Category Archives: Acquisistions

Inside Senthil Lending Library.

Vibrant but Vanishing Lending Libraries of South Asia

Inside Eashwari Lending Library.
Inside Eashwari Lending Library.

Throughout the fall of 2018, I was honored to be able to convene UT South Asia Institute’s Seminar Series, “Popular | Public | Pulp: form and genre in South Asian cultural production.”  Throughout the series, speakers explored printed examples of South Asian popular culture—mysteries, romances, comics—as they underscore and grapple with historical and contemporary concerns such as identity, power, & representation.  In addition to interrogating literary approaches, speakers in the series further addressed questions of gender, of sexuality, of caste & religion, and of authority, helping readers and scholars alike challenge what qualifies as “worthy” both in terms of style and substance.

One goal of the series was to draw attention to UT Libraries growing collection of popular and pulp fiction in South Asian languages, a collection that is nationally and internationally unique in gathering and preserving popular materials and subsequently making them available for users.  Beyond publicity, however, the series was also intended to uncover reading and distribution networks for these materials so that I might continue to creatively and productively acquire them while on acquisitions and networking trips to South Asia.  In November and December, and with the generous funding of both UTL and the South Asia Institute, I was privileged to travel to India and more deeply explore a venue repeatedly invoked in the fall speaker series: small lending libraries.

Small lending libraries are a cultural phenomenon throughout South Asia which support themselves through highly localized, neighborhood-based memberships.  Unlike UT Libraries which has a long-term and “long-tail” research agenda, the mission of these lending libraries is to support current and highly popular reading practices, not unlike many small public libraries in the U.S.

Senthil Lending Library.
Senthil Lending Library.

While in Chennai, I was able to visit two lively lending libraries—Easwari and Senthil—to observe their operations, to ask questions about the popularity of particular authors, and to acquire second-hand materials.  Both libraries carry all the bestsellers—in English [Mills and Boon, Harry Potter, James Patterson] and in Tamil [Rajesh Kumar, Indira Soundarajan, Raminichandran]—and experience high circulation of their books.  Because preservation is not part of their mission, the libraries are willing to sell the most ephemeral of their materials, namely monthly periodicals which include crime, detective and “women’s” fiction (romances as well as family dramas).

Eashwari Lending Library.
Easwari Lending Library.
Inside Eashwari Lending Library.
Inside Easwari Lending Library.

Despite the vibrant activity I observed at both these libraries, I am told that lending libraries are slowly vanishing from the South Asian landscape, ceding space to other entertainments and ways of “time pass.”  I was happy to have had the chance to visit these libraries and I do hope they will still be open and serving their readers on my next visit.  If not, though, I am comforted knowing that UT Libraries is participating in documenting and preserving some of this literary and cultural history for researchers long into the future.

 

 

 

 

Mary Rader buying books in Pakistan.

Distinctive Collaboration in Pakistan

Mary Rader book-hunting in Pakistan.The mission of UT Libraries is to “advance teaching, fuel research and energize learning through expansive collections and digital content, innovative services, programs and partnerships to develop critical thinkers and global citizens that transforms lives.”  In recent years, our mission is fulfilled through a number of ongoing thematic “Purposeful Pathways” and short-term focused “Current Priorities.”  In this blogpost, I would like to highlight how my recent efforts in Pakistan demonstrate the realization of a number of our pathways and priorities, namely those related to collections of distinction, collaborative collection development programs, and visibility and impact in the global knowledge ecosystem.

Book stall.
Book stall.

I have written before about UT’s maturing South Asian Popular and Pulp Fiction Collection, both in terms of its growth and in terms its relationship to the national distributed collection for South Asian Studies as supported through the South Asian Cooperative Collection Development Workshops.  With my 2018 trip, I was able to expand the collection’s Pakistani imprints considerably.  For a number of years, we have been working to establish UT’s collection of novels by Ibne Safi as one of, if not the, largest in the world.  While in Pakistan, I was able to meet and work with Ali Kamran, the Managing Director of Sang-e-meel, one of our major vendors, to review and purchase both currently produced Ibne Safi titles as well as out-of-print editions–the former we were able to explore in his office itself, the latter we explored on foot in the second-hand markets of Lahore.  I am excited to receive the new additions soon and to add them to our collection, including that which is represented online and described in a compelling new exhibit by UT iSchool student Nicole Marino.

Speaking in Lahore.
Speaking in Lahore.

While in Lahore, I partnered with my colleague from Cornell University Libraries, Dr. Bronwen Bledsoe, to co-lead a workshop for librarians. The 2-day workshop was sponsored by the Lahore University of Management Sciences (most commonly known as ‘LUMS’) and by the American Institute of Pakistan Studies (known as ‘AIPS,’).  Entitled “Exploring Library Cooperation,” the workshop focused on themes of how to identify opportunities for and strategies to work across institutions to improve access to resources and services.

Librarians in Lahore.
Librarians in Lahore.

Approximately 30 librarians from across Lahore attended, including those from LUMS, Punjab University, Government College University, Kinnaird College for Women, and the Government of Punjab Research Wing.  While our opportunities for collaboration here in the U.S. are deeply embedded in our ongoing work (not only efforts such as the South Asia Cooperative Collection Development Workshops noted above but also structural support such as our robust InterLibrary Services), it was clear from our workshop that our colleagues in Lahore are also interested in working together.  For example, they shared details of their work to more fully describe and digitize their collections, to collectively petition funding agencies to advance their missions, and to continue developing professional networks and strategies for the common good.  I was impressed and inspired by their commitment and enthusiasm and am looking forward to growing these newly formed professional relationships long into the future.

UTL’s Director, Lorraine Haricombe, often cites this maxim: “Working alone, I can go fast, but working together, we can go farther.”  I am excited and committed to continuing to work in cooperative ways and have already seen how far it can take us—at least halfway around the world!