logo USIA Fulbright Scholar in El Salvador


When President Clinton visited El Salvador March 8-10, seven years after the peace accords were signed which ended a costly 12-year civil conflict, Martha McPhail (A.B., 1968; M.S.L.S., 1971) was watching the activities. 'All the country turned its attention to President Clinton, grateful for his support for their development in education, business, and trade. After so many years of war, the Salvadoran people have put those divisions behind them, and are working together to build a new El Salvador. They really appreciate the support and good will of the American people.'

McPhail, an academic librarian on the faculty of San Diego State University in California, was selected as a Fulbright Scholar and is spending January through June working, teaching, and researching in El Salvador. 'Principally I am identifying rare or scarce Salvadoran imprints not held in other library collections and therefore unknown to Latin American scholars and students. I am cataloging these and adding them to the Salvadoran National Bibliography which will eventually be published.' McPhail is based at the private research library, La Biblioteca 'Dr. Manuel Gallardo' in Santa Tecla just outside San Salvador.

'I am using the education and skills I acquired while an undergraduate and graduate student at Chapel Hill. The Spanish Department was considered one of the top three in the nation when I was taking classes in Dey Hall with such excellent professors as Dr. McKnight. The master's degree I received from the School of Library and Information Science has opened many opportunities in my career in academic and special libraries.'

McPhail also earned a second master of arts degree in Latin American Studies from the institution where she has been on the faculty since 1989. She selects all the new books in Spanish and Latin American literature for the university library, as well as cataloging them. 'I work very closely with the teaching faculty in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literature to acquire new materials for their research and the use of students. The solid background I received at UNC helps me assist them as together we build an excellent library collection.'

The Fulbright Scholarship allows McPhail the opportunity to immerse herself in the life, language, and culture of a Central American country, while she shares her knowledge and expertise with Salvadoran colleagues. 'It's a challenge to live and work outside one's comfortable academic setting, but it's very rewarding. This will benefit my own university as I reinforce my ability to communicate in Spanish, seek out new sources for library acquisitions, and meet local authors, artists, researchers, and educators.'

McPhail has assisted two U.S. scholars with their research in El Salvador. 'I've found unpublished material on Claudia Lars, El Salvador's most famous female author, for use by a scholar of Central American women's literature.' At the American Embassy, she has assisted the education director with his forthcoming book on San Salvador depicted in postcards. 'He was surprised to learn I have written about using postcards as valuable visual resources for social history. He asked me to contribute a descriptive blurb for the dust jacket of his book. It is just such propitious opportunities that the Fulbright allows.'

Several professional library associations have invited McPhail to give presentations and workshops, and she is enjoying the interchange with her Salvadoran colleagues. 'I am impressed with their dedication and high degree of professionalism. When I visited here ten years ago during the height of the war, my colleagues continued to provide library services to their students and patrons even when bombings would cut their electricity and cause untold difficulties. They persevered, and now are advancing rapidly in our changing technological environment. I am very pleased to contribute a small part to their development."



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