Donor Story

Achieving Visionary Acquisition

Couple’s Gifts to UNM Libraries Preserve the Past to Serve the Future

By Hilary Mayall Jetty

Posted March 15, 2015

UNM President James F. Zimmerman (1927-1944) realized that the University could achieve national prominence by building on the strengths and living traditions of its connections with Spain and Latin America. He actively recruited leading scholars and created a center for Inter-American (later, Latin American) Studies.


Russ and Revathi Davidson enjoy the annual Presidential Scholarship Program dinner this past spring with the scholar they sponsored, Victoria Lucero, who graduated cum laude last May with a BA degree in Spanish. Victoria is now a first-year graduate student in Hispanic Southwest Studies in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at UNM’s College of Arts and Sciences. Photo: Jodi Newton

Zimmerman knew that a robust expansion of related library holdings was essential for faculty, research and instruction. “He was both pragmatic and visionary in providing the impetus and funding for acquiring important materials,” noted Russ Davidson, former curator of Latin American and Iberian Collections at UNM’s Zimmerman Library. “After all, New Mexico had spent more time as part of the Spanish empire than as a U.S. territory and state.”

Russ’ introduction to Latin America, a 1960s Peace Corps experience in Panama, led to a 25-year career at the heart of UNM’s main campus—and the recent establishment of two major endowments in the College of University Libraries and Learning Sciences.

Honoring the foresight of UNM’s seventh president, Russ established the James F. Zimmerman Endowment for Latin American Materials and Programs, which supports the acquisition of specialized research materials, as well as programs and publications informing U.S. and international students and scholars about the collections.

“The collection has a full range of materials and formats,” Davidson explained, “from rare books, periodicals, microforms, posters and pamphlets, to manuscripts, maps, photos and digital resources. The holdings in art and art history are particularly strong, ranking among the top three nationally. People come here from all over the world to access these materials.”

Russ’ appreciation for historical and cultural materials was kindled in the 1970s, while pursuing a PhD in history with a Latin American concentration at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. There he met and eventually married Revathi Ananthakrishnan, a sociology student from India. His dissertation research took the couple to Colombia, where Russ explored the National Archives in Bogotá.

“I loved working with manuscripts and rare books as physical objects,” he said, “and the associations that old materials possess really intrigued me. So I decided to get a degree in librarianship and pursue a career in special collections, in a library that emphasized Latin America.”

At the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Revathi earned her master’s degree in public health and Russ received his library science degree in 1978. His focus and timing were fortuitous—the following year he became a “Latin Americanist” at Zimmerman Library. Revathi began a career that would span 34 years with Presbyterian Healthcare Services, as a program director and eventual hospital administrator.

Leading a team dedicated to further development of the Latin American collections at Zimmerman Library, Russ traveled extensively to locate new acquisitions, forging connections with networks of academics and book dealers. Howard Karno, a renowned Latin American bookseller, became a trusted friend and ally in the search.

In tribute to their long and productive association, Russ established The Howard L. Karno Endowment for Latin American Pictorial Collections to enrich the holdings of rare visual resources.

“The Karno Endowment secures much-needed funding for this specialized and often expensive focus on the visual arts,” said Suzanne Schadl, PhD, curator of Latin American Collections at UNM Libraries and one of Russ’ successors after his 2004 retirement. “This sets UNM’s Latin American collections apart from other notable libraries’ holdings, while embracing New Mexico’s commitment to the arts.”

Michael Kelly, associate dean for scholarly resources and director of the Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections, acknowledged Russ’ contributions. “Russ’ intellectual and resourceful development of UNM’s Latin American library collections, and his generous philanthropy, will continue to support scholarly research for many decades to come,” he said.

Members of the New Horizons Society and the Tom L. Popejoy Society, the Davidsons also fund a Presidential Scholarship in Spanish and Portuguese at the College of Arts and Sciences, thanks to Revathi’s delight in having taken six years of Spanish classes on campus. They intend to create another Presidential Scholarship in music at the College of Fine Arts.

As for the couple’s significant gifts to the UNM Libraries, Russ remarked, “A collection will stagnate if it isn’t renewed, and it can only be renewed if people put resources into it. One has to find something they believe in, something the University excels in, or potentially will excel in. For me, this was a natural.”

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