BLOG: Locating, Ordering, and Purchasing Digitized Documents from the Biblioteca Nacional del Perú by William Cohoon
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William Cohoon teaches upper school history at Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth, Texas, and earned his Ph.D. in colonial Latin American history at Texas Christian University. Recently, Historia y Cultura published his article “Intercambios predecibles: estandarización del servicio de correo real en el Perú borbónico,” which focuses the Bourbon monarchy’s desire to create a predictable and revenue generating postal service. For this post, he completed research at the Archivo General de la Nación del Perú and relied on digitized documents from the Biblioteca Nacional del Perú. He also has published previously with Research Corner on the digitization of the Archivo General de la Nación del Perú, a step-by-step guide about how to acquire digital sources there, and how to navigate the Portal de Archivos Españoles.
Locating, Ordering, and Purchasing Digitized Documents from the Biblioteca Nacional del Perú
In my first post about the Bibliotca Nacional del Perú (BNP), I focused on the library’s history and its creation of a digital library. This prior post also emphasized the BNP’s growing digital primary source database. Another important feature that has contributed to the BNP’s institutional evolution is the ability for researchers to digitally access the library’s catalog of colonial and republican era documents and request the digitization of these materials. Although traveling to and researching in a distant archive or library has served as a rite of passage for many scholars, not everyone has the ability or means to take long and expensive journeys. For those not fortunate enough to carry out research in Latin America, more opportunities have arisen because of the COVID-19 pandemic where archives and libraries (such as the Archivo General de la Nación del Perú) have made their catalogs available to the public for requesting documents to digitize. My post today focuses on the BNP’s digital services for scholars and how to navigate the process of locating, requesting, and purchasing digitized sources.
To search for documents, begin on the BNP’s homepage (see Figure 1); near the top of the page hover over catálogos (catalogs) and then click nuestras colecciones (our collections) (see Figure 2). There are four options to choose from once you arrive to the “our collections” page. They are: catálogo general (general catalog, or secondary materials), fondo antiguo: Libros, folletos y colecciones particulares (older sources: books, brochures, and other collections), publicaciones periódicos (published newspapers), and fondo antiguo: manuscritos (older sources: manuscripts). I chose to use the fondo antiguo: libros, folletos, y colecciones particulars; however, using the fondo antiguo: manuscritos will work too, as both links take the user to the same search engine. To access the search engine, I clicked on consultar el Catálogo Inventario 2011: Libros y folletos (consult inventory 2011: books and leaflets). Following this step, click the arrow for the drop-down menu where it says Todo el Inventario 2011 (Entire Inventory 2011; see Figure 3). On this next webpage, enter your term in the search bar and then you will find the fifty most relevant documents related to your word (see Figure 4). For this demonstration I have used “cárcel” (jail) (see Figure 5). Once you find a source, its header will have a código de barro (barcode) that is ten numbers long. Immediately below the header, the document’s description can be found along with the information for fondo (collection), signatura (catalog number), toponímico (toponymic), temática (subject), estado (condition), tópico lugar (local topic), tópico Perú (Peruvian topic), and fecha inicio (start date). At the very bottom of the description, you see disponible (available), but this information is for if you are hoping to examine the document in person at the BNP. The information you need to order your sources is the código de barro, the signatura, the date, and the document’s description. I found that having two browsers open side by side to be far easier when entering the document’s information for digitization.
Figure 1: screenshot of BNP’s homepage.
Figure 2: link to the list of collections.
Figure 3: link to the catalog for 15th-19th century books and pamphlets.
Figure 4: the catalog’s search window.
Figure 5: search engine results for “cárcel.”
After collecting the information for your request, return to the BNP’s homepage to locate the digitization request form. Near the top of the homepage, find and hover over servicios (services) to click on the solicitud de reproducción digital (request for digital reproduction) (see Figure 6). Close to the bottom of the page, you will find two blue hyperlinks; select formato solicitud material interno (internal material request form) (see Figure 7). Once you arrive at this page, you will need to fill out the background information (see Figure 8). Three options are available: document nacional de identidad (national identity document), carnet de extranjería (immigration card), and/or otros (others). For my document request, I used “otros” and entered my passport number. After completing this section, enter your document information in the datos solicitud reproducción (data reproduction request). Under the datos del ejemplar (data request) find the section named tipo de material (type of material). In this area, there are several options to choose from, such as libros (books), periódicos y revistas (newspapers and journals), fotografías (photographs), and mapas (maps) to name a few. In this post’s case, I am selecting manuscrito/correspondencia (manuscript), which is what my document is classified as (see Figure 9). Next fill in each request with the red asterisk next to it. Besides filling in this information, I suggest including the código de barras (bar code). Beneath the datos de ejemplar, the next section to fill out is title datos de la parte a digitalizar (sections of datum to digitize). Unless you know the exact range of the folios you want, you will need to select documento completo (complete document) (see Figure 10). Under tipo de formato (format type) you may choose pdf, 150 dpi (JPEG), alta resolución (high resolution) 300 dpi (TIFF), or audio/video. The final section is información complementaria (complementary information). I filled this section out with the description of the document to help with locating it. You also have the option to click añadir reprodución (add another reproduction request) to your order. Finally, you will click two boxes stating that you have read the acta de compromiso para el uso de reproducciones digitales (act of promise for the use of digital reproductions) and that you give your consent to the BNP for the archivists to use your contact information to send you the materials requested (see Figure 11). Upon clicking enviar solicitud (submit request), the next page will provide you with your confirmación de solicitud (request confirmation) and a confirmation number.
Figure 6: the request for digital reproduction link is located under Servicios on the BNP Homepage.
Figure 7: link to the Internal Material Request form.
Figure 9: area to select the type of material needed.
Figure 10: area to select the part of the document needed.
Figure 11: area to add additional information and submit the request.
From my experience of ordering documents for digitization elsewhere, I found that the BNP’s archivist responded quickly. After submitting my request for digital sources on March 7, 2023, I received a response from the archivist within one working day. In this email, I received a cotización (quote) that identified how many folios each document contained, how much each picture cost, as well as the total price for all four documents I ordered (see Figure 12). Additionally, the quote and email contained the routing and account numbers for the BNP’s account at the Banco de la Nación. The only number I did not receive, but needed for my request, was the Registro Único de Contribuyente (RUC), or an eleven-digit tax number for corporations. Once I figured out that I required a RUC number, I emailed the BNP on March 8 and received the information I needed to order my materials by the afternoon of March 9. Upon receipt of my first message, I had three to five days to submit proof that I had transferred funds to the Banco de la Nación, which I did on March 9. An important step to remember prior to submitting your transfer to the bank is to include an additional ten dollars to the BNP’s quote (see Figure 13). This amount covers the transfer of U.S. dollars into Peruvian soles. I chose to provide a screenshot of my wire transfer that shows I included the additional fee of ten dollars, or nearly 51 soles (see Figure 14). My bank completed the wire transfer of funds on March 10 and on March 21 I received an email from the BNP with a link to WeTransfer to download my documents. In short, from start to finish, I ordered and received my documents in two weeks at a cost of $125.01.
Figure 12: cotización with document information, number of pages, prices, and bank routing numbers.
Figure 13: extra fee notation of ten dollars to include for your wire transfer.
Figure 14: wire transfer screenshot and other fees of 50.76 Peruvian soles, or ten dollars.
Overall, the BNP’s digitization service has impressed me from start to finish. I found that navigating the website, finding materials, and ordering sources proved smooth and easy. The response time by the BNP also pleasantly surprised me. Although researchers cannot consult previously digitized documents on the BNP’s website, my hope is that in the future the library’s directors will need to consider adding this feature to the webpage. Additionally, I believe that as scholars we can have an integral role in the protection and preservation of an archive’s materials, which we accomplish by paying to digitize documents to ensure that future generations will have access to these sources. Finally, these services provide an excellent opportunity to graduate students, non-tenured faculty, and early career professionals who might not have access to or receive funding to conduct research.
 See Aguirre, “El incendio de la Biblioteca Nacional del Perú de 1943;” and Dom Phillips “Brazil museum fire: ‘incalculable’ loss as 200-year-old Rio institution gutted,” The Guardian, September 3, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/sep/03/fire-engulfs-brazil-national-museum-rio, accessed May 19, 2023.