Distinctive, Collaborative Collections Work in the Subcontinent

Regular travel “to the field” is an indispensable tool in the area studies librarian’s toolkit.  Firsthand knowledge of the cultural, political and intellectual context for the production and distribution of information resources is essential to maintaining both our expertise and currency in support of the global literacy being nurtured and developed here at UT.  I was fortunate to travel to India again this January due to the generosity of UT’s South Asia Institute and the many donors to UTL’s 2019 Hornraiser funding campaign.  I am immensely grateful to both for supporting this mission-critical acquisitions-, networking-, and professional development work! 

This year, I was able to visit 3 north Indian cities (Delhi, Lucknow and Varanasi) and I was able to achieve 3 major goals:

  • Acquire distinctive materials for UT’s collections, including materials specifically requested by UT faculty to advance their teaching and research but also books in Hindi and Urdu that will deepen our ever-growing South Asian Popular and Pulp Fiction Collection
woman in sales transaction with man in black coat and hat, in a book stall
Buying pulp fiction titles in Lucknow.
twelve people (from the english department at the university of lucknow and librarian mary rader) standing, smiling for the camera.
With the English Department at the University of Lucknow
  • Advance post-custodial open access efforts on South Asian Studies, including recently completed and collaboratively funded digitization projects, for example the newly available journals (Viplav, Viplavi Tract and Baagi), while simultaneously advocating the use of open access initiatives such as the South Asia Open Archive

One project I have been working on for the past 5 years exemplifies the type of work we UT global studies liaisons try to do while traveling abroad: the Sajjad Zaheer Digital Archive.  The opportunity to digitize the papers of the 20th century Progressive Writer, Mr. Sajjad Zaheer, was brought to me back in 2014 by 3 UT professors—Kamran Ali (Anthropology), Akbar Hyder (Asian Studies) and Snehal Shingavi (English)—as all 3 used Sajjad Zaheer’s work in their scholarship.  As the Zaheer family had made an MoU with Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD) to be the physical home of the collection, over multiple trips to Delhi and via countless email messages over the years, I worked with both the family members and with representatives of AUD’s Centre for Community Knowledge to inventory the collection, to get permissions to digitize the material, and to put the resulting files online in an open access repository.  Successful appeals to UT’s South Asia Institute and the South Asia Materials Project (SAMP) at the Center for Research Libraries for funding and eventual hosting of the archive enabled the work.  I used connections I had made on previous trips to facilitate the careful scanning work with digitization partners in India (the Roja Muthiah Research Library).  At our meeting this year in Delhi, we celebrated the completion of our initial objectives—digitally preserved and openly accessible copies of the collection

archival photo of three people (Sajjad Zaheer, Jawaharlal Nehru and Nehru's daughter) on a stone pathway in a garden
Photo from the Online Archive of Zaheer with his daughter and India’s 1st Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Digital collections are never done, however, so we also used this year’s meeting to put our heads together to explore ways to improve access and discovery of the archive (a digital humanities project currently underway at UTL, again generously funded by UT’s South Asia Institute) and to think of other authors’ work we would like to present in similar ways.  The project may have taken 5 years but they were productive, cooperative, and mutually beneficial years.  I can only hope for such success in future projects!

On the Road to Korea

Thanks to generous funding from donors to a 2019 Hornraiser crowdfunding effort and support from UT Libraries, I was able to visit Korea and Taiwan in October.  In this blog post, I highlight the Korea portion of my trip—if you’d like to learn more about Taiwan, just ask!  I’m happy to share my experience with all interested!  While in Korea, I was able to do much of my usual liaison librarian work but with considerably increased efficiency and depth because I was “in context.”  For example, I was able to (re)connect with vendors, to attend scholarly and cultural events, and to participate in conferences, all related to and in support of the Korean Studies programs here at UT.

The primary focus of my trip was to attend the “2019 Overseas Korean Studies Librarian Workshop”  sponsored by and held at the National Library of Korea (NLK) in Seoul on from October 14-17.I arrived in Korea a week before the workshop so that my colleague Julie Wang of SUNY Binghamton Libraries and I could attend the 24th Busan International Film Festival, one of the most significant film festivals in Asia, to visit vendors, and to meet with the Korea Foundation. At the film festival, we were lucky to have the opportunity to listen to a group of rising documentary Asian directors about their films—films in all languages not just Korean.

Meeting the directors of Asian Short Film Competition.

We also visited our database vendors KSI and Nurimedia to learn of their current programs and future plans. We were delighted to learn that KSI is working on an English interface for its database KISS  and that they expected to launch it in the summer 2020. (Nurimedia’s database DBpia & KRpia already have English interfaces.)  Along the way, we were joined by Wen-ling Liu of Indiana University and the three of us U.S.-based librarians to visit the Korea Foundation (KF). The Korea Foundation has been partially supporting our subscription of KSI and Nurimedia’s e-resources and providing the Library with print materials, both through annual grant applications. The Foundation headquarters is in Jeju Island (a 70-minute-flight away from Seoul) and so we were particularly grateful that three of the Foundation staff flew in to Seoul to meet with us, explain their programs, and listen to our concerns.

The following week, we were all participants in the “Overseas Korean Studies Librarian Workshop,” a workshop generously funded by the National Library of Korea.  This workshop is designed for overseas librarians who are non-Korean-native and whose job responsibilities include Korean subject areas. Participants came from ten countries (in three continents!), including 17 librarians from academic, national, public and theological seminary libraries and one art historian from a university. None of the participants is solely a Korean studies librarian; in fact, a lot of us are East Asian or Asian studies librarians whose responsibilities also cover Korean studies. Only a few participants have “adequate” Korean language skills, most of us have very limited or not any Korean language skills.

In front of National Library of Korea.
In the classroom.

At the workshop, the National Library of Korea (NLK) introduced us to its digitization projects and services. Since 1982, it has been working with oversea libraries (China and Japan as well as western countries), local organizations, and private collections to digitize Korean rare books and to provide metadata and services through KORCIS: Korean Old and Rare Collection Information System. Currently, there are over 50,000 titles in KORCIS.

NLK also offers various international exchange & cooperation programs, the most notable is its “Window on Korea” (WOK). As of October 2019, NLK has signed MOUs with 25 overseas libraries for this program. To each WOK library, NLK provides funding for equipment (computers, chairs and desks, signboard etc.) in addition to 1500-4000 volumes of Korean books over a five year period. The mission of the WOK project is to introduce foreign researchers and ordinary library users to the history, tradition, culture, language and literature of Korea as well as Korea’s new achievements in the field of information technology.  I’m hopeful that UT Libraries might pursue an MOU with the Window on Korea program one day!   

 All workshop participants—including me!– gave presentations about Korean studies and Korean library resources at their home institutes or countries. This was one of the most interesting and valuable parts of the workshop for me. I regularly meet with our US colleagues at conferences but I rarely have opportunity to learn of Korean studies and Korean library resources in other part of the world.  For example, I heard about Korean Studies programs in Uzbekistan, France, Russia, Germany and beyond!

The memorable farewell dinner party was held at a traditional Korean building where we all changed to hanbok (traditional Korean dress). As you can see, people were having fun and wanted to take lots of photos in hanbok!

All participants in hanbok.
Having fun!

The cultural tours took us to National Hangeul (or Hangul) Museum and National Museum of Korea. At the Hangeul Museum, we used hammers to punch letters into leather to inscribe our hangul names. We also made a book from block printing and in traditional Korean binding. This kind of hands-on project reminded me of our own maker-spaces here at UT such as the Foundry.

Punching your hangul (Korean alphabet) name onto leather penholder.
Making block printing.
Demonstrating traditional Korean book binding.
In front of National Museum of Korea. Participants are holding the book he/she just made.

All eighteen participants stayed in the same hotel and had every meal together. The workshop provided a rare opportunity for participants to really get to know our fellow Korean librarians from across the world. We have learned from one another not only from the formal presentations, but also from chatting and discussions at each meal and on bus trips. At the end of the workshop, we all had become old friends. We have created a mailing list and have since begun to communicate with one another. Because of this unique experience, I now know whom to turn to especially when there are difficult questions involving Korea/Korean and the countries where my fellow participants come from.

My trip was made possible by funding from Hornraiser donors. Thanks to their generosity, I was able to fly to and from Seoul (and Taiwan for another workshop) and to extend my trip in Korea to attend the Busan Film Festival and to visit our vendors and sponsor.

WHIT’S PICKS: TAKE 7 – GEMS FROM THE HMRC

Resident poet and rock and roll star Harold Whit Williams is in the midst of a project to catalog the KUT Collection, obtained a few years ago and inhabiting a sizable portion of the Historical Music Recordings Collection (HMRC).

Being that he has a refined sense of both words and music, Whit seems like a good candidate for exploring and discovering some overlooked gems in the trove, and so in this occasional series, he’ll be presenting some of his noteworthy finds.

Earlier installments: Take 1Take 2Take 3Take 4Take 5, Take 6


Laika & the Cosmonauts / Local Warming

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

The genius of this Finnish group (1987-2008) was not only that they imported masterful instrumental takes on American surf garage rock back into our record stores, but that they also delivered blistering live shows to prove their point. Local Warming keeps it in cruise control with Sci-Fi guitars, greasy organ hooks, and a punkabilly rhythm section. The vibe veers off into prog and post rock at times, but thankfully never strays too far off the futuristic retro path. Crank up the old hovercraft and blast these instant classics!


Greg Trooper / Floating

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

Heart on its sleeve country-rock from a troubadour lifer, the late Greg Trooper. Having penned songs for Vince Gill, Steve Earle (who provides a true fan’s liner notes), Billy Bragg and others, Trooper showcases his beefy baritone on these tough and touching jukebox-worthy originals. Forthright yet dreamily reflective lyrics reveal river-deep themes swirling around love and loss. Masterfully recorded and produced by Americana heavyweight Phil Madeira.


13Ghosts / Cicada

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

This Birmingham, Alabama duo flew low enough under the music biz radar to miss out on fame, but high enough to attract critical accolades. On this stylistically sprawling 21 track album, Brad Armstrong and Buzz Russell share songwriting duties, and while both are lyrically rooted in southern gothic, the music swerves back and forth – sometimes abruptly – between lo-fi avant pop rock and brooding folk. Think Mark Linkous and Elliot Smith (both ghosts themselves) fussing over fuzz pedals and tape loops in some creaky pineywoods cabin. Or better yet, don’t think. Just tune in and tag along on this richly rewarding backroads trip.


Mal Waldron / Soul Eyes : The Mal Waldron Memorial Album

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

Not quite the jazz household name as Monk, Bud, or Duke, Waldron was most certainly that special musician’s musician, as well as an accomplished composer and sideman to the likes of John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Billie Holliday. This compilation spotlights Mal as both solo artist and house pianist for Prestige Records by showcasing various tracks from the Prestige All-Stars, hard-bopping alongside Coltrane and Webster Young, Steve Lacy and Eric Dolphy. Elegant, melodic, classic bop. Essential listening for even the most casual of jazz fans.


Nina Nastasia / Dogs

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

Minimalist chamber folk from Los Angeles singer-songwriter Nastasia. On this, her first album, the musical moodiness is captured clean and bright by Steve Albini’s bone-dry and in your face production. Hints of dissonant strings and the occasional dark drums/goth guitar combo (“Roadkill,” “Nobody Knew Her,” “Jimmy’s Rose Tattoo”) help to cut the treacle of Nastasia’s almost too-sugary sweet vocals. Legendary BBC DJ Jon Peel declared the album “astonishing.”


[Harold Whit Williams is a Content Management Specialist in Music & Multimedia Resources. He writes poetry, is guitarist for the critically acclaimed rock band Cotton Mather, and releases lo-fi guitar-heavy indie pop as DAILY WORKER.]