The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, part of the University of Texas at Austin General Libraries, is housed in the south section of Sid Richardson Hall on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. In the early 1990s it was a specialized research library of materials from and about Latin America, including Mexico, Central America, South America, Caribbean nations, and parts of the United States when they were under Spanish or Mexican jurisdiction. It also included materials relating to Spanish-speaking peoples in the United States. The collection, formerly located on the eighth floor of the old main library building, was moved to Sid Richardson Hall in 1971. The nucleus of the original collection was the private library of Genaro García, which was purchased by the university in 1921; it contained about 25,000 printed items and 400,000 pages of manuscripts. At the time of his death in 1920 García was one of the outstanding Mexican bibliophiles, and for many years the Latin American Collection was known as the García Collection. As other acquisitions were made by the university and the scope of the collection was widened, it was thought best in 1932 to change the name to Latin American Collection. The Latin American Collection was officially renamed the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection in the fall of 1975.
To the original García library there was added in 1937 the García Icazbalceta collection of 160 printed items, 49 of which were Mexican incunabula, 50,000 pages of manuscript material, including 18,000 pages of sixteenth-century originals, and 400 bound volumes of newspapers, all dealing almost entirely with Mexico. In 1938 the university acquired the W. B. Stephens collection of 1,300 printed items and 20,000 pages of manuscript on Mexico and the Spanish Southwest; in 1939, the Manuel Gondra library of 9,000 printed items, 20,000 pages of manuscript, and 270 maps on Paraguay in particular and its neighbors in general; also in 1939, the Diego Muñoz library of 1,010 titles on the culture of the Pacific coast countries of South America, including an almost complete file of the works of the great Chilean bibliographer, José Toribio Medina; in 1941, the Alejandro Prieto library of complete and partial files of thirty-one early Mexican newspapers, over 3,000 pages of manuscripts, and a large number of books on the culture of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas; in 1943, the Sánchez Navarro family papers of some 75,000 pages containing much socioeconomic information on the northern Mexican states; and also in 1943, the Hernández y Dávalos manuscripts of some 110,000 pages covering the period of Mexican history from 1760 to 1824 and beyond.
In 1961 additions were made to the already extensive holdings of the collection, including Pedro Martínez Reales's gaucho library of 1,500 books, pamphlets, and articles on the literature of the Argentine cowboy and more than 300 editions of the nineteenth-century epic gaucho poem Martín Fierro by José Hernández. In 1963 the library gained the Arturo Taracena Flores collection of 10,000 books, pamphlets, and broadsides, as well as numerous periodicals, newspaper clippings, and maps on nineteenth and twentieth century Guatemala and other Central American countries. The Simón Lucuix library of 26,000 volumes on Uruguay and the Río de la Plata area was received the following year. In 1975 more than a million manuscript pages were added to the holdings of the collection when the business records (dating from 1830 to 1960) of the St. John d'el Rey Mining company were given to the University. The firm operated gold and iron ore mines in Brazil; the library holdings include a complete collection of the company's annual reports from 1830, demographic records, photographs, mining and geological reports, correspondence, land deeds, and employee records.
Other important acquisitions included the George I. Sánchez papers, the Julián Samora papers, the Carlos Eduardo Castañeda papers, the Catarino E. Garza diary, the Carlos Villalongín Dramatic Company records, the José Ángel Gutiérrez papers, and the National Association for Chicano Studies records. The Benson Library also serves as the repository for the records of the League of United Latin American Citizens. In 1981 a resource guide, Mexican American Archives at the Benson Collection: A Guide for Users, was published.
Head librarians of the collection have included Carlos E. Castañeda (from 1921 to 1927), Lota May Spell (1927–42), and Nettie Lee Benson (1942–75), for whom the collection is now named. Upon Miss Benson's retirement at the end of August 1975, Laura Gutiérrez-Witt was named head librarian, a position she continued to hold in 1994. By the early 1990s the Benson Collection had grown into a library including 2,000,000 pages of manuscripts, 530,000 books, periodicals, and pamphlets, 19,000 maps, and nearly 20,000 microforms. Its wealth of information has given the collection an international reputation, and scholars from all over the world use its resources.