Latin America refers to those nations, colonies, territories, and commonwealths that extend from the southern border of the United States to the southern end of the South American continent, including the islands of the Caribbean, in which the major languages are Spanish and Portuguese. The region may be more appropriately called Iberoamerica (i.e., the Americas of Iberian, or Spanish and Portuguese, background), since while French, Dutch, and English-speaking entities are usually included as part of Latin America, they are not considered for the purposes of the University of Pennsylvania Library's collection activities in the subject area called "Latin American studies." It should also be noted that, in addition to Spanish and Portuguese, dozens of autochthonous and Creole languages flourish in this area and are significant in printed and other formats.
Penn's Latin American collections date from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At the time they emphasized history, contemporary politics and government, and materials relating to indigenous peoples and languages. In addition, the long tradition of excellence at Penn in the field of peninsular Spanish literature guaranteed that Spanish-language literature of the Americas would be collected at a respectable level. Extraordinary special collections, such as the Berendt Linguistic Collection (a part of the Brinton Collection), which contains grammars and lexicons of Native American languages, and the Lea Library with its materials on the Inquisition and the late medieval and early modern Catholic Church, also gave shape to what would become areas of strength in the general collections. A long period of reduced interest in the region between the 1940s and 1980s affected the quality of the collections, particularly holdings in the vernancular languages, though areas of strength remained. Since the 1980s the library has been adding Latin American materials in all languages (but especially in Spanish and Portuguese) and subject areas of the humanities and social sciences. Spanish-language literature, ethnohistory, anthropology, migration studies, and folklore remain areas of strength amidst ever more extensive collecting. Collecting has adapted to the growth of Penn's Latin American and Latino Studies Program in the second decade of the 21st century, as there are more faculty and students doing research in history, sociology, political science, public health, music, architecture, and fine arts. Portuguese-language (i.e., Brazilian) collecting has always been more limited and selective, but a larger Brazilianist group among the faculty and greater student interest in Brazil have expanded a focus on ethnohistory, folklore, and anthropology, to other areas of history, politics, and the social sciences. Because of the library's commitments to collaboration with peer institutions, increases in collections do not necessarily duplicate the holdings of the peer institutions, but, rather, acquire materials that complement other institutions. This emphasis includes an effort to comprehensively collect Brazilian publishing's academic literature output by dividing acquisitions by the states of the Brazilian nation.That academic literature includes the environmental and biological sciences in addtion to all areas of the humanities and social sciences.