In September 2011, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection and the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) joined forces under a single leadership team. This historic agreement between two venerable units of The University of Texas at Austin is opening new opportunities for collaboration and building stronger institutions while realizing significant cost savings. The LLILAS Benson Strategic Plan summarizes the vision that drives the partnership and outlines steps to be taken toward the realization of a single composite institution that will come fully into existence in 2017. We expect this strategic plan, fully implemented, to be profoundly transformative: raising Latin American Studies at UT to new heights of excellence in teaching, research, digital scholarship, and public engagement, and placing UT in a class of its own as the destination for Latin American Studies and a model for the global public university of the twenty-first century.
Since its founding in 1940, LLILAS has grown to become a vibrant center for the interdisciplinary study of Latin America and for the dissemination of this research and creative production through diverse means, from teaching, to publications and digital archives, to scholarly exchange. Our faculty teach courses on an astounding array of topics and train students for BA, MA, and PhD degrees in Latin American Studies. In addition, these faculty train students in their respective disciplines in more than thirty academic departments across the university, melding a Latin American focus with their particular areas of expertise. The Benson Latin American Collection, founded in 1926, is a mecca of scholarly resources for research, teaching, and public engagement related to Latin American and U.S. Latino/a populations. The Benson’s vast holdings of Latin American and Latino/a materials—second only to the Library of Congress—came of age under the leadership of the renowned historian and librarian Dr. Nettie Lee Benson, who established the bold principle that the collection should hold a copy of every published work of scholarly interest on Latin America in Spanish, Portuguese, or English. The result, many decades later, is a collection exceeding one million volumes, with an astounding scope and depth, that attracts scholars from across the globe and provides a solid bibliographic foundation for nearly any Latin American topic of study.
The plan presented here builds on these inherited foundations while mapping a path of transformation to be implemented over the next five years. The foundation for this plan is the creation of the newly branded LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, which operates under a unified leadership team and carries out a wide variety of activities in accordance with a single mission. Students stand at the center of this mission, and each constituent part of LLILAS Benson—Student Programs, Scholarly Resources, Public Programs, and Development—derives its core purpose from this objective: We want Latin American Studies training at The University of Texas to be a life-changing experience. We strive for this experience to be one that is guided by the very best faculty, fed by an outstanding array of scholarly resources, enriched by opportunities for community engagement and exposure to a cutting-edge scholarly program, deepened by interactions with accomplished fellow students, and actively engaged with the sociohistorical realities of the region and its people.
The justification for LLILAS Benson is fourfold. First, there are activities that both units have carried out separately in the past, as mentioned above, which we can pursue with greater efficiency, vigor, and ingenuity by working in unison. Second, LLILAS Benson will enable vibrant new areas of collaboration, which otherwise might not prosper. Examples here include digital scholarly resources, our publications program, and the indigenous language initiative, which brings together archiving, research, and teaching in unprecedented ways. Third, LLILAS Benson will open up a steady stream of innovative uses for our shared physical space, unlocking doors and repurposing underused areas. Examples here include a new second floor conference room and exhibition space, which bring diverse publics into the library and strengthen our shared intellectual community. Fourth and finally, Latin American Studies at UT saves significant costs in the joining of these two previously separate units: instead of downsizing, we can anticipate the enhancement of LLILAS Benson’s material resources and institutional aspirations.
In sum, this transformation will place us on a rapid upward trajectory. Propelled by the advantages of collaboration, favored by geography, demography, shared cultural heritage, and the inherited building blocks of excellence, LLILAS Benson will lead the nation in forging an exemplary approach to globalized university education.