When it comes to acquiring research materials at the tier-1 research level, not everything can be delivered to your front door. There are no routes librarians can explore online to purchase materials because countries do not have the same framework as the US. And even if a librarian discovers a method for shipping, in reality, often it is cheaper for librarians to pack collections with them on airplanes.
To maintain UT’s subject expertise and to help build and steward effective networks abroad, librarians need to go overseas to make negotiations — face-to-face — for one-of-a-kind purchases that distinguish and develop UT’s collections.
Along with acquiring materials, even more important, it is the responsibility of the librarian to set in motion international relationships, and nurture them, and create mutual education with our partners abroad on behalf of the Forty Acres.
The University of Texas at Austin is unique. We are the only university in Texas where librarians travel and function like ambassadors. As a result, our collections serve all researchers in Texas and many of our collection items serve as the only copy for the US. Library projects in South & Central America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East keeps the Forty Acres active in the global community.
This spring, the University of Texas Libraries will embark on a crowdfunding campaign to ensure that $20,000 is raised by April 19 so librarians may make acquisition trips in 2020.
For 134 years, the University of Texas Libraries have committed to building one of the greatest library collections in the world. New knowledge emerges only if we continue to expand the universe of information we make available to the Forty Acres, Texas and the world.
Will you help us build and keep our bridges with the international community intact?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, cited by many as the collection of record for Latin America in this hemisphere, is home to some of the most unique and rare collections on the Forty Acres and beyond.
Make no mistake, the Benson is more than just a special collection.
The groundbreaking LLILAS Benson partnership—a collaboration with the world-renowned Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies—is emblematic of the future of libraries. It embeds librarians in the research cycle and curriculum and produces access to unique digital resources that are available globally, further cementing UT Austin as a research destination physically and digitally.
Over the last century, librarians and archivists associated with the Benson have pushed the boundaries of collecting, preserving, and providing access to information. Most notable among these are Carlos Castañeda, Nettie Lee Benson herself, Laura Gutiérrez-Witt, Ann Hartness, David Block, Julianne Gilland and most recently, Melissa Guy.
The legacies of these great leaders lives on today as this generation of librarians continues to travel to places like Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Cuba, and more, returning to Austin with resources of all types: books, magazines, and journals discovered in tiny, hidden bookshops, cluttered train station bookstalls, or through miraculous acts of exploration at international book festivals. Many materials, like maps, political pamphlets, and children’s books, would never find their way to the Benson otherwise. These gems provide researchers with unique snapshots of Latin America.
The year 2021 marks the Benson’s centennial, yet the future is anything but certain. With the rising cost of resources, endowments supply much-needed annual support for the Benson. We need your help to take the Benson into the next century. Former head librarian Laura Gutiérrez-Witt has graciously pledged to match the first $20,000 donated to the endowment she generously created, The Robert Charles Witt and Laura Gutiérrez-Witt Library Fund for Latin America.
With the generous support of the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies and the Center for European Studies I was recently able to travel to Frankfurt and Prague to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair and purchase books for the UT Libraries’ collections. In addition to meeting with vendors and participating in the international community of librarians, booksellers, and publishers at the book fair, I collected materials that continued to grow the UT Libraries’ collection of European zines and artists’ books.
The Frankfurt Book Fair is the world’s largest book fair, and has been held for more than 500 years. The fair consistently has over 7,000 publishers represented, and attracts visitors from all over the world. Each year a country is chosen as the fair’s guest of honor; this year’s guest was France. As such, there was a particularly strong focus on French culture, writers, and publishers, with the aim of highlighting and promoting France’s literary culture to the world.
The book fair offered many opportunities to learn about and participate in the international library and publishing communities. I was able to participate in meet-ups of other librarians, visit with vendors, and view lectures on new technologies on the vanguard of the library and publishing worlds. In addition to attending the book fair itself, I was able to participate in the New Directions for Libraries, Scholars, and Partnerships Symposium organized by the Center for Research Libraries (CRL), in part due to a competitive stipend I received from the funds of the Collaborative Initiative for French Language Collections (CIFNAL) and the German-North American Resources Partnership (GNARP). The symposium was held at the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, or German National Library, also in Frankfurt.
The symposium further allowed me to meet with and forge relationships with an international community of librarians, scholars, and publishers. Presenters at the symposium included librarians and researchers from Harvard, the Newberry Library, various German universities, and the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, as well as representatives from prominent European publishers. As the European Studies Librarian in PCL, being able to hear presentations from such a broad swath of perspectives was very informative and relevant to my subject areas, and I look forward to continuing to foster a sense of community and collaboration with these colleagues.
In Prague, I visited bookstores and acquired materials with the aim of improving our collection of European artists’ books and zines. The materials I bought will be made available in the Fine Arts Library special collections, and complement similar materials I acquired in Russia while on an acquisitions trip last year. Many of these books are unique to UT Austin’s holdings, meaning they are not available in any other academic libraries.
This trip allowed me the opportunity to represent UT Austin internationally to a diverse group of colleagues and industries, and I’m grateful that I was able to serve in such a capacity. I look forward to continuing to build both our distinctive holdings and our relationships with colleagues in the library and publishing worlds.
The UT Libraries has been busy working on our role in national collaborations for deepening and diversifying South Asian collections while simultaneously making them more accessible. One of these efforts exemplifies our multi-pronged approach, namely the growing — albeit idiosyncratic — niche collection in popular and pulp fiction in regional South Asian languages. The various projects associated with this collection have harmoniously united to form a synergy of resources for scholars of South India.
On a brief acquisitions trip to South India last year, Mary Rader, the South Asia Librarian and Global Studies coordinator, obtained a treasure trove of popular and pulp fiction novels to jumpstart our efforts. These novels were primarily in Telugu, the chief language of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and third most spoken language in India.
Popular and pulp fiction literature gained popularity across India during the 1950s and 1960s — a time of tremendous social activism in the subcontinent. For example, after India gained independence in 1947, many social reformists and their movements sought to encourage women to learn to read and write. As a result of these efforts, women writers across the socioeconomic spectrum took advantage of the medium of popular and pulp fiction to address contemporary societal dilemmas. The issues these women wrote about included problems they faced personally as well as those issues that permeated throughout Indian culture. Thanks to these movements, the 1960s were dominated by female writers who wrote fiction that subtly critiqued social issues while piquing the interest of the common reader with imaginative storylines and exuberant characters. In this vein, pulp and popular fiction presented a very raw and realistic take on life, which allowed the middle class to see elements of their lived experiences within the confines of these beautifully illustrated, modest books.
These popular and pulp fiction authors also had close connections with the movie industry, aside from writing for popular cinema magazines. Another one of the authors whose works we have acquired — Yaddanapūḍi Sulōcanārāṇi — wrote sought-after fiction that was frequently used as the plot of many successful Telugu movies. Her love stories and dramas were popular for younger generations and directors such as K. Viswanath adapted her stories into extremely popular films that addressed a wide array of social issues.
Another set of contemporaneous novelists replicated the detective novel literature that was popular in the U.S. during the 1930s and 1940s. Proliferous authors like Sāmbaśivarāvu Kommūri, Madhubābu, and Rāmmōhanarāvu Sūryadēvara produced dozens of novels providing quick entertainment while still addressing contemporary social issues in a more informal context.
As we continue to develop this distinctive niche collection, we are also working to make our Telugu materials more accessible. As part of the South Asian Language Journals Cooperative Table of Contents Project (SALToC), we have been annotating Telugu journals within the Libraries’ collection. As we worked on the annotations, unique parallels with our pulp and popular fiction emerged. Our first contribution to SALToC was the creation of a table of contents for Āndhrasacitra vārapatrika, a 200+ issue weekly cinema magazine that included short stories by amateur authors. In the early 1960s, weekly and monthly journals like Āndhrasacitra vārapatrika flooded the market with editors who eagerly encouraged women to write. Many of the short stories written by these women gained critical acclaim. In particular, a short story called “Sampenga Podalu” or Tuberose Vines, written by C. Ananda Ramam in Āndhrasacitra vārapatrika, jumpstarted her career as a successful popular fiction novelist. Similarly, another of the authors whose works we have acquired – Dvivēdula Viśālākṣi – had the beginning of her career founded in a short story she wrote for another one of these popular journals.
We have a lot more annotating, researching, and acquiring to do and we have started work in other regional languages like Tamil and Malayalam. In the meantime, check out the amazing resources we are compiling.
Written by Sricharan Navuluri — South Asia Library Assistant working with Global Studies Coordinator Mary Rader.
As the UT Libraries bibliographer for Hebrew, Jewish, and Israel studies, one of my favorite parts of my job is the selection and acquisition of resources for our collection. I feel lucky that I have the opportunity to shape and enhance our holdings, as other librarians did before me, so that current and future patrons would benefit from a strong and valuable collection. Whereas most of this activity is done at my office, communicating online with local and international vendors, once a year I have the opportunity to go on an acquisition trip and get my hands dirty.
Acquisitiontrips are important because they make possible the purchase of otherwise hard to get unique, non-mainstream items. In addition, cultivating long-term close relationships with local vendors and scholars is essential in order to build a strong collection. Knowledge of the local culture and publishing trends, coupled with personal relationships and ongoing collection work, allow me to better serve faculty and student research needs and requests.
During my last trip to Israel in May 2015, I managed to put my hands on some unique Israeli cinema resources. Some of these titles are unique holdings among academic libraries around the world, i.e. they are held either only by the UT Libraries or by fewer than 3 institutions. For example, the rare journal Omanut ha-kolnoa (“The art of cinema”), which I accidently have found in a dusty second hand book store in Tel Aviv, is held only by the Libraries and the National Library of Israel. Sefer ha-tasrit ha-katsar (“The short screenplay book”), published by the Tel Aviv University Film Department, is held only by the Libraries. Other unique resources in this subject area include Israeli film festival catalogs and short films on DVDs produced by Tel Aviv University students and never published or distributed commercially. These and other resources of Israeli cinema that we hold make our collection in this subject area a unique and distinctive collection among academic institutions in the United States and around the world.
Getting hold of those unique items would sometimes require an extensive leg work, pun intended. While visiting Israel, I spent a significant amount of time canvassing the streets, visiting second hand book stores, looking for those items. Many stores are not necessarily in the big cities — Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or Haifa — but in the periphery, usually in Kibbutzim (collective communities). Some of these visits were pre-arranged before my trip, and some were done on-the-fly, especially those to stores in remote areas. Some of these second hand stores would have a searchable online inventory, but the advantage of visiting in person is the personal relationship with the owner. By now I am in contact with many of these vendors, who set aside the good stuff for me before adding it to their inventory.
Cultivating personal rapport has a big impact when it comes to acquiring unique or rare materials. One example of this strategy is my encounter with Ms. Leah Bernshtain Gilboa, who wrote a book about her husband’s combat unit during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. This unique personal narrative was researched, produced, and self-published by the author, printed in only 300 copies, and distributed among former comrades, friends, and relatives. The author’s son was a presenter at a conference I attended in Montreal, just before I left for Israel. When I was chatting with him, he told me about the book and urged me to contact his mother while in Israel, so I did, and we have met one evening in Tel Aviv. The book is now part of the Libraries’ collections, a unique holding among academic libraries around the world! This is a perfect example of a relatively new book (published in 2014) which did not make it to the mainstream market, and which I was able to acquire due to a personal encounter.
In early January of this year, Libraries’ collections development staff traveled to Doha, the only major city and capital of the small Persian Gulf country Qatar. Although in English our convention is to say the Persian Gulf, Qataris in fact speak a dialect of Arabic. This was a particularly exciting opportunity because Qatar was new territory for Middle Eastern Studies at the Libraries. Although the Middle Eastern Studies staff have traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, Qatar just had not made the list until this year. This fact presented challenges that have proven useful to our professional development, most notably in gaining experience with utilizing professional relationships that lead to local, on-the-ground contacts in unfamiliar locales.
This trip was instrumental in three principal ways: first, for enhancing the Libraries’ distinctive collection in Middle Eastern Studies, especially in the areas of Islamic law and Persian Gulf Studies; second, for getting a sense of the research environment in Qatar; and third, for our professional development.
One of the reasons that January was chosen as the ideal time for this trip (besides the weather being much more pleasant than the Persian Gulf in summer) was to attend the Doha International Book Fair.
We could say that book fairs in Arabic-speaking countries are a big deal, but that would be an understatement. The Cairo International Book Fair, which we have attended in the past, is the largest of the book fairs in the Middle East. It is part scholarly paradise and part carnival. Whole families come out to look at books, make purchases, and find unique materials for their children. The Doha Book Fair was similar, especially as the fair itself put an emphasis on children’s literature.
Armed with a booth map and publisher lists, we started working the book fair on the night of its opening. One of our new colleagues – so new that we met for the first time in Doha through our professional contacts – was in charge of a booth for an interfaith center, and another was a professor at the Georgetown Qatar School of Foreign Service. Yet another was a graduate student in the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies and a Doha local. Their insights and recommendations for local presses and the best ways to get around town and the book fair were indispensable. Continue reading →
The Libraries recently joined a national program to deepen and diversify the national collection for South Asian Studies and focused on a new niche for collection efforts: pulp fiction in South Asian languages.
While the Libraries holds one of the largest and broadest collections of South Asian material in the country, there is also a recognized need to remain active and creative in supporting the sometimes idiosyncratic but always deep research of the scholars at our universities — research that could not be undertaken without unique, international and multilingual collections at their disposal.
Beyond our local needs, however, we also feel the imperative to acquire and preserve materials in US research libraries, lest the ever present dangers of politics, funding and environment threaten them being lost forever — recent news stories of tragic weather events or the destruction of objects from art museums only further drive this point home.
Thus, large research libraries are striving to keep these deep, distinctive collections at the forefront through cooperative collection development initiatives across institutions. In 2014, the Libraries joined a national collaboration for South Asian collections through which librarians across the country seek to leverage existing practices in order to develop simultaneously a robust national collection and unique local collections. There’s a recognition that materials supporting the long-tail of research do not need to be duplicated across many U.S. institutions; rather, harnessing individual skill sets, building upon local interests and working with backroom technical support, the Libraries have concentrated on local niche specializations to develop.
Recently, Libraries’ collections development staff began exploring a relatively narrowly focused pulp fiction collection that the Libraries can provide in support of this distributed national collection. While on a brief acquisitions trip to India in early 2015, I was able to seek out and acquire a number of popular literature titles in Telugu language (one of the languages we teach here at UT) that would not have been represented in the national collection if I had not picked them up while in Hyderabad. That booksellers were reluctant to sell them to a research library as they are not “proper literature” and are “really for time pass for women” is another story for another time; for now, let’s remind ourselves that approved subjects of research change over time — what was once dismissed (women’s literature, popular culture, and the like) is now hot stuff.
The Telugu materials that were chosen for acquisition parallel the pulp detective novels that were prevalent and popular in the American 1930s and 1940s — an era that produced the likes of Dashiell Hammett and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Regional expressions of the genre exist in many South Asian languages; for example, Hindi pulp emerged in the 1950s and became extremely popular — especially as a diversion for train passengers — and remained so until the digital age. Capturing and preserving as many examples of the genre from the region will help us further understand pulp as both a literary movement and cultural documentation.
In light of current trends in scholarship that indicate a growing interest in unconventional or non-traditional subject matter, it only makes sense to focus efforts on collections practices that enhance these underrepresented areas for the benefit of research and casual interest.
There’s a growing scholarly interest in everyday and popular literature as a venue to explore and understand the production of culture. For examples of efforts in this vein, the work of recent UT graduate Laura Brueck or recent publications such as the Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction. There’s also an increasing recognition and appreciation for the cultural artifactual value of common materials. The covers of recently acquired pulp fiction titles in Telugu are suggestive in many ways — ways common to printed literature everywhere, as a recent library presentation by English professor Janine Barchas suggests.
The Libraries are excited about this new collecting area and through foreign acquisitions trips in 2016, with plans to develop it in other languages as well, most notably Tamil and Malayalam. Stay tuned to keep watching this unique and distinctive collection grow….