By Ian Ustick, DLIS Student
With the warming of relations between the United States of America and Cuba, it seemed only natural that those from the field of academia would begin their trek down to the Caribbean island. Dr. Kevin Rioux was one of them. In early 2016, he along with colleagues visited Cuba on a trip sponsored by the Bishop Cisneros Foundation . The main point of his visit was to cultivate professional relationships with Cuban librarians and to get a better understanding of how librarianship has been practiced in Cuba over the last 50 years.
What struck him most on his visit to the island was the vibrancy of everyday life, and the resourcefulness of the Cuban people. Their society has very little access to the internet, and due to the U. S. economic embargo, relatively few material goods. Seeing cars that have been driving since the late 1950s, it was truly like stepping into a time machine. Yet there is a noticeable warmth to Cuban culture. People are much closer in terms of family relationships and neighbors, and even though the country is a communist state, there are many visible signs of the Catholic Church and Afro-Cuban religions.
Librarianship hasn’t much changed over the past few decades in Cuba. Since there is a big reading culture in Cuba, there are many different libraries. Since both education and religious heritage are highly valued there, there are multiple centers of culture sponsored by different Catholic orders such as the Jesuits and the Dominicans. These Centros Culturales provide materials on a number of subjects, including religious philosophy. Unlike the main university of Havana, which is state-run, the libraries in the cultural centers are much better suited for thinkers and those wanting to access different ideas. However, the downside is that it is hard to get work with a degree from there.
During Dr. Rioux’s trip, he was able to have a conference in which multiple libraries from all over the island got together and met – some of them for the first time. These different libraries do not have a system of exchanging books and information with each other. They are structured as separate and independent libraries. These organizations also had divergent cataloging methods – mainly based on accession number or an idiosyncratic subject headings system . Dr Rioux hopes to visit again eventually and hopefully spur new collaborations between information organizations here in the United States and their Cuban counterparts. Will the Cuban government and people accept it? Only time will tell.