I am pleased to continue the “Teaching with H-Latam’s Research Corner Blog” series with Part II of the posts on the Archivo General de Puerto Rico. If you have not read Part I, click here. I am also looking for more graduate students who have recently used archival materials, whether in person or online. This is a great way to provide advice for future patrons and to get an early publication on your CV. With that said, I welcome entries from scholars at all stages of their careers (or archivists/librarians) who would like to contribute to the greater good. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out this Google Form to express your interest in blogging.
Rosa Cordero is a Ph.D. student of Latin American and Caribbean History at Rutgers University. Before starting grad school, she was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and member of the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras campus’s Honors Program. It was during her time as an undergraduate that she completed her honors thesis titled “Negotiating Power: Women, Sexual Violence, and the Law During Puerto Rico’s Colonial Transition (1880-1920).” Her current project expands on her previous work while focusing on rural, black, and working-class intimacies, kinship, and personhood during late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Puerto Rico. Research undertaken for this project informs this post.
Pandemic Realities: In-Person Research at the Archivo General de Puerto Rico under COVID. Phase 2: Entering the Archive
In the first part of my two-part blog series, I detailed all the preliminary steps one needs to take before being granted physical access to the Archivo General de Puerto Rico (AGPR). For this second part, I will explain what happens once that access has been granted.
If there is a time slot available, the archivist will contact you and you will receive an automatic booking confirmation (see Figure 1). The system will send you a reminder the day before your visit with the rules of operation. If you cannot make it to the appointment, let the archivist know by sending an email. This will allow another researcher the opportunity to take your spot.
Figure 1: Booking confirmation for December 21, 2021, Archivo General de Puerto Rico.
The archive is open from 9 am-4 pm. Make sure to go as early as possible so you can take full advantage of the day. You are allowed to stay until closing time. Before going to the archive, please make sure to bring a mask, an ID, and a camera (it can be the one on your phone) for taking pictures of the documentation. You will also need your computer or a notebook and pencil depending on your preferred method for notetaking. Once you have reached the archive (located here), put on your face mask, and enter its glass doors (see Figure 2). You will see to your right an apparatus that simultaneously takes your temperature and sanitizes your hands with hand sanitizer. Use it to ensure everyone’s safety and to be allowed access to the building.
Figure 2: AGPR’s entrance. Picture generously provided by Victoria Soto Estremera.
After sanitizing your hands, you will approach the reception desk located in the left-hand corner. Behind the desk, there will be a security person making sure that you sign the registration sheet. After you write down your name, the date of your visit, and the reason for your visit, you will hand in your ID (preferably a license) in exchange for a key to a locker. Food, backpacks, purses, or small pouches are not allowed in the room where visitors sit down to handle the documentation. The lockers are behind the grand staircase located in the center of the archive’s lobby. Walk towards them and store your things. The only items left in your hands should be your computer or notebook, your phone or camera, and the chargers of your devices.
After storing your belongings, you may enter the viewing room. There you will be met by the archivist in charge of the visiting area. They will tell you to sign your name in the room’s registration notebook and provide further instructions. This notebook is on the room’s reception desk (see Figure 3). Once you have done that, you can select a working station (see Figure 4). The best working stations, in my opinion, are located next to a window because they will illuminate the documentation with natural light. Once you pick a station, you cannot switch. That is because of COVID safety protocols.
Figure 3: Sala de Estudio y Referencia’s reception desk. Courtesy of: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña-Archivo General de Puerto Rico.
Figure 4: Sala de Estudio y Referencia’s workstations. Each workstation has an electrical plug so users can charge their devices. Courtesy of: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña-Archivo General de Puerto Rico.
You will notice several wooden bookshelves in the left-hand corner of the viewing room (see Figure 5). Search through those bookshelves until you see the boxes you requested. You will notice that they are yours because they will have a yellow paper with your name and the boxes’ specification attached to them. Grab one of the three boxes you are allowed to view per day and bring it to your workstation. Archivists will only allow visitors to open one box at a time to prevent the content of each box from mixing. Investigate the material of the one box and, once you are finished, repeat the same steps with the following boxes.
Figure 5: wooden bookshelves located at the left corner of the viewing room. There you'll find your boxes. Courtesy of: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña-Archivo General de Puerto Rico.
Once you are done with a box, place the boxes in the cart located at the end of the room (see Figure 6). If you have run out of time but have not finished, inform the archivist about the box you need to revisit and schedule another visit. Archivists tend to be more flexible with researchers that live outside of Puerto Rico because they understand that they are visiting for a limited amount of time. Gather your personal belongings and head to your locker. Grab any other items from the safe and head towards the lobby’s reception desk. You will turn in the key and receive your ID in exchange. After that, you are free to leave.
Figure 6: the cart where visitors place their boxes once they are done viewing their content. Photo generously provided by Victoria Soto Estremera.
By following these steps, I successfully visited the AGPR on December 20, 2021. However, as I’m writing this, the number of Omicron COVID cases on the archipelago rises. We are once again reminded of the instabilities brought by a pandemic in process. Consequently, I am forced to warn readers that everything can change, including the archive’s rules. To make sure you are aware of the latest rules, visit the archive’s webpage or email the archivists. This situation also suggests that archival research during a pandemic will remain part of our reality for the foreseeable future. Hopefully, these last two blogs will make that task seem less daunting.