David Block Retires from LLILAS Benson
At the end of this week, LLILAS Benson bids farewell to David Block, Associate Director for Scholarly Resources and Latin American Bibliographer at the Benson Latin American Collection. David began his tenure at the Benson in 2009, but his history at the University of Texas at Austin goes back quite a bit further.
David earned his PhD in history and library science at UT, served in the Peace Corps in Bolivia, and was the Latin American librarian at Cornell for many years. To hear him tell it, however, his return to Austin to assume his current position was like coming home. To work in a place he treasured was “the high point of my 35-year career,” he said. His love for the Benson is apparent as he waxes both sentimental—“only place like it on Earth”—and humorous—“did I mention we have a parking lot?”
During his time at LLILAS Benson, David has overseen the acquisition of a large variety of Latin American materials, such as rare government publications, street literature, and unique collections, many of these necessitating travel and negotiations throughout Latin America.
One of the most significant events during his time at the Benson has been the undertaking of an official collaboration and partnership between the Benson Latin American Collection and the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, now collectively known as LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections.
According to David, LLILAS and the Benson used to be “like occupants of a duplex, with little awareness between neighbors.” The collaboration has thus brought about a significant change in both organizations, emphasizing the importance of academic librarianship, whereby scholars and librarians work together in a more integrated way, and regard each other more as colleagues.
One of the many fruits of the LLILAS Benson partnership is the expected publication of an illustrated “Benson Book” in coordination with UT Press. Despite his retirement, David will play an important role in the development of this book, which will feature articles by scholars and librarians, photos, and detailed descriptions of aspects of the collection.
Another fruit of the collaboration, in David’s opinion, has been the addition of the curator position, which has opened up and enlivened the library by bringing materials out of the vault, leading to a greater emphasis on the collection’s unique holdings. The joint work of scholars and librarians with rare materials led, for example, to an undergraduate course that used primary materials and was co-taught by Julia Guernsey, a professor of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican art, and Michael Hironymous, the rare books librarian.
Other initiatives, such as digitization and the emphasis on preserving fragile archives, deepen LLILAS Benson’s commitment to being at the forefront of the librarian–scholar relationship in the twenty-first century.
David’s colleagues express deep admiration and affection for him and his work. Paula Covington, librarian at Vanderbilt University, writes that David “has always been a mentor to me as well as to countless other Latin Americanist librarians from Latin America, the U.S., and Europe. He has gently, quietly guided all of us in many ways: introducing us to his wide network of contacts and colleagues in Latin America, especially in the Andean region; sharing his expertise on book buying trips; prodding us to try to think and act in a more cooperative and sharing way.”
Fred Heath, outgoing Vice-Provost and head of the University of Texas Libraries, writes: “David brought his extensive experience and knowledge of Latin America to bear at the Benson during a time of significant transformation for this hemispheric treasure. We’re extremely grateful for his leadership and service to the Libraries, and for his contributions to scholarship at The University of Texas at Austin.”
Charles Hale, director of LLILAS Benson and professor of anthropology, worked closely with David throughout the development of the partnership between institute and library. He writes, “David’s professional accomplishments and stature in the field are well known, and much admired. Equally recognized, but harder to specify, are the remarkable personal qualities that characterize David’s way of being—at work and in the world. David cares deeply about others: he is gentle, compassionate, and kind, whether with a co-worker of many years or a stranger who happens into the Benson; he is scrupulously conscientious: holding himself to bedrock ethics and values, with no sense that this gives license to judge others; and his manner exudes an egalitarian ethos, always willing to step up to assure that collective goals are met, inspiring others by his example, and by the sheer pleasure of working at his side.”