On Friday, December 13th, 2019, the REFORMA Northeast Chapter meeting was hosted at the Newark Public Library (NPL), where members were given a tour of the institution and the New Jersey Hispanic Research and Information Center (NJHRIC). The NJHRIC was established in 2002 by historian Dr. Olga J. Wagenheim and librarian Ingrid Betancourt*, with significant financial support from the Latino community. Their goal was to create a safe haven for historical materials documenting the Latino legacy in New Jersey.
The NJHRIC is a three-tier project within the NPL whose mission is to address the informational needs of the state’s diverse Hispanic communities. The oldest tier is the Sala Hispanoamericana, which houses the largest collection of Spanish-language resources within a New Jersey public library. The Sala was founded in 1989 and later incorporated into the NJHRIC. The Sala serves as a valuable educational, informational, and cultural resource for monolingual Latino immigrants by offering programs and services such as computer assistance, reading clubs, and Spanish classes for children.
Another tier is the Hispanic Reference Collection, a bilingual research-level collection consisting of newspapers, clippings, and the Latino Oral History Collection. The NJHRIC has conducted various oral history projects on the themes of Latino Life Stories, Justice, Activist Voices, and the Latino Immigrant Experience in Newark. The transcripts of the latter two oral history projects are still being processed and will be made available to researchers in the near future. The oral history collection also consists of interviews with local community leaders conducted by Dr. Wagenheim and her students at Rutgers University.
The archival tier is the Puerto Rican Community Archives (PRCA), a collection of primary resources detailing the history and culture of New Jersey’s Puerto Rican communities. Following an extensive 4-year survey of historical materials in the state conducted by Yesenia López, the archive has accessioned over 50 collections and 600 cubic feet of material. Archival collections relating to the Immigrant/Migrant experience in Newark are currently available on the Library’s Digital Collection website.
Last year, the PRCA received the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) Innovative Archives Award for its efforts in community outreach, encouraging a pipeline of Latino librarians and archivists, and preserving the history of the largest and oldest Latino group in New Jersey. Some of the archive’s outreach efforts include hosting information tables at local history and library/archives events, hosting class visits, and submitting poster presentations to professional conferences. The archives host college interns from various internship programs. The interns conduct the integral work of basic archival processing while being exposed to a different profession. Additionally, the archives serve as a model for other communities who are interested in creating their own archival collections.
Kicking off with Hispanic Heritage Month in September and ending in December, the NJHRIC hosts an annual Latino Celebration. The celebration consists of a vibrant exhibit and a series of related free public programming based on a different Latino theme each year. Last year’s celebration was themed “Andean Culture: Alive in New Jersey,” which explored the rich history of the Andes and illustrated how Andean culture is vibrantly alive in New Jersey through art, food, music, and more. The Library has celebrated Hispanic heritage for over 40 years and the upcoming 2020 celebration will commemorate that legacy.
*Ingrid Betancourt is a former President and Vice-President of REFORMA, former Editor of the REFORMA Newsletter, and co-founder of the REFORMA NE Chapter.