three countries, significant overlap was found (Brazil: University of California-Los Angeles, 78 percent; Cuba: University of Florida, 62 percent; Mexico: University of Texas, 100 percent).

The assessment acknowledged some areas of unique or rarely held materials, such as a group of Cuban documents that were unduplicated by University of Florida holdings, and a number of state documents from Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Venezuela.


The Center’s collection of Latin American official serials is typical of the genre as represented in North American research libraries. It was not purposefully built, has no specific focus, and is neither a large nor complete collection. Even so, the documents have inherent and research value, and the collection has pockets of strength, perhaps even uniqueness, such as its state-level materials. Many of the titles are from the 19th century and, therefore, are unavailable for purchase on the book market. The report also noted that the materials were in good physical condition, a benefit of the Center’s environmentally controlled storage facility.


The assessment recommended that the Center increase access to its Latin American government documents through the assurance of MARC cataloging, enabling the full range of identification and lending, and take advantage of collaborative bibliography through alliances with associations such as the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM), Latin American Microform Project (LAMP), and Latin Americanist Research Resources Project (LARRP).

1. Rosa Quintero Mesa. Latin American Serial Documents: a Holdings List. 12 volumes (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1968–1975).