Congress theme: “Libraries beyond libraries: Integration, Innovation and Information for all”

Marta Terry — Legend of the Caribbean

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Marta TerryIn 1980, the 46th IFLA conference was held in Manila, Philippines. For the first time, two librarians were participating from Cuba. One year later, they decided to attend the Conference in Leipzig and submit their application for IFLA Membership. One of the Cuban delegates was Marta Terry.

IFLA must have made an impression on her, because 30 years later, Marta is still with us!  One has to be terribly young and/or very novice to IFLA not to know who Marta Terry is. She was a pioneer of Cuban representation at IFLA and a supporter of the development of librarianship in the Caribbean and Latin America as well.

Marta became very active in the Organization and in 1994 she was working on the Cuban IFLA Conference as Vice President of the Havana Organizing Committee.

At the same time, she was the Vice-President of IFLA as well. Those exiting times, were bringing many changes. IFLANET was borne and announced in Cuba, by IFLA President Robert Wedgeworth with the following words:

"Eventually it is expected that IFLANET will transform IFLA into a worldwide communications network for libraries and librarianship that will transcend the barriers of time, place and level of development that separate us today."

I remember how proud, supportive and exited Marta was that this announcement–among all places–was made in Cuba. The whole Conference was a great success and it made her dedication grow even stronger. Marta became a Member of the IFLA/FAIFE Committee, worked on many Sections and Round Tables.  The list is long and it concerns Marta’s professional life, but it doesn’t really tell us who Marta Terry really is.


Marta, please tell us a bit about your childhood.

I am the oldest of four children. Our mother died when we were very little and we were raised and educated by our grandmother and aunts. My aunts were teachers, so they all wanted me to be a teacher as well. I did not want to. Imagine that! I only wanted to read books.  I did not attend regular school; my aunts were educating me at home until my teenage years.

What have you read in your childhood?

Adult books mostly.  I remember reading at a very young age “Corazon de Edmundo de Amicis”. It had a young adult reading level. I cried very much while reading it.  We had a 'big book' I loved so much.  I do not remember the name of the author I only remember the title “El conflicto de los siglos” (Conflict of the centuries). It was a very engaging book for me, but I did not really understand the depth of what I was reading I only discovered that much later and to my surprise it was about historical conflicts in religion.  I always loved to read Jose Martí and patriotic poetry of the XIX century.

Why did you choose to be a librarian?

I did not choose, I was chosen. I finished my Philosophy and Letters studies at the University of La Habana.  Beautiful, isn’t it? I had the best professors. I could read Latin and Greek; I was in heaven.  I had studied Ancient philosophy and History of Art, but there was no place to work in Cuba for many people, but mostly for Philosophy and Letters graduates. One of my professors advised me to study the “very new profession of librarianship”. He told me that someday librarians will be very much needed in Cuba. I did not believe him too much, but I welcomed the opportunity and agreed. There were only seven students in my class.  I had to make a second choice when the Revolution came to power: whether to follow my previous studies or become a librarian. Well, here I am!

What changes has IFLA brought into your life?

Those August conferences meant work and more work and lots of excitement.  IFLA has given me so much professionally and the chance of fighting for truth, for peace, for friendship everywhere over the world. You know, we Cubans, believe in internationalism and we believe in sharing. IFLA has given me (as an individual and as a Cuban librarian) the opportunity to meet so many people and so many people to meet me and get to know about us. If I have to choose just one word to describe, I would say understanding.  I should also mention recognition, not only for me as an individual, but more so for our profession and for my country.

Marta Terry, Cuban LIS students and Ellen Tise

Whom would you like to meet—if you could meet anyone in the world—and what would you ask?

Fidel.  How are you doing on your 85th birthday (13 August)? 

What is your bohemian side? In other words, what is your passion?

It has changed in time, but to listen to music—24 hours a day–has not changed. Nowadays I feel crazy about making still lifes with wild flowers we have in our gardens.

Do you have a nice IFLA anecdote to share with us?

After visiting Manila in 1980, my colleague Dr. Ariosa recommended the inscription of our Association as well as the participation of Cuban librarians in IFLA.  At those times the unforgettable Margreet Wijnstroom was IFLA Secretary General. We asked for a meeting with her in order to fill the forms to become IFLA members. She received us with a smile, sweet smile, wonder who smile? Welcome smile? Anyway it was a smile I think, definitely, a smile of compassion as she handed Olinta the form to be filled. Olinta had a look at it and handed it to me because I was the English speaking one.

I started to fill in the form with script letter handwriting. Margreet and Olinta were silently watching me drawing the characters. Suddenly Margreet asked: Are you a librarian? I answered, ‘yes I am; why do you ask?’  Because the way you draw your letters is only known by librarians, she said.  It made me remember my Cataloguing professor who had  insisted so much  to write perfect draft card catalogues while I was a student. I could not know as a student that there is something like a very private landmark for librarians. It was a kind of professional secret skill. I have never forgotten that. I regret technology might have erased it.

What is your vision for the future?

I have hopes for the future. I hope we can find peace and understanding among all people over the world. Can you imagine? So many warriors and leaders and dreamers have had the same dream. I share and believe it nonetheless.


Marta is an IFLA Honorary Fellow. A legend… I always admired her for her humour, wisdom, her ease of making connections with people and her grasp of what really matters in life.  My hope is that she will stay with us, at least for another 30 years or so.