IASC21 Statement: The Value of International Travel for Area Studies Librarians

November 16th, 2016  |  Published in Uncategorized

Despite rapid and pervasive improvements in international communication streams and marketplaces, it is well-recognized within the area studies communities—both scholarly and library-based—that regular travel to/from “the field” is critical to maintaining subject expertise (“authority”) and effective networks (“currency”).  This is no less true for area studies librarians.  In addition to retaining credibility as experts in a field, area studies librarians are also expected to initiate, establish and nurture their international networks (professional, informational and otherwise) through which they can support the work of others, most notably the students and researchers of our universities. Furthermore, and perhaps the most tangible output of this type of travel, librarians can make the one-of-a-kind purchases and negotiations that distinguish and develop our respective collections.

“Foreign travel” is difficult to quantify and distill as multiple activities and goals are achieved in the process, including those that might seem serendipitous or for which the results are deferred.  However, a number of discrete practices are common:

  • Professional development and (re)training within the area of responsibility through interactions with library- and scholarly-communities in the area of research as well as attending conferences, workshops and symposia
  • Networking with project partners and donors
  • Establishment of direct connections with research institutes, libraries, archives and other sources of information which can subsequently be utilized by library staff, faculty and students
  • Creation of new and/or maintenance of established vendor relationships for more cost- and time-effective acquisition of resources as well as opportunities for mutual education
  • Identification and procurement of unique materials
  • Discovery of secondary sources and out-of-print material and identification of publishing trends
  • Exploring, promoting and/or developing open access initiatives, particularly in a “post-custodial” frame of mind
  • Serving as ambassadors of our universities specifically but also of US higher/public education more generally to a greater world

Be it interpreted as “professional development” or “fieldwork,” international travel is essential to the personal, professional, and institutional success of area studies librarians and their respective collection-building and engagement efforts.  As such, the IASC21 community upholds and asserts that international travel is a valued and expected practice—a documentable and measureable critical competency for all area studies librarians.


Michael Biggins
Head, Slavic and East European Section
University of Washington

Su Chen
Head of Richard C. Rudolph East Asian Library
University of California, Los Angeles

Jim Cheng
Director of the C.V. Starr East Asian Library
Columbia University

Cathy Chiu
Head, Area Studies
University of California, Santa Barbara

Dale Correa
Head of the Global Studies Team
University of Texas at Austin

Jose Diaz
Head of Area Studies
The Ohio State University

David Dressing
Head, Area Studies and Global Affairs
University of Notre Dame

Karen Stoll Farrell
Head of Area Studies Department
Indiana University

Jeffrey Ferrier
Curator, Center for International Collections
Ohio University

Marion Frank Wilson
Associate Dean for Collection Development and Archival Collections
Indiana University

Jon Guillian
Head, International Collections Department
University of Kansas

Pamela Graham
Director of Global Studies
Columbia University

Melissa Guy
Head of Collection Development of the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection
University of Texas at Austin

Ellen Hammond
Director, Department of Area Studies & Humanities Research Support
Yale University

Haven Hawley
Chair, Department of Special and Area Studies Collections
University of Florida

Judith Henchy
Special Assistant to the Dean of University Libraries for International Programs
University of Washington

Nerea Llamas
Head, International Studies
University of Michigan

David Magier
Associate University Librarian for Collection Development
Princeton University

Mary Rader
Assistant Director for Research
University of Texas at Austin

Sarah Sussman
Head, International and Area Studies Resource Group
Stanford University Libraries

Kristina Troost
Head, International Area Studies
Duke University

Lidia Uziel
Head, Western Languages Division
Harvard University

Brian Vivier
Coordinator, Area Studies Collections
University of Pennsylvania

Steve Witt
Head, International and Area Studies Library
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Peter Zhou
Assistant University Librarian and Director of C.V. Starr East Asian Library
University of California, Berkeley

November 2016

Primary Sourcing: Traveling for Collection Development

August 24th, 2015  |  Published in Uncategorized

Primary Sourcing: Traveling for Collection Development

James Simon, Center for Research Libraries
with Holly Ackerman, Duke University, and Pushkar Sohoni, University of Pennsylvania

At the 2013 Area and International Studies Librarianship Workshop at Indiana University, Jeffrey Garrett, Northwestern University’s AUL for Special Libraries, provoked the audience with a discussion on “The Future of Area Studies Travel in the Age of Virtual Ubiquity.” His full remarks are viewable on the proceedings of the conference site. Jeff’s lighthearted-yet-serious Top 10 (well, Top 8) lists of “why international travel is no longer necessary” and “why international travel remains relevant for Area Studies librarians” provoked a series of questions among the IASC21 group, foremost among them being “is there still a value in promoting acquisition trips for our subject specialists to build collections?”

Around the same time, we were alerted to two insightful and thought-provoking acquisition trip reports: one by Pushkar Sohoni, South Asia Librarian at the University of Pennsylvania; and the other by Holly Ackerman, Librarian for Latin American, Iberian and Latino Studies at Duke University Libraries. Pushkar’s experiences in South Asia were documented in his excellent post on the “Unique at Penn” blog, and while Holly’s trip to Lisbon, Coimbra and Porto, Portugal was not formally published, her insights (shared in part below) provided ample demonstration of the continuing value of international acquisition trips.

I took the opportunity interview the two together to “compare notes” on their assignments, explore best practices, and discuss ways in which libraries may more effectively exploit acquisition trips to enhance local resources and build the national collection.

James Simon (JS): When advocating for an “extended buying trip” (generally two weeks in length, attending book fairs, meeting with publishers and local vendors, visiting major publishing centers apart from the capital), how do you pitch this to the administration in terms of the usefulness and the case for doing it?

Pushkar Sohoni (PS): This kind of trip keeps you in touch with trends of publishing beyond that which makes the attention of vendors. In India, there is a profusion of presses and a completely unregulated publishing market that you would never discover through regular acquisitions channels. Once you are there, you see what a big bazaar it’s become. Even when vendors are sending you lists, they are leaving out some things. And you want to assess what is being selected against what is available broadly.

Holly Ackerman (HA): I’m lucky at my institution in that I don’t have to “sell” the idea. We have a reasonably large department of Area and International Studies, and they recognize the need. At the same time, there is always a pressure to diminish funds. So you have to remind people of what the value is in this. It is important to monitor publishing trends. Also, the trip may allow you to identify experts and alternative bookstores whose owners/staff are experts in particular areas. In Porto we discovered that a bookstore that has been a mainstay for U.S. academic libraries has become seriously limited by the declining health of its owners. We were able to locate new stores in Porto and to identify 25-30 valuable works published in Coimbra and Porto that did not circulate beyond the region. The extended model proved its worth in allowing us to visit these regional publishing centers.

JS: About the value: do the benefits outweigh the expense and effort of travel? And, what are those benefits?

HA: Book fairs do a lot to encourage librarians from the United States to attend, often including travel incentives. When you get down to the cost of the purchasing, if you buy in volume at a book fair, the savings become quite cost effective: the purchase price is less, the shipping cost are less, and you can find other ways to save (like boxing and sending your own shipments). When you add in the possibility of collateral visits—being able to go to other cities nearby, or cultural events in the city—the savings start to add up. Some of the publishers’ and vendors’ warehouses have thousands of unsold books that we might want. If you buy a volume of things and ship all at once, you save on cost. Plus, they sell their backlog at discount prices.

PS: It is difficult to put a value on the types of library acquisitions that we would never be able to collect had it not been for a visit to the field. The purchase price of material may not be expensive, but the research value of obtaining materials from publishing institutions with no distribution, out of print material, or publications not deemed marketable by vendors is enormous.

JS: What kind of material is falling through the cracks? What would we be missing if not for these trips?

HA: There are some formats in Latin America where the vendors do not systematically collect, like DVDs. The same goes for music CDs. So, on buying trips, you can do collateral buying. What you don’t find at the book fair, you can find in video stores in town in Guadalajara, or Buenos Aires, or Bogota. And in some cases, librarians (such as Adan Griego at Stanford) go out every year and systematically buy items like popular movies.

PS: Especially for ephemera, there are no distribution mechanisms that can substitute for being on the ground. A lot of material is passed along person to person: you cannot acquire them through commercial channels. Certain kinds of right-wing literature, for example, cannot be ordered.

HA: And then there is the issue of cartonera, handmade books made exclusively as street literature.

JS: So, acquisition trips are an important “ground check” on local publishing, as well as on what the vendors are identifying?

PS: All countries used to have some kind of legislative framework by which all publications were to be deposited at the national library. I don’t think deposit legislation is effectively being enforced anymore. There are tons of books that do not show up in national bibliographies. Publishing has become the same as printing now, where local presses just print books—not technically published—in very small runs. And if it is not a well-known press, your vendor is not likely to get them, even though they are still important.

HA: The last time I was at the Bogota book fair, I went to one of the local bookstores and wound up spending $3,000 on publications on human rights, drug issues, and literature that we didn’t have, and in many cases weren’t even in WorldCat. I’m not sure how these slip past the vendors, because these are items that definitely would be part of a profile for us. Somehow, it just doesn’t get collected.

JS: How can these trips help inform our vendors that may miss or disregard materials of importance?

HA: Spending personal time with the vendors gives you an opportunity to let them know what your curriculum is like, who your faculty members are. There is a big difference between telling a vendor to collect “human rights” and to immerse them in the theoretical approach of people doing the work, discussing current interests of graduate students. When they have that more specific knowledge, they can pinpoint materials that may be of use to a particular student. And they are willing to look for and acquire things that they may not have looked for otherwise.

PS: The Library of Congress and other local vendors play an important role in our collecting efforts. But the selectiveness of these agents is shaped by their own interests and notions of what is of value. Wherever I travel, I make an effort to get in touch with academics at a number of local institutions to find out where they buy their source books, and make an effort to follow up.

JS: What do you do to prepare and arrange for these trips? What kind of advice would you give for those just getting started?

HA: Talk to librarians who have traveled more often. For book fairs, look at the program in advance; talk with the local vendors and others who may know that particular book fair. Perhaps travel with other librarians, to share knowledge and spread out investigations. Let the faculty at your institution know that you’re going.

PS: With our faculty, I have standing instructions that if they are buying materials while in the region, in addition to the personal copy they should certainly buy one for the library. I’ve set up arrangements with our vendor to accept boxes of books from any student and have them shipped over. We know the material is useful and will be used. And it guarantees that any citation made by a student is findable within the library. I think it is important to have at least one copy of an item in the U.S. that is cited by a student in their work.

JS: What, in your view, is the “future of area studies travel?” How can we continue to promote the value and enhance the impact of these trips?

PS: One way these trips might be more cost effective is if we were to pool the interests of a group of institutions. Not every institution can have a dedicated librarian for South Asia, nor to fund extensive travel. If we were somehow able to pool requirements, the costs of acquisition can be extended—or perhaps federated—to a number of institutions. In many ways, this is an extension of the shared subject specialist model. Even a small amount of money allocated can go a long way to offset costs of acquisition.

HA: This is happening in a way with the Ivy Plus Libraries [a loose federation of thirteen libraries exploring collaborative initiatives for sharing library materials]. Each institution has faculty working on Brazilian themes. We discovered that even though we have vendors who go all over the country and buy, what we’re getting are mostly things that are published in São Paulo or Rio. So, the group had vendors estimate the costs of the annual academic output for each state of Brazil, and we divided the states among the collective. Some of us are able to make visits to the region for our part of the collecting, and hopefully there will be a real boom of availability of material from all over Brazil.

JS: The idea of extending distributed collecting into “distributed buying trips” is an interesting notion.

HA: Stay tuned.


Chicago-Minnesota Libraries Area-Studies Collections Expertise Exchange

April 1st, 2015  |  Published in Uncategorized

Francophone and Scandinavian Collections Expertise Exchange [FRESCOE]
March 2015

Gordon B. Anderson, University of Minnesota
Sarah G. Wenzel, University of Chicago


Near the beginning of this decade, the librarians for Francophone studies at the University of Minnesota and Scandinavian studies at the University of Chicago left their respective positions to pursue other library opportunities. When this happened, these language-subject responsibilities were transferred to other colleagues. And so it was that French collection development was assigned to Gordon Anderson, Librarian for Scandinavian Studies at the University of Minnesota Libraries and Sarah G. Wenzel, Bibliographer for Literatures of Europe & the Americas at the University of Chicago Library acquired Scandinavian Studies. At first we occasionally consulted one another on advice for acquiring specific titles, but it became clear that our capacities were stretched an area too far. Over the summer of 2013 we worked out a plan for sharing our individual area-studies strengths to facilitate collection development for our two libraries. We submitted a proposal to our respective associate university librarians for their comment and opinion. Their response was most enthusiastic, and in September 2013 the two University Librarians signed a Memorandum of Understanding establishing a formal collection-development partnership between The University of Chicago Library and the University of Minnesota Libraries.

The Arrangement

As stated at the beginning of the Memorandum of Understanding, the two parties have established an

… arrangement to share professional librarian expertise and cooperation in collection development for French and Francophone Studies (Francophone Studies) and Scandinavian Studies. The purpose of this arrangement is to pool our subject and language knowledge and skills for the mutual enrichment of each other’s collections and services. The understanding assumes that resource selections will be made within each Library’s annual appropriation for the respective subject fund and assumes no additional expenditures. –start of the Memorandum of Understanding

This is a cooperative exchange of expertise and labor. Anderson and Wenzel continue to be employed by their home libraries and are not in any official employ of the other library. Our professional responsibilities remain the same: monitoring large monograph collections and serial subscriptions; expediting the spending of the materials funds; identifying and recommending electronic resources; incorporating new media into the collections’ profiles; cultivating relationships with our new faculty clientele and library colleagues; and providing reference service to students and faculty on both campuses.

The Collections

The University of Chicago Library’s Scandinavian Studies Collection has been very strong in Norwegian studies, and more recently the scope of collecting has been broadened to include more literature and history/social-science resources from the other Scandinavian countries. The Library maintains an approval plan for contemporary Norwegian belles-lettres with Norli Libris AS in Oslo. The Library also has a plan with YBP for books in Scandinavian Studies. The major work of Norwegian and Scandinavian collection development has been carried out through firm orders via major vendors’ catalogs, largely Otto Harrassowitz and YBP, and by retrospective purchasing from antiquarian dealers.

As Librarian for European Studies at the University of Minnesota (UofM), Gordon Anderson is responsible for anticipating and fulfilling the present and future needs of the University of Chicago’s Scandinavian-Studies collections, primarily for materials in the Scandinavian languages but also for scholarly resources in English about the Nordic region (which includes Scandinavia).

The University of Minnesota Libraries Francophone Studies Collection is largely Europe-oriented but with significant holdings of current and recent French-language materials from the Americas, Africa, and Asia. French-language books & journals are supplied by Amalivre in Paris. The Libraries maintain a monographs approval plan for French language and literatures (including new works of fiction and belles-lettres) and a plan for French history, the social sciences, and current affairs. The Libraries receive current English-language monographs in Francophone studies via similar plans with Yankee Book Peddler (YBP).

Sarah G. Wenzel, Bibliographer for Literatures of Europe & the Americas at the University of Chicago (UChicago), is a language and area-studies collections expert in Francophone Studies. She is responsible for anticipating and meeting the present and future needs of the University of Minnesota’s French & Francophone Studies collections, primarily for materials in the French language but also for scholarly resources about these French-speaking regions.

Both librarians represent the other’s collection in related library consortia, such as CIFNAL and GNARP, in CRL-hosted Global Resource Network collaboratives, and in CIC-led cooperative acquisitions undertakings.

The process

From the start our faculty and library colleagues were receptive to our project. Sarah and Gordon moved quickly to establish relations with the faculty and to familiarize themselves with the faculty’s teaching and research interests and the strengths of the library collections. Heads of reference have added us to their campus lists of subject experts for on-line and personal reference services. Heads of acquisitions provided us with access and selection rights to the other’s major vendor accounts and viewing and downloading capabilities within the other’s acquisitions system. Thus, we can now view the other’s proprietary electronic resources and related tools, such as in-house trials to new electronic products.

The Memorandum of Understanding calls for site visits to be made to the other’s library and campus at least once per semester. These visits are a special opportunity to meet with faculty and library colleagues.


This is an arrangement between a large state university library and a large private university library. Although the UofM has at least three times the number of students enrolled, in the realm of languages and literatures, the two departments — French & Italian and Germanic Studies –have roughly the same number of full-time faculty and graduate students. Combined with an equal number of area-studies professors affiliated with the language departments, both universities have important area-studies programs in French/Italian and German/Scandinavian/Dutch.

The two treat area-studies collecting somewhat differently. Minnesota follows the area-studies pattern, with one librarian versed in all the disciplines of the arts, humanities and social sciences under the roof of one language area. Chicago follows the language/subject pattern, where subject librarians are responsible for acquiring resources in all relevant languages. In practice, however, no matter the pattern, cooperation among librarians with subject expertise and librarians with language expertise is essential to insure the optimal mix, and neither approach is superior.

In the realm of foreign-language and area-studies collection development and management, a few academic libraries have cautiously tried modest trial projects in the sharing of specific areas of expertise. Examples include the joint hiring of one bibliographer to handle the same collection at more than one library, or jointly hiring a cataloger to process foreign-language materials for several libraries. The Columbia and Cornell University Libraries, through their 2CUL partnership, are embarked on an extensive integration of infrastructure across the libraries. And certain vendors have long provided these kinds of services for groups of libraries, through approval plans, selection profiles, and shelf-ready cataloging of new materials.

The UofM-UChicago exchange is an attempt to pool intellectual resources while keeping financial resources in-house. It is likely that we will see more of this kind of inter-institutional subject-expertise sharing as libraries seek to support the broader academic move, away from traditional foreign-language and area-studies approaches, towards concepts of “international studies” or “global citizenship.” Perhaps future exchanges may even include more than two libraries.


Defining the International and Area Studies Librarian in an Era of Re-Organization

January 26th, 2015  |  Published in Uncategorized

Defining the International and Area Studies Librarian in an Era of Re-Organization
Steve Witt, University of Illinois


Like every sub-field in librarianship, area studies has undergone a steady evolution in response to changes in professional practice, political and economic change, new technologies, and shifts within broader research agendas. On the political spectrum area studies has moved from largess in funding in the combined post-war, post-Sputnik, post-cold war eras to current decreases in funding in what might be called the insipient-global-culture-economic-health-environment-security-era. On the technical end, we’ve moved from challenges in managing the physical output of the world’s publishing to aims to also support access to digital cultural output that ranges from research data to utterances. Through these changes, many institutions have opted to further consolidate the notion of area studies librarianship by developing units or administrative structures that attempt to manage international and area studies collectively while hoping to channel the strengths of area studies into support of new interdisciplinary and transnational imperatives within the academy.

From the outside, area studies librarianship has often been seen as an activity focused primarily on building specialized collections that require extensive linguistic and regional expertise to support selection and curation. This often equates to a rather opaque view of the field that emphasizes perennial problems related to sustaining the funding and staffing needed to build collections.

From within area studies librarianship, the view of the field is much more nuanced and reflects the priorities and cultures that inform the regional milieu. A Japanese studies librarian and a Middle East studies librarian by necessity do their work and must spend their time differently because of the varying infrastructure available to support collection building, availability of linguistic support, copyright laws, publishing traditions, research and teaching foci etc., etc. etc…. This variability replicates itself across regions and across institutions that support area studies collections and services.

A relatively homogenized view from the outside (the people who handle funny shaped writing systems) countered by a highly nuanced view from within, creates unique challenges in communicating realistically the role and value of international and area studies libraries and librarians in a system of academic libraries that is responding to and undergoing many changes that range from new networked models for work, budgetary stress, organizational restructuring, and shifting institutional goals for the role of libraries within the research and scholarly community.

At Illinois, the international and area studies librarians have begun to grapple with these questions in response to becoming an area studies unit and in an attempt to create a common rubric to guide our work and help us achieve our interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary ambitions. This work builds on the establishment of the International and Area Studies Library (IASL) (http://www.library.illinois.edu/ias) in 2012 and from a similar initiative taken by colleagues to define the role of Subject Specialists (http://www.library.illinois.edu/committee/exec/policies/SubjectSpecialistTaskForceReport.htm) within the library. As this process unfolds, we are looking at our history, models provided by other institutions, and opportunities to assert the enduring value of area studies knowledge and expertise within the university as it evolves amidst local and global change.

Overall, we are trying to answer two main questions:

  • Are Area Studies Librarians any different from “Subject Specialists”?
  • If Area Studies Librarians exist beyond a generic notion of language and area specialty, what binds us together as a subfield of librarianship?

Without fully answering these questions, librarians in the IASL have worked to define their work within a broad rubric that emphasizes collaborative engagement with colleagues, students, and scholars. Through this notion of engagement, the IASL attempts to support interdisciplinary research that informs and draws upon both area knowledge and transnational connections. To this aim, the IASL faculty teaches and promotes knowledge related to the societies, cultures, and intellectual output of the countries and regions supported by its expert services and research collections. A core service initiative of the IASL is to expand teaching opportunities beyond the traditional classroom setting by drawing upon the expertise of the librarians to make international and area studies resources accessible, engaging, and relevant to the campus’ research, teaching, and engagement efforts. These activities also support key campus research and teaching missions to promote cultural and international understanding while engaging in dialogue focused on tolerance and diversity within a pluralistic society. The new Chai Wai lecture series is one example of this (https://publish.illinois.edu/iaslibrary/2014/10/22/chai-wai-series-migrants-immigrants-refugees/).

In addition to the broad domains of activity and competence that all UIUC’s subject librarians build into their positions descriptions (such as scholarly communication, publishing and teaching and learning), a few highlight the special efforts needed by area studies librarians, including

ENGAGEMENT – Serve as a liaison to and active member of the area studies faculty on campus to collaborate in research and teaching activities that focuses on area studies and allied interdisciplinary fields.

COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT – Develop and manage unique and distinctive collections that support both local — institutional needs, while also contributing to the “national” area studies collection that serves scholars and researchers in institutions throughout the US and world.

FIELDWORK – Conduct regular fieldwork within the regions of expertise to facilitate collection building, developing scholarly networks, and maintaining expertise in the publishing, research, and cultural trends within the region.

TECHNICAL SERVICES – Stay abreast of trends in authority control, transliteration, and cataloging standards that impact access and discovery of foreign language and non-Roman materials. Collaborate with staff in library technical services departments to ensure access to scholarly resources and communicate changes in publishing, access, and distribution that impacts acquisitions and cataloging activities.

OUTREACH TO CONSTITUENCIES BEYOND UIUC – Participate in programs that reach out to groups beyond UIUC to fulfill special program requirements (e.g. Title VI) as part of the library’s collaboration with regional centers as well as with local community groups.

This broad definition of area studies librarianship at Illinois is still under construction and under active debate among the IASL librarians. As we work to further articulate this aspirational description of our work in international and area studies, we anticipate many questions.

Looking at our work collectively, however, exposes several binding features. For example, international and area studies librarians consciously contribute to what amounts to a collective area studies collection that enables both broad access to materials and expertise in a manner that does not exist in other disciplines and subject areas. Whether formal or in-formal, we have created an intricate system of cooperative collection building. Also, our engagement with colleagues, faculty, and students as members of both a library faculty and the field we serve distinguishes our ability to work collaboratively across institutions and regions to promote international and area studies as an epistemology to be used in approaching multiple domains of knowledge. This theoretical underpinning of our work rests in a belief that our services, collections, and research activities contribute to our professional work as librarians, our scholarly discipline, and the academic community as a whole. Is this enough to create the conditions for a collective approach to access and services and enable the development of service models that operate at the scale of our cooperative collecting ambitions?

As discussions on the “definition” of the international and area studies librarian continues at Illinois, we look forward to continued debate and contributions to the conversation from other institutions. Coming to a shared understanding of our work and its contributions to society will only enable further collaboration and new forms of services that can take better advantage of the unique and distributed nature of our expertise and collections.

New IASC21 Issue Briefs Series

April 24th, 2014  |  Published in Uncategorized

New IASC21 Issue Briefs Series
Pamela Graham, Columbia University


This Issue Brief Series is an outcome of the meetings and discussions that have been taking place since 2012 among managers and directors of international and area studies collections in U.S. academic libraries.  A collective of interested individuals, going by the name of International and Area Studies Collections in the 21st Century (IASC21), first convened at Yale in the fall of 2012 at a small working conference sponsored by the libraries of Yale, Columbia and Duke.

The impetus for the 2012 IASC21 meeting was the lack of a forum to bring together individuals who manage and direct area studies programs within research libraries coupled with an awareness of the value of building such a community as we confront common challenges and transformative forces. We have a strong tradition of professional library organizations dedicated to functional work areas (see for example the ALA committees on reference, cataloging, and so on) and to major regions of collecting interest (e.g. Council on East Asian Libraries, CONSALD, SALALM etc.). Similarly, the Center for Research Libraries has supported and hosted several preservation projects focused on world regions (a.k.a. the “AMPs” or Area Microform Projects). Within each region, these projects have achieved an impressive record of work but opportunities to share information across projects have been limited.  In sum, then, despite sharing common needs, goals, and interests, we hitherto had lacked bridges across these groups and a means of sharing and exchanging best practices and success stories.

In 2012, the IASC21 participants identified issues and challenges as well as strengths and potentials related to our international and world area collecting programs. Two points were especially clear: first, we needed a forum for discussion and action within our own community; and second, we needed to foster and sustain better and more meaningful communication about area studies collections and services, to engage the widest possible audience.

Since 2012, a number of meetings of area and international studies librarians have been convened (the Forum on Global Dimensions of Scholarship at Duke and the Area Studies Librarianship Workshop at Indiana University), adding momentum and deepening the networks among interested individuals. Building upon these confluences, IASC21 participants continue the grassroots development of our professional community and pursue avenues to collectively address our common needs.

This series of issue briefs is designed to focus on specific challenges relating to international and area studies collections and librarianship, highlighting opportunities and innovative approaches that may have broader applicability across the community. “Briefs” are designed to be brief: they concisely state the specific challenge or issue, summarize the approach taken, and summarize outcomes, including lessons learned and best practices. Where appropriate, we provide pointers to more information for those who wish to delve deeper.

The briefs aim to generate open conversation and cross-talk. We seek to open lines of communication not only between established area studies library groups but between area studies librarianship and larger communities of interest. We invite many voices into this conversation, both through posting comments and through the contribution of Issue Briefs from a variety of sources. We also welcome briefs that propose solutions and approaches in the planning or brainstorming phases.

In the spirit of collaboration and open communication, we welcome your feedback on current Issue Briefs and solicit your suggestions for future Briefs.  Please contact us!
Pamela Graham, Columbia University
Mary Rader, University of Texas at Austin
James Simon, Center for Research Libraries

South Asia Cooperative Collection Development Workshops

April 24th, 2014  |  Published in Cooperative Collection Development, Distributed Print Collecting

South Asia Cooperative Collection Development Workshops
James Simon, Center for Research Libraries
Mary Rader, University of Texas at Austin


Major theme(s) addressed:

Cooperative Collection Development
Distributed Print Collecting

Context / background of project

Collecting for South Asian studies faces similar challenges as other international and area studies groups. Foremost among the collection development pressures are a) a burgeoning print publication environment in the region, paired with b) static acquisition budgets. This has resulted in relatively flat collecting levels by academic libraries even as the scope of available publications has grown significantly over time.

Since 1962 the Library of Congress has maintained offices abroad to acquire, catalog, preserve, and distribute library and research materials from countries where such materials are essentially unavailable through conventional acquisitions methods. There are approximately 35 major academic institutions that collect materials from South Asia through the Library of Congress Cooperative Acquisitions Programs (LC-CAP) in New Delhi, India and Islamabad, Pakistan. This poses a threat to a diversified North American collection, as well an opportunity to identify areas of collaboration among participants utilizing a common vendor.

Responding to the imperative to collaborate, since 2010 South Asian Studies librarians have been hosting annual workshops to collectively identify and explore opportunities for cooperation and to put the resultant ideas into action. Recognizing the ubiquity of our common vendor, and the clear pressures to maintain efficiencies in selection, acquisition and description workflows, initial 2010 and 2011 workshops involved adjustments to monographic approval plans and serial subscriptions maintained by LC-CAP. The 2012 workshop saw participants declaring a wide-range of niche collecting interests based on institutional strengths and librarians’ knowledge while the 2013 workshop encouraged reflection upon how we communicate the successes, value, and impact of our collective work, both within our own cooperative structure as well as externally to faculty, administrators, and the library community.

Approaches to topic

The following preliminary assessments were undertaken to identify areas of collaboration:

  • Bibliographer survey to identify the major contours of collection priorities and institutional needs, compared to bibliographer expertise and local collection methods.
  • Analysis of OCLC data on monograph and serial collections across participants, assessed by country and language of publication.
  • Cross-tabulation of profiles / serial title subscriptions for LC-CAP participants.
  • Comparison of interlibrary loan and retention policies of participant institutions, to ensure access to dispersed resources.

Innovative Approaches (“Best Practices”)

For each workshop, organizers conduct open discussions of institutional priorities and needs, concerns of institutions, and potential roadblocks to success.

Participation is voluntary, with the caveat that institutions wishing to participate are expected to commit fully to the assigned exercises (“no lurkers”). Participants are required to achieve “buy-in” from their collection officer to ensure institutional commitment.

Commitments resulting from the cooperative activity are “cost neutral.” Commitments do not presuppose greater investment by institutions, but rather reallocation of resources to achieve diversity.

Rather than rehearsing off-cited debates over the “middle ground” of “core” collections, participants in the first two “South Asia Cooperative Collection Development Workshops” were encouraged to focus their attention on both the “lesser covered” and the “already well covered” subjects (in the case of monographs) or titles (in the case of serials) when considering collaboratively-focused alterations to their collection plans.

The workshops are designed to be flexible, lightweight, and iterative. Participants are expected to routinely report on changes to commitments, notable successes or setbacks.

Outcomes/lessons learned

Through the workshops, over $18,000 worth of annual monographic acquisitions funding was redirected and almost 600 serial subscriptions were altered, both activities which have reduced redundancy and increased diversity in the North American collection of South Asian material. In order to continue exploring collective opportunities while allowing new selection decisions to mature, subsequent workshops focused less heavily on LCCAP/vendor-dominated decision-making and more on local support for the overarching public good.

Rather than focusing on “transformative” change, the workshops seek to address “small but meaningful” shifts in the North American collection, relying on grassroots initiatives to inform and shape the diversity of our collective collection.

More information

2010 Workshop Report [monographic distribution]

2011 Workshop Report [serial distribution]

2012 Workshop Report [library specialization]

2013 Workshop Report [assessment and communication]



  • Bronwen Bledsoe, South Asia Curator, Cornell University
  • Mary Rader, Global Studies Coordinator / South Asia Librarian, University of Texas Libraries
  • James Simon, Director, Global Resources Network, Center for Research Libraries