HAVANA DECEMBER 2015 Part one: INstituto de Historia de Cuba

Tuesday, December 15

On my second morning in Cuba, I walked from my hotel in central Havana to the Palacio de Aldama, which houses the Instituto de Historia de Cuba.

Palacio de Aldama

I met with Belkis Quesada Guerra (International Relations) and Luis Alberto Montes de Oca Colina (Head of Preservation) along with one of their colleagues who could translate for me.

Endangered periodical

Belkis and Luis gave me a full tour of the Istituto, highlighting several preservation challenges they hope to address with the support and collaboration of the UCLA Library.

Casa de las Americas recordings
Universidad del Aire recordings

The Instituto team has several reformatting projects in mind, including transcription disk over-the-air recordings (Universidad del Aire) and rare, brittle newspaper collections.

The key challenge is neither expertise nor skilled staff, but obtaining the right tools and technology to do the work.

House-made book scanning station

Luis Alberto showed me their book scanning station. They are waiting to receive a camera from a Spanish institution. Then they will be able to digitize bound material, such as these bound records of immigrants from the 19th century.

Immigration records
Platen in the up position

Their flatbed scanner connects via a serial cable, while current computer equipment uses USB. The machine shown below is at the point of failure. Technology obsolescence and the US embargo hinders progress on many projects.

Historical Radio Recordings

Transcription disks recorded from the radio contain unique audio of Fidel Castro and other important figures. Other radio recordings from the CMQ station include news programs and the cultural educational series Universidad del Aire. The Instituto considers them a priority for digitization, in order to make them accessible electronically. They had hired a local audio engineer to digitize them but the process proved too expensive to outsource.


Project Priorities

At the end of the first meeting, we arranged for me to return two days later to meet with the president of the Istituto, René González Barrios, to discuss the memorandum of understanding. He requested an addendum listing specific projects be added to the memorandum. Digitization of the magazine Carteles is one of the institute's first priorities. According to the president, the priorities are as follows:

  1. Carteles, a variety magazine
  2. CMQ radio from the 40s and 50s: Universidad del Aire and Discourses
  3. La Discuçion and La Lucha, two very important Cuban newspapers from late 19th & 20th centuries
  4. La Voz del Pueblo a newspaper from Guantanamo 1903-1961, which documents the influence of the US naval base.
Access on site

Patrons can access digitized material on site. The Institute will also provide digital copies.

Hoy preserved by encapsulation


Poster showing conservation of a daguerreotype 

Instituto staff working in conservation are highly skilled. Some have received training from US organizations such as the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC).

Repaired photograph
Document repair with Japanese tissue

Bindery operations

Books to be bound
Stamping machine for spines
Paper trimmer
My friends at the Istituto
Created By
Dawn Aveline


Dawn Aveline

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