Special Libraries and Other
Information Providers in Cuba
Although there has been much discussion recently about Cuban libraries, it is quite likely that only a few of the participants have any real knowledge of the subject beyond a passing familiarity with the public libraries they may have encountered during sightseeing tours in Havana, or hasty excursions into the provinces. But the world of information science and librarianship is not limited to this single aspect of library activity. Special libraries, teaching libraries, information centers, and the professionals who staff them are essential components of the professional life of our country, and important providers of information for the scientific, technical, and cultural development of Cuba.
Even under the colonial rule of Spain during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, Cuba began to see the formation of institutions which, in one way or another, were concerned with education and learning.
The dominant social class, the criollos, had access to important institutions such as the University of Havana, the Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País, the National Archives, and the Academies of Science, Liberal Arts, and History, and were able to use the information these institutions provided to help shape the era, to put down roots, and to establish a tradition of improving Cuban society through knowledge and education.
One can name hundreds of illustrious physicians, engineers, architects, writers, and artists whose work helped shape the Cuban national character and identity, in which science, technology, and intellectual curiosity and creativity all play an important role.
Early Sources of Information
During the pre-Revolutionary era, the Lyceum Lawn Tennis Club, a well-known and prestigious women's cultural society with an advanced social agenda, was a pioneering institution in the field of library studies in Cuba, and virtually the only public library in our country at that time which made use of modern technical and professional advances.
The professional Colleges of Medicine, Engineering, and Architecture provided their students, faculties, and educational affiliates with access to information resources, in one form or another. The thirteen schools within the University of Havana had their own bibliographic resources, some organized as traditional library collections, others accessed by students and teachers in different ways. The University's Central Library became the home of the first university-level library school in Cuba.
In other areas, the Association of Cuban Sugar Workers (Asociación de Técnicos Azucareros de Cuba) maintained an excellent library which specialized in resources dealing with the sugar industry. Although the library's fine collection of journals on the subject was particularly noteworthy, its professional library staff was inadequate
From its founding in 1902, the National Library of Cuba began its fifty-six year-long pilgrimage in search of a home through garrisons and barracks
The second half of the twentieth century saw the founding of universities in Oriente Province, with a main campus in Santiago de Cuba; and the Central University of Santa Clara (now called Villa Clara), each with its respective libraries organized by well-trained and respected professionals of that era.
The Revolutionary Period
Revolutionary activity affected all aspects of Cuba's social, economic, and scientific life, producing profound changes, and in some cases, a sudden new birth. The outcome was the reorganization and growth of the national government bureaucracy, and an expansion of its functions
In order to provide each sector of social, economic, and political activity with the necessary attention, the government institutions, organizations, and ministries of state responsible for implementing the policies and programs outlined in such fundamental documents of the Revolution as "History will absolve me" were either newly-established, or re-structured.
In order to implement the vast political, social and cultural movement authorized by the Agrarian Reform Law (Ley de Reforma Agraria), the National Institute for Agrarian Reform (INRA) was formed. The creation of the National Institute for Urban Reform (Instituto Nacional de la Reforma Urbana) resulted from the need to confront new challenges and changes in housing. In order to deal with changes in, and to implement new directions for, the economy, the Central Planning Council (Junta Central de Planificación or JUCEPLAN) was established, as well as the National Bank of Cuba (today known as the Central Bank of the Republic of Cuba), the Ministry of Finance (Ministerio de Hacienda), and the newly formed Ministry of Industry. The need for hydraulic development gave rise to the National Institute for Hydraulic Resources (Instituto Nacional de los Recursos Hidráulicos).
The former Ministry of Health (Ministerio de Salubridad) became the new Ministry of Public Health (Ministerio de la Salud Pública), organized around an entirely different concept, ideology, and agenda, in order to comply with the mandate of Moncada  to make the health of the nation a top priority.
Educational reform on all levels of instruction, including the literacy campaign of 1961, became the responsibility of a totally re-structured Ministry of Education, a government department whose reputation under the former "pseudo-republic" had been completely eroded, and whose effectiveness had ultimately been weakened by the loss of status and respect. Some years later, the Ministry of Higher Education was organized to deal with the growth, development and specific needs of the university educational system, all of which resulted from the greatly increased access of the public to the universities, and from all of the scientific, technical and cultural development they were producing.
Radio and television would take a new direction under the aegis of the Cuban Institute for Radio and Television (ICRT), while the almost non-existent production of Cuban cinema was addressed by the Cuban Institute for the Cinematic Arts and Industry (INCAIC).
The need to provide recreation and entertainment for the general public through sports, and to channel the abilities of numerous men and women athletes (who performed in many cases under all types of pressures, and without any official sponsorship during the "pseudo-republic") led to the creation of INDER, the National Institute of Sports and Recreation; while the National Institute of Tourism (formerly INIT, now INTUR) began to focus on national tourism for the Cuban people, and then turned its attention to developing international tourism, some of the earliest clients of which were Canadian visitors.
The guardianship and development of the country's cultural values were the responsibilities of the National Culture Council, which, due to a sharp increase in, and broadening of, its functions, was reorganized as the Ministry of Culture in 1977. At this time, the groundwork was laid for the establishment of various councils and institutes that currently nurture and promote the coordinated development of artistic expression in the country.
Very soon it became apparent that in order to realize these transformations, it was necessary to have access to information and a knowledge of the rhythm and level of development in the areas of science, technology, and culture in the modern world. In other words, along with all of this political change arose the need and the quest for information.
In their need to implement all of the aforementioned changes, to carry out founding decrees, organizational regulations, and calculations of staff and office space, those institutions—which today are Cuban state institutions—were pulling books off the shelves of refurbished libraries, searching for bibliography, titles of books and journals, and of course, new forms of processing and acquisition.
The fervor of all the revolutionary changes that were occurring also brought about the establishment of the JUCEPLAN Library; the Center for Agricultural Information (Centro de Documentación e Información para la Agricultura, or CIDA); the library of the Ministry of Foreign Trade (Ministerio del Comercio Exterior, or MINCEX); the library of the National Bank of Cuba; the Information Services Center for Medicine; the library of the Public Works Ministry (known at that time as the Ministry of Construction); the information center for the Ministry of Foreign Relations (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, or MINREX); the INIT ( National Institute of Tourism, now INTUR) Information Center; the INRA library; and the library of the Ministry of Industry. The latter enjoyed the support of one of the figures of the Cuban Revolution most concerned with the value of the book as a source of information, and with the library as a center of scientific and technical study and discovery, namely Commander Ernesto Che Guevara.
For the first time, we librarians could sit down around a table to analyze the concrete reality of the need for development by trained experts, for the development of library collections, construction of shelving, placement of lights and location of store rooms, and a new emphasis on the formation of trained staff in terms of quality as well as quantity.
Quickly we realized the need to systematize all of these independently conceived efforts and projects, and to coordinate them, in order to achieve our proposed objectives.
Science and Technology: IDICT
On April 19, 1963, by the authority of Law No. 1107 of the Council of Ministries, the Institute for Scientific and Technical Information—IDICT—was created as a subsidiary of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, which had celebrated its fortieth anniversary, just a few weeks earlier. This legislation called for an Advisory Council made up of representatives of the l ibraries and information centers of many of the organizations previously mentioned: The José Martí National Library; JUCEPLAN; the Ministries of Industry, Public Works, Public Health, Foreign Trade, and Transportation; and INRA. Other libraries and information centers were added to the initial membership throughout the formative stage of this project.
Among the earliest advisory reports on developing scientific information in Cuba were those of the Indian professor, Pitiri Kawla, who consulted with the Central Library of the José Antonio Echeverría University City (CUJAE), today called the José Antonio Echeverría Polytechnic Institute (IPSJAE), and the Soviet specialist from UNESCO, Mijail Kiyaev. We began to hear a c ompletely different language. We were introduced to the idea that scientific and technical publications were considered obsolete five years after publication. These new standards for scientific information were a bit strange to us, having at that point already been mired in the underdevelopment produced by the embargo, where it often took us five years to find out that a certain book even existed, to seek funds with which to purchase it, and then to request that someone agree to sell it to us.
In the early years of the creation of IDICT, there was little or no expertise in Cuba on scientific information resources and delivery systems, regulations, and objectives; and even less on issues in the information world's ongoing debate about methodology and the handling of documents, given the overwhelmingly rapid discoveries and developments that had been taking place since the early 1950's.
The efforts of IDICT were very decisive in synthesizing foreign advisory reports, most of which originated in Eastern European countries, principally the Soviet bloc. These evaluations introduced new ideas on information processing, such as the use of the Dewey Decimal Classification System, consecutive order for shelving books; making a distinction between "documents" and "books"; and the use of abstracts as preliminary sources of information for specialists, among others.
Through agreements established between IDICT and VINITI, we were able to receive abstracts of hundreds of journal articles published all over the world to which we had no direct access due to the limitations imposed by the embargo.
"Since our creation, and for almost three decades, we [IDICT] maintained
close ties of cooperation and collaboration with many important information
organizations in Eastern Europe, who facilitated our access to the most important
human, information, and technical resources of the world at that time."
Perhaps IDICT's most impressive achievement of that era was the way in which it became, practically speaking, a clearing-house for professional information, and a source of information for our country on all the latest information technology.
In 1976, following the principle that even the most remote corners of the country should benefit from the successes and victories of the Revolution, branch centers, known as Multisector Centers for Scientific and Technical Information (CMICT), today called Centers for Technical Information and Management (CIGET), were established in other provinces.
In 1982, for the first time in Cuba, IDICT began using an XT microcomputer for information services, and in 1983, in collaboration with CIICT, initiated dial-up access to databases located in Europe.
By virtue of Resolution No. 16/84 passed by the Cuban Academy of Sciences, IDICT was designated a member center of the National System of Scientific and Technical Information (SNICT), and shortly thereafter, of the National Center for the Automated Exchange of Scientific-Technical Information.
The National Scientific and Technical Library was inaugurated in 1988, with a modern focus on giving its scientific and technical patrons better and more direct access to specialized information in their respective fields through automation.
IDICT is now the headquarters for the INFO Congresses, recognized as the most important event in the field of Information Science in Latin America and the Caribbean, attended by colleagues from all over the world. The 1990 Congress coincided with the meeting of the forty-fifth FID Congress and Conference in Havana. That year, the institutional name of IDICT became Institute of Scientific and Technical Information, although the acronym IDICT is still used.
Once Cuba gained access to the Internet in 1996, IDICT became the organization that introduced, supplied, evaluated, and popularized this technology throughout the country.
Culture: Jose Marti National Library
While the creation of IDICT was aimed at developing science and technology, the National Library turned its attention to rescuing the national bibliographic patrimony, and to developing culture for the enormous numbers of people who, through the literacy campaign, were acquiring the ability to read, and to recognize the cultural values of the nation.
To elaborate a bit on the National Library's project of recovering the national bibliographic patrimony: a retrospective edition was prepared, in order to gather together bibliographic information from those years during which the bibliography had not been published.
The foundations for what is today the National Library System were established with the creation of a library in each province that would function as the central organizing agent for the growing number of municipal libraries which were springing up. The first reading incentive programs were initiated, and the novel concept of the "mini-library" was introduced as a means of bringing books and information resources to many different sectors of the population.
Under its strong influence, the Library Technical Assistants School was founded, which produced mid-rank library professionals with solid training, on whose shoulders rested the better part of the Cuban library system. In addition, the National Library played a key role in the reorganization of library studies at the university level.
Library service for children and young people began with the children's room of the Lyceum Lawn Tennis Club, but it was not until the creation of the José Martí National Library that such services were formally instituted and made accessible to all children.
When the Ministry of Culture was set up in 1977, the National Office of Libraries was created, which assumed responsibility for the development of public libraries. At the same time, the Office also recommended the creation of ten basic community cultural institutions for each municipality: library, drama troupe, community chorus, band, film theater, cultural museum, art gallery, and cultural centers as a means of making cultural events accessible to the greatest number of people. Although from the perspective of the public libraries, it seemed that much progress had already been made, this initiative helped to strengthen and complete that which we have now, a public library in each city and territory. In particular, it introduced library organization as described in the Minaz-Cultura agreement, which defined a very special "sui generis" type of public library.
During the 1970s, work on Cuban libraries was expanded, scientific and technical collaborations with library systems of the socialist countries were set up, and Cuban professionals participated in various groups set up for designing and implementing political strategies for scientific and technical development of the library profession in those countries.
In 1981, the Cuban Association of Librarians (ASCUBI) was organized with the participation of distinguished librarians from all systems, and soon became part of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), whose sixtieth Conference was held in Havana in 1994.
During this period, Cuban libraries began providing library services for the blind and visually handicapped; initiated library and information science research; and pursued new methodologies for scientific and technical development of the Public Library System, which are still in operation today.
In 1987, the transfer of responsibility for the development of public libraries in Cuba to the José Martí National Library brought with it a higher profile for the library, and an organizational restructuring. The first library research department was added, which has carried out important research work on socio-historical and cultural subjects, and has served as the center for methodology and library development throughout all of Cuba.
New means of automation and transmission of information were introduced, and there was a renewed interest in the study of preservation and conservation concepts, and in the practical applications of these ideas to the collections. A national bibliography was compiled, as well as specialized bibliographies on outstanding figures and events in Cuban history and culture.
The library publication, Revista de la Biblioteca Nacional, was once again being published after a long hiatus during the Special Period.  Collections became increasingly specialized, and were made available exclusively to students and specialists. As a result of the decree of June 8, 2003, Eliades Acosta, director of the José Martí National Library since 1998, ordered that all items acquired by the library must be catalogued electronically, as a first step towards the automation of the library's entire catalog.
"Reading is an activity which expresses and sustains the culture of a nation, its spiritual motivation, and its values, its ability to persevere and develop." Guided by these principles, Cuba carried out an enormous program to promote reading, which culminated in the annual "Leer a Martí" competitions, in which more than 500,000 children and young people from all levels of education participated. At the present time, the system maintains 392 libraries located in Cuba's provinces, districts, and towns.
Education: School Libraries
In the last five years of the 1950s, with the establishment in Cuba of the UNESCO Regional Center for the Western Hemisphere, a pilot school library in the Teacher Training School in Havana was set up for the dictatorship's Ministry of Education, under the administration of UNESCO library specialist Carlos Víctor Penna. This pilot project helped to spur the development in Cuba of school libraries, which are so necessary for the complete education of children and young people.
At the same time, the Office of School Libraries was created within the Ministry of Education. Dra. Olinta Ariosa, a pioneer in many areas of Cuban post-Revolutionary librarianship, was selected, under Minister Dr. Armando Hart, to establish and direct the Cuban Network of School Libraries, one of whose goals included the continuation of the literacy campaign begun in 1961.
This network connects the Colleges of Medicine in each province of the country, offering them e-mail services, and access to other information services. INFOMED, the National Center for Medical Sciences Information, and the National Library of Medicine form an information network for public health in Cuba, which, for forty years, has made information accessible to medical professionals, collaborated in the training of doctors, and helped to further the study of medical sciences in Cuba.
Other Institutions and Libraries
Between the earliest years, to which we referred at the beginning of this paper, and the present time, other powerful information institutions and libraries have arisen that form part of the spectrum of libraries and library services in Cuba.
The first library established in Cuba, the library of the Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País, second only to the José Martí National Library in its collections of the bibliographical patrimony, today operates under the aegis of the Ministry of Science and Technology, and is the central office of the Institute for Literature and Linguistics.
Casa de las Américas, a cultural institution which focuses on the study and dissemination of Latin American and Caribbean culture, has one of the most complete libraries in the area. The universities have tripled their offices, libraries, and information systems.
The huge strides of progress in scientific and technical research which have determined the discoveries and advances made by our scientists in many areas are greatly supported by the information centers of LABIOFAM, BIOMUNDI, and Polos Científicos, which provide information and consulting services.
Many of those early organizations to which we referred were developing excellent modern information centers, among which we would include the Center for Information in the Basic Construction Industry, mentioned earlier.
In order to show points of development in the different information systems which comprise the National Information System, and to trace the evolution of Cuban library and information sciences, we have chosen to focus on just three of the greatest and oldest systems of the Revolution.
We should like to draw your attention to the fact that the systems represented in each of these three cases outlined today exist simultaneously in each province of Cuba, including the special town Isla de la Juventud. In each province there are as many school libraries as there are schools, as many university libraries as central university campuses, as many public libraries as towns, as many Teacher Training Information Centers as towns, including an Information Center (CIGET), and a Center for Medical Information.
What we have shown so far might lead one to think that the scientific development of library and information services in Cuba has been carried out in a coherent, sustained, and cooperative manner, without any great impediments.
However, all of this development has been marked by the unimaginable confrontation of and struggle against the economic and political blockade imposed by the United States government since January 1959, to which, hidden under the fig leaf of the term "embargo", Cuba has been forced to submit.
The formal imposition of the North American blockade took place February 3, 1962, the date on which the U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, signed Executive Order 3447, which established, from that moment on, a complete embargo of all trade with Cuba.
The initial order was reinforced in 1988 by an amendment to the defense spending bill of 1992, introduced by Senator Torricelli, and in March 1996 by the Helms Burton Bill. The collapse of communism in 1990 made the situation even worse, when it deprived us of all material, financial, and commercial assistance. As a result of these developments, in 1992 the Revolutionary Government was forced to initiate the Special Period—el Período Especial—in our country.
Whenever concerned colleagues and visitors inquire about the effects of the embargo on information access and library services in Cuba, questions center on the acquisition of books and other materials in order to increase collections and develop services, and the ways in which the embargo might deprive the people of access to literature and information. But this is only one side of the issue.
Undoubtedly, there have been instances in which it has not been possible
to obtain materials necessary for the continued development of these information
institutions which we have described above, hindered as we have been by the
many obstacles imposed on us by prevailing U.S. legislation. We have been compelled
to develop many different types of initiatives on our own: for example, Ediciones
R, the immediate response to the abrupt cut-off of the supply of materials
from the large specialized North American publishing houses, and/or from their
subsidiaries in other countries, opened up a new phase of development for the
government press, Imprenta Nacional.
The large printing runs demanded by the cultural and intellectual development of the country were initiated with Ediciones Huracán, and today are continued by the Biblioteca Familiar. Meanwhile, other editorial houses were established in Cuba to fill important gaps in publishing for the sciences, technology, and the humanities: Editorial Academia, for subjects of great scientific importance; Pueblo y Educación for school texts; and the publishing houses which comprise the Institute for the Book (Instituto del Libro), namely: Editorial Arte y Literatura, dedicated to the publication of the great works of world literature; Editorial Gente Nueva for children's books and young adult literature; Letras Cubanas for Cuban literature, both traditional and contemporary; Editorial Oriente for literature of the eastern provinces; Editorial José Martí for literary works in foreign languages; and Editorial Nuevo Milenio for works of social science and technology.
As an example of the publishing output of the ICL, in 2001 more than 5 million copies of books were produced, a figure which does not include the output of the other 136 existing publishing houses. This was how we dealt with the difficulties of buying books abroad: we created our own publishing industry. However, given the impenetrable nature of the embargo, we still faced many obstacles; we have to use all of our skill and cunning just to buy paper, ink, and printing equipment, and to keep up with advanced technologies.
Book fairs in Cuba were not held until the beginning of the 1980s, although there had been fairs, expositions, and book sales earlier at different points in Cuban history, in particular those organized in the 1940s and 1950s by intellectuals such as Raúl Roa García, later known as the Chancellor of Dignity (Canciller de la Dignidad), and other national cultural figures.
Those fairs officially known as the Havana International Book Fairs (Ferias Internacionales del Libro de La Habana) were inaugurated in 1982, exactly 21 years ago, when the first was held in the Fine Arts Palace (today, the Museum of Fine Arts), attended by a small sampling of Latin American publishing houses, and which featured the work of José Martí and Félix Varela, and other outstanding intellectuals. Its slogan, "The book: bridge of friendship among the countries of the world," characterized the Fair for many years thereafter.
The ninth International Book Fair of 2000, with a new slogan, "To read is to grow", and dedicated to the famous Cuban poet and essayist, Cintio Vitier, winner of the National Prize for Literature, and to Italy, as an invited guest country, was held for the first time in San Carlos de La Cabaña, currently still the official site. Growing national and international participation, which accompanied a gradual recovery of the Cuban book, has prompted the Fair to be held annually.
The most recent Fair, the twelfth, was held in February of this year (2003),
and was dedicated to the winner of the National Prize for Literature, Pablo
Translated by Jane Carpenter
 "History Will Absolve Me" is a transcription of Fidel Castro's defense speech, dated October 16, 1953, at the trial after his unsuccessful attack on the Moncada barracks in Santiago del Cuba on July 26th of that year, three years before the Revolution. It became one of the central documents justifying the revolution. Full text of the speech, Online Version: 1997, Castro Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2001, is available at the Castro Internet Archive. Accessed 03/09/2005. Online at http://www.marxists.org/history/cuba/archive/castro/1953/10/16.htm.
 The "mandate of Moncada" is a reference to the attack on the Moncado barracks. Among the motives that were cited for the attack in the subsequent trial were health and access to health care. See Antonio Maria de Gordon, "Health and Health Care in Cuba: The Transition from Socialism to the Future." Essay on the Finlay Medical Society website. Accessed 03/09/2005. Online at http://www.finlay-online.com/finlayinstitute/healthandhealth.htm.
 The term "Special Period" is used in Cuba to refer to the years after the collapse of the Soviet economy. See, for example, Cuba Heritage.com: History: Special Period and after (Post 1990). Accessed 03/09/2005. Online at http://www.cubaheritage.com/subs.asp?sID=12.
About the Author
Marta Terry González is a former president of and consultant
(asesora) to the Cuban Library Association (ASCUBI) and professor at the
University of Havana, Cuba.
Email: martat [at] loynaz [dot] cult [dot] cu
Jane Carpenter is Cataloging Librarian at
The Newberry Library.
Email: carpenterj [at] newberry [dot] org
© 2005 Marta Terry González
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