Princeton University’s New Brazil LAB Leads Relief Efforts for Brazil’s National Museum and a Important Anthropology Library Lost to Fire
On the morning of Sept. 2, 2018, the world community woke to the news that Brazil’s National Museum in Rio de Janeiro had caught fire, destroying one of Latin America’s oldest and most important scientific and cultural institutions.
The Postgraduate Program in Social Anthropology (PPGAS), based at the National Museum and affiliated with the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, was particularly hard hit. In the year of its 50th anniversary, the program lost its entire infrastructure — administrative and faculty offices, classrooms, meeting spaces, ethnological collections, and an audiovisual lab with film and editing equipment.
Also destroyed was the Francisca Keller Library, the principal anthropology library in Brazil and among the best in Latin America containing more than 40,000 volumes, as well as research materials collected from over 50 years of fieldwork in Latin America. The loss of the Documentation Center for Indigenous Languages (CELIN), which specialized in collecting text, images and sound of Indigenous languages and varieties of Brazilian Portuguese, was especially devastating since most of the materials never were digitized and are irreplaceable.
After talking to the Brazil LAB’s co-director Pedro Meira Monteiro, the Arthur W. Marks ’19 Professor of Spanish and Portuguese and chair of the department, Biehl reached out to Federico Neiburg, an anthropologist at PPGAS, with whom he has collaborated many times. Their conversations led to an offer of help not only from the Brazil LAB, which was officially launched this semester, but also from the Princeton University Library and Princeton University Press to replace books and research materials.
“This new collaboration is based on previous exchanges headed by João and myself involving workshops in Rio de Janeiro and Princeton and ongoing collaborative research projects,” Neiburg said. “In this sense, Princeton’s solidarity was not surprising. What was surprising, indeed, is the size of the concrete actions being taken and their impact on reconstructing PPGAS.”
The largest immediate impact will come from a donation of 4,000 books spearheaded by Christie Henry, director of Princeton University Press, to restock the Francisca Keller Library.
Henry offered to replace any Princeton University Press edition housed in PPGAS’ library, and she also invited Neiburg and his colleagues to request additional books from the Press’ catalog. She then reached out to her peers at university presses across the United States, who agreed to do the same: “The response has been staggering in all wonderful ways.”
“I thought this would be something I would send to the listserv, and if a handful of people would have responded, I would have been thrilled,” Henry said. “I was completely unprepared — and my email was completely unprepared — for the rapidity of response.”
To date, more than 75 university presses have joined the effort. Princeton University Press’ donation totals about 300 books so far, including physical and digital editions. While some publishers are sending books directly to PPGAS, others are being consolidated and shipped by Ingram Content Group. The company’s chairman, John Ingram, is a Princeton alumnus.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.