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Latin America on the Web

by Ron Mader

How do you find information about Latin America if you don't have a world-class bookstore or library in your backyard? The Internet, of course. The highly-praised directory, Internet Resources for Latin America [http://lib.nmsu.edu/ subject/bord/laguia] was created by Molly Molloy, a librarian who hosts a number of Internet resources on her web site at New Mexico State Univ. in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Transitions Abroad's Latin America correspondent Ron Mader recently spoke with her.

Transitions Abroad: The Internet has been called the "information superhighway." How would you describe it?

Molloy: If we must use the highway metaphor then I'd like to propose that we focus on the "blue highways"--the title of the 1982 bestseller by William Least Heat Moon-- rather than the "superhighways." The sectors of the web I'm most interested in correspond to these backroads that do not take us to fancy shopping malls and fast food outlets but provide a slower trip with more interesting shops, tastier food, and, most importantly, access to unique people and places. I'm really interested in promoting the less flashy and noncommercial aspects of the web as a space for communication and information dissemination.

T.A.: What do you most want your online work to accomplish?

Molly Molloy: I am trying to create a place where a range of people with different interests can find a wide selection of the best Internet resources relating to Latin America. I have divided my page into Latino-related and Latin America-related sites as well cultural, political, and economic sites. To make these data useful, I include in the directories the URLs along with the links.

T.A.: Have you lived in Latin America?

Molloy: Yes, I lived in Nicaragua from May 1984 to March 1986. I first attended a Spanish language school and lived with a Nicaraguan family where four generations of women were all in the same house. After three months in the school I started working for a weekly newspaper, translating the Spanish articles into English and helping with the typesetting of the English edition. It was very important at the time for the Nicaraguan media to reach readers in the U.S. and Europe.

I shared a house with musicians from Chile, Spain, and Nicaragua which became a sort of peña (a gathering place) for Nicaraguan and foreign musicians. It was a wonderful way to learn about the folk music scene all over Latin America and a great way to learn Spanish.

T.A.: How would you say that having lived in Latin America has impacted your work?

Molloy: Living abroad definitely influenced the direction I took when I went to graduate school and became a professional librarian. I wanted to focus on the study of Latin America, and it just happened that the Internet became a tool for doing that at about the time I started working as a professional librarian. The web made it easier for scholars and activists to communicate about their work in Latin America and to maintain solidarity networks in the U.S. and other parts of the world. The web makes possible worldwide "communities of affinity" rather than just geographic and cultural communities. It allows small organizations, research centers, and individuals to reach out directly to people with common interests. I still think that the net offers more space for alternative viewpoints than other media.

T.A.: Will the Internet change the job of librarians?

Molloy: Librarians are traditionally information disseminators. We collect data and make it available. The Internet seems to take away some need for this intermediary role, but people have a hard time adjusting to the massive amounts of information available on the web and they often ask a librarian (or somebody else) to filter the stuff for them.

I find the web extremely useful. But the sheer quantity and the impermanence of these documents makes it more difficult for a librarian or other researcher to have a permanent record.

T.A.: Do you have any advice for first-time travelers heading south of the U.S. border?

Molloy: Learn as much as you can before you go. Don't just rely on the web. Get at least one good travel guidebook and read it cover to cover. Ask friends for recommendations. Read scholarly works about the country or region. Try to understand why things are, not just what they are. Try to be sensitive to the real problems that people face in the places you travel. For example, 10 pesos per dollar might seem like a great deal to a U.S. traveler, but think of what this means to working people in Mexico. Imagine how you would feel if the spending power of your paycheck decreased by 20 percent in the space of a week.

T.A.: What are your hopes for the future of the Internet?

Molloy: Mainstream information providers have and will always have the venues and resources to sell or distribute their information. The Internet provides a new communication space for the NGOs, nonprofits, and individuals to get information out to the world. I'm more interested in reports from a local human rights organization in San Cristobal or Lima, for instance, than being able to get a United Nations document or a New York Times article on the web.

So the question I ask myself is, "What can we do to ensure that information from local communities in Latin America and elsewhere remains findable as search technologies become mega-commodities belonging to the richest technology corporations in the world?"

RON MADER is the host of the award-winning Planeta.com: Eco Travels in Latin America web site www.planeta.com and author of the guidebook, Mexico: Adventures in Nature. You may contact him at