AUSTIN, Texas—The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at The University of Texas at Austin has acquired the archive of prominent Nicaraguan writer and activist Gioconda Belli.
The acclaimed author of nine novels, a memoir, two volumes of essays, nine poetry collections and four children’s books, Belli is the recipient of several major literary prizes over her decades-long career, including the prestigious Casa de las Américas Prize for poetry (1978) and the Reina Sofía de Ibero-American Poetry Prize (2023).
Known for her feminist writing and erotic poetry, Belli has a broad international following, with works translated into at least 20 languages. The English translation of her memoir, The Country under My Skin, was a finalist for a Los Angeles Times book prize.
Belli was among the leaders of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which defeated the regime of Anastasio Somoza Debayle in the Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979, and she worked in support of the Sandinista government until 1993. Amid her increasingly vocal criticism of the Daniel Ortega–Rosario Murillo regime, Belli was forcibly expelled, stripped of her citizenship and declared a traitor to her country in February 2023 along with 93 other Nicaraguans. This is her second exile.
In celebration of her archive’s arrival at the Benson Collection, Belli will visit the campus of The University of Texas at Austin from March 19-22, 2024, for a series of events, including a public lecture.
Belli discussed her work, the contents of her archive and her decision to entrust it to the Benson in an interview with Benson director Melissa Guy. Read the interview in Spanish here or in English translation.
“As a longtime admirer of her literary work and her activism, I am honored that Gioconda has entrusted the Benson with her collection,” Guy said. “We look forward to engaging students and faculty with the archive, and to welcoming Nicaragua’s greatest living poet to Austin in the near future.”
For more information: Susanna Sharpe, Communications Coordinator, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections.
With the support of UT Libraries, and the generosity of donors in a recent Hornraiser campaign, I went to Israel on an acquisition trip on behalf of the UT Libraries in June. I have written in the past about the advantages of field work by a subject liaison in an academic library when it comes to curating and developing our collections. Being on the ground, one has an opportunity to acquire unique items that cannot be purchased remotely online. While networking with vendors and individuals in book fairs and book stores, there is a much bigger chance to come across alternative and non-mainstream materials. Moreover, making acquaintances face-to-face is a great way to spread the word about UT and UT Libraries and to make additional contacts.
My experience during this last trip made me realize yet again why acquisition trips are so beneficial to my work. One of the most significant advantages is the unparalleled opportunity to witness historical events in real-time. This allows for collecting ‘limited editions’ of grey literature that is created for or emerges as a result of current events. Throughout 2023 there has been a lot of civil unrest in the streets throughout Israel in reaction to the newly elected administration’s actions. There have been weekly rallies and marches against, and sometimes in favor of, the government and its officials. During my stay in Tel Aviv, I attended a few of those rallies, not only as a spectator, but also as an avid collector of anything that might be a valuable addition to the library’s Israeli collection. I was able to gather all sorts of ephemeral items distributed only during the protests: fanzines, comic strips, stickers, banners, pamphlets, and even t-shirts. I was reminded of the social justice protests of summer 2011, during which I also managed to put my hand on some materials available only then and there. By acquiring these unique items, adding them to and preserving them in our collections, we are able to capture the local zeitgeist while it is being shaped in real time, and thus, make it accessible for future generations of researchers.
Beyond ephemera, I had additional serendipitous, one-of-a-kind opportunities for collection development during my trip. While browsing the tables at one of the rallies, I met activists from the Communist Party of Israel (CPI) which led to a visit to their office a few days later, where I managed to acquire some of their publications which are not distributed to the mainstream market. These publications would complement other emerging pockets of distinctive collections at UT Libraries about communism and socialism such as the Socialist Pamphlets collection, Ernesto Cardenal Papers, Sajjad Zaheer Digital Archive, and fanzines recently acquired by UTL European Studies subject liaison Ian Goodale at the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair.
One night I went to watch a movie at the Herzliya Cinematheque, a 30 minutes ride from Tel Aviv. As it turned out, that venue had a small section where they were offering free of charge publications and DVDs. By mere chance, I was lucky to put my hand on a rare publication about adaptations of Israeli literature to cinema — a perfect and rare addition to our Israeli cinema & film collection. Likewise, while browsing an antique and book market one morning in Tel Aviv, I came across internationally unique programs from Israeli film festivals. Chatting with the vendor, he made the effort to introduce me to other vendors around him, all of whom sell publications related to Israeli cinema. These personal, on-the-ground and face-to-face encounters are instrumental to expanding the network of our vendors, leading to future, distinctive acquisitions.
Due to generous donor support to a Hornraiser campaign for foreign acquisitions trips, I was recently able to travel to Canada to attend the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair and purchase books for the UT Libraries’ collections. In addition to meeting with vendors and participating in the international community of librarians, zine makers, booksellers, and publishers at the book fair, I collected materials that continue to grow the UT Libraries’ collection of Francophone zines and literature, further developing our collection of rare and distinct materials related to global leftist movements past and present.
The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair is North America’s largest anarchist book fair, and has been held since 2009. Attracting visitors from all over the continent, the fair included over 80 vendor tables where attendees could browse and purchase materials and discuss non-commercial publishing and distribution directly with content producers. Vendors ranged from established presses like AK Press and PM Press to individual creators selling their zines and other materials. The book fair also featured a diverse range of speakers and workshops, including offerings such as an introduction to anarchist thought, a talk on Mastodon and federated social media, and a panel discussion about the book Black Metal Rainbows recently published by PM Press.
The book fair offered many opportunities to acquire materials we would not otherwise have access to, and to speak directly with publishers, writers, and artists and to learn about the processes and motivations behind why certain books or zines were written and made. A couple of my favorite acquisitions for the UTL library include a global history of the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical union founded in 1905 that is still active today, and a zine-bibliography highlighting resources on the transfeminism movement. The trip also gave me a valuable opportunity to build our holdings of Francophone materials from North America, expanding our corpus beyond materials published in Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa, thereby making our holdings even broader globally than they already were.
Beyond all this, the trip allowed me the opportunity to represent UT Austin internationally to a diverse group of vendors, artists, and colleagues, and I’m grateful that I was able to serve the Libraries in such a capacity. I look forward to continuing to build our distinctive holdings and further expand UT’s collections to include diverse ideas and voices.
The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is thrilled to announce the acquisition of the Miguel Ángel Asturias Papers. Asturias, the 1967 Nobel Laureate in Literature from Guatemala, was a precursor to the Latin American Boom. A prolific writer of poetry, short stories, children’s literature, plays, and essays, he is perhaps best known as a novelist, with El Señor Presidente (1946) and Hombres de maíz (1949) garnering the most acclaim. Asturias’s portrayal of Guatemala and the different peoples that live there—their beliefs, their interactions, their frustrations, and their hopes—mark the profundity of his texts.
The Benson is the third repository to house materials pertaining to Asturias’s life work, the other two being the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris and El Archivo General de Centroamérica in Guatemala City. What differentiates this particular collection is the role that Asturias’s son, Miguel Ángel Asturias Amado, played in compiling it over the course of fifty years. Indeed, in many ways the collection is just as much the son’s as it is the father’s. It features years of correspondence between the two, who were separated after the elder was forced to leave Argentina in 1962. This was not the writer’s first time in exile: his stay in Argentina was due to the Guatemalan government, led by Carlos Castillo Armas, stripping his citizenship in 1954. The letters provide insight into Asturias as a father, writer, and eventual diplomat when democratically elected Guatemalan President Julio César Méndez Montenegro restored his citizenship and made him Ambassador to France in 1966. Moreover, scholars will find within these letters a number of short stories for children that would eventually be collected in the book El alhajadito (1962).
In addition to correspondence with his son, Asturias maintained a longstanding relationship with his mother via letter during his first stay in Paris in the 1920s. Detailed within are the family’s economic hardships as a result of the country-wide crisis in Guatemala caused by the plummeting international coffee market, and information pertaining to the publication of his first collection of short stories, Leyendas de Guatemala (1930). Other communication from this era demonstrates the role that Asturias played in facilitating the publication of other Guatemalan authors and as a journalist for El imparcial.
Beyond letters, scholars will find a multifaceted collection. Manuscripts of poetic prose, such as “Tras un ideal” (1917), and an early theater piece titled “Madre” (1918) are included with loose-leaf fragments from El señor presidente. News clippings are also prominent. Those written by Asturias reflect his time at El imparcial while those written about him focus on his Nobel Prize. Perhaps an unexpected highlight is the audiovisual component of the collection. The author contributed an array of caricatures, doodles, and portraits, as well as a robust collection of photographs. Furthermore, there are several audio recordings of Asturias reading his work.
Finally, scholars will also be able to access studies dedicated to the work of Asturias and first, rare, and special editions of his books. These editions, meticulously collected and cared for by his son, reflect the author’s continued popularity.
La Colección Benson adquiere el archivo del Premio Nobel Miguel Ángel Asturias
Por DANIEL ARBINO
La Colección Latinoamericana Nettie Lee Benson se complace en anunciar la adquisición de los documentos de Miguel Ángel Asturias, Premio Nobel de 1967. El autor guatemalteco fue un precursor del boom latinoamericano. Escritor prolífico de poesía, cuentos, literatura infantil, obras de teatro y ensayos, es quizás mejor conocido como novelista, y El señor presidente (1946) y Hombres de maíz (1949) son las más aclamadas. La representación de Guatemala y sus variados pueblos, creencias, interacciones, frustraciones y esperanzas, marcan la profundidad de sus textos.
La Benson es el tercer archivo que reune materiales de la vida de Asturias, después de la Bibliothèque nationale en París y El Archivo General de Centroamérica en la ciudad de Guatemala. Lo que distingue a esta colección en particular es el papel que desempeñó el hijo de Asturias, Miguel Ángel Asturias Amado, en su recopilación a lo largo de cincuenta años. De hecho, la colección es, en muchos sentidos, tanto del hijo como del padre. Presenta años de correspondencia entre los dos, que se separaron después de que el padre tuvo que abandonar la Argentina en 1962. Ésta no fue la primera vez que el escritor se había tenido que ir al exilio: su estadía en la Argentina se debió a que el gobierno guatemalteco, liderado por Carlos Castillo Armas, le había despojado de su ciudadanía en 1954. Las cartas dan una idea de Asturias como padre, escritor y eventual diplomático, después de que Julio César Méndez Montenegro, el presidente de Guatemala democráticamente elegido, restauró su ciudadanía y lo nombró embajador en Francia en 1966. Además, los investigadores encontrarán dentro de estas cartas una serie de cuentos para niños que se recopilarían en el libro El alhajadito (1962).
Aparte de la correspondencia con su hijo, Asturias mantuvo una larga relación epistolar con su madre durante su primera estancia en París en la década de los 1920. Ahí se detallan las dificultades económicas de la familia como resultado de la crisis que atraviesa la sociedad guatemalteca, por la caída del precio del café a nivel internacional, e información relativa a la publicación de su primera colección de cuentos, Leyendas de Guatemala (1930). Otra comunicación de esta época demuestra el papel que desempeñó Asturias al facilitar la publicación de otros autores guatemaltecos y como periodista de El imparcial.
Asimismo, los investigadores verán una colección multifacética. Los manuscritos de prosa poética, como “Tras un ideal” (1917) y una obra de teatro titulada “Madre” (1918) se incluyen, tanto como fragmentos de hojas sueltas de El señor presidente. Los recortes de periódicos también son prominentes. Los escritos por Asturias reflejan su tiempo en El imparcial, mientras que los escritos sobre él se centran en su Premio Nobel. Quizás un punto destacado inesperado es el componente audiovisual de la colección. El autor contribuyó con una serie de caricaturas, garabatos y retratos, así como una colección robusta de fotografías. También, hay varias grabaciones de audio de Asturias en las cuales realiza lecturas de sus obras.
Por último, los académicos también podrán acceder a los estudios dedicados al trabajo de Asturias y a las primeras, raras y especiales ediciones de su trabajo. Estas ediciones, meticulosamente recopiladas y cuidadas por su hijo, reflejan la continua popularidad del autor.
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
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 Tractand 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.
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!
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
The publishing industry of Cuba experienced a seismic shift in 1959 when Fidel Castro won a revolutionary war against dictator Fulgencio Batista. With this change, underground and subversive media creators of the Batista era became an important part of the new socialist culture. This helped to mobilize the masses in support of the new Castro government and against U.S. capitalistic ideology.
Cuban Comics in the Digital Era examines the art and history of Cuban comics after the successful 1959 revolution, highlighting the creators, characters, heroes, and anti-heroes of Cuba. It also touches on the triumphs and failures of the publishing industry and how Cuban artists today struggle to keep the genre alive.
These materials are part of the Caridad Blanco Collection of Cuban Comic Books, acquired in 2018. Blanco, a Havana-based artist and curator, collected over 700 examples of stand-alone comics and newspaper supplements created between 1937 and 2018.
The Birth of Cuba’s
Key to the process of planning a new nationalistic government was the cementing of a new socialistic cultural identity in the minds of the Cuban populace. Radio, television, and print media (including comics) helped to mobilize the masses.
A new world opened up for the creators of comics, who now had the singular purpose of supporting their new government while still appealing to their readers. In this early era, many of these readers were children, who continued to consume U.S.-created comic books and the ideals that went with them.
Widespread suspicion held that beloved American comics were imperialistic indoctrination tools for Cuban children. In response, the new Cuban government began utilizing comics as a means to teach values that aligned with revolutionary doctrine.
Cuban-created comics replaced American ones on the shelves. These works appealed to highly literate youth. Mixing adventure, comedy, and the ideological tenets of the new government, they portrayed revolution as necessary and exciting, especially for the country’s youth.
This exhibition was curated by Digital Repository Specialist Gilbert Borrego and is part of his fall 2019 Capstone Experience course in partial fulfillment of his MSIS, School of Information, The University of Texas at Austin. In addition to the physical exhibition, Borrego curated a richly illustrated online exhibition.
Gilbert Borrego is currently the Institutional Repository Specialist for Texas ScholarWorks at UT Libraries. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in anthropology from Stanford University and will soon complete his master’s in Information Studies at UT Austin. He is passionate about archives, libraries, museums, metadata, and history.
Traveling internationally to secure unique and distinctive
acquisitions for UT Libraries and to make essential academic connections for UT
Austin is one of the true joys of serving as Middle Eastern Studies Librarian.
In June of this year, I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, for two weeks. I focused
on collecting Arabic titles published in Turkey and investigating study abroad
opportunities for graduate students in the Middle East and Islamic Studies programs
I had the pleasure of flying into the brand new Istanbul airport, located on the opposite side of the city from the stalwart Atatürk Airport that I knew so well. I arrived at the end of Ramadan, which meant that I got to enjoy Bayram (the Turkish name for the festival celebrating the end of Ramadan) sales. I stayed in the neighborhood of Kuzgüncuk, a small, religiously diverse section of the city on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, just before the first bridge. There were several local book and magazine sellers, as well as produce vendors. It was from one of the local produce vendors that I learned of a children’s bookfair happening on the Asian side of the city, and I made a plan to visit it in the coming days.
While in Istanbul, I was able to receive a title for which I
had been hunting in Egypt, Majallat al-Qaḍāʾ al-Sharʿī. There are only a
handful of copies of this title around the world; yet, it is a crucial source
for the social and legal history of early 20th century Egypt. So what makes a “rare” book in Islamic Studies, like this one?
Researchers at U.S. universities
may often conceptualize a rare book as something necessarily old, a “first
edition,” a banned title, etc. These are all potential markers of a rare book
or special material, but they are not the only factors that librarians consider
when making acquisitions for their collections. Consider government/official
publications. They are often ephemeral in that they arere published for one run; they are often difficult to find because they are
seen as an archival burden for someone else (presumably the government or
organization); and, on top of all that, they may on the surface appear dull,
dry, or irrelevant to deep (particularly historiographical) analysis. Even if
one decides to go after government publications, it can be nearly impossible to
track them down for these reasons. When I do manage to track them down, I’m
often asked, why this?
Thanks to this acquisitions
trip, I managed to obtain a copy of Majallat
al-Qaḍāʾ al-Sharʿī, a briefly-issued
publication of a judicial training school in Alexandria. It includes articles
by figures who would end up shaping the Egyptian judiciary for decades to come,
and provides insights into the political history of early 20th century Egypt.
Cautiously, I may say that the UT Libraries will
be the sole North American institution with the full set of volumes for this
title (they are in processing now).
During my time in Istanbul, I also had opportunities to explore
new and old publications and to learn more about the current frontiers of
Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies scholarship. I visited the Hilye-i Şerif ve Tesbih
Müzesi (museum of manuscripts honoring the Prophet Muhammad, and prayer beads)
to see excellent exhibits of stunning manuscript illumination and religious
arts. I also stopped in to the official government Turkish manuscripts
publications office to check on the latest Arabic
and Ottoman editing developments. Additionally, I had the pleasure of meeting
up with a PhD candidate from Princeton University, to hear about her research
and projects and to get the impressions of a junior scholar on the state of
research in Turkey and other parts of the Middle East.
As my trip continued, I reflected on how book buying can be
simply wandering around––somewhat aimlessly––and relying on serendipity
(although I admit to wandering neighborhoods known for bookshops; I cannot
leave everything up for chance). I found myself in awe of the materials
selection available in the average bookshop.
Stopping in at one in Üsküdar (Asian side of Istanbul), I found books in Turkish,
Arabic, French, English, and German; translations of seminal works such as the
biography of Muhammad Ali; Turkish conference proceedings that fill gaps in our
collection; a large and diverse children’s section; premier Turkish Studies
scholarship; and popular hero fiction.
There was a sign in the bookshop that read “3 books, 10 Turkish
lira.” The shelves below it were a gold mine of popular fiction that will
augment UT Austin’s Turkish literature collection and expand the options for
our students to read during their intensive study of the Turkish language. I
was able to procure them at a fraction of the price we would normally pay
through other venues.
Additionally, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Murteza
Bedir, Dean of the Faculty of Divinity and Professor at Istanbul University. We
spoke about our research projects, upcoming conferences, recent publications in
Islamic Studies, and Turkish Islamic Studies graduate programs.
Professor Bedir also took me to the symposium on the history of
science in honor of the late Fuat Sezgin at Istanbul University. Scholars from
around the world—Turkey, U.S., Uzbekistan, and others—presented their latest
research and reflected on Sezgin’s contributions to the field. It was quite a
time to be in Istanbul.
I continued my work making critical connections as the PCL and the UT Libraries Middle Eastern Studies librarian for
both collections and scholarship opportunities by meeting with Recep Şentürk,
professor of sociology and president of Ibn Haldun University in Istanbul, and
some of his advanced graduate students. We met at the university’s Süleymaniye
campus, housed in an Ottoman-era madrasa next to the Süleymaniye Mosque,
following their class on Abu Hamid al-Ghazali’s Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din.
Professor Şentürk knows of my interest in Arabic critical editions produced in
Turkey, and graciously brought the first publication of the Ibn Haldun
University Press—Mulla Gurani’s commentary on the Qur’an—to share with the UT
Libraries. UT is the first university library in the world to acquire this
edition, and I look forward to following the publications of this new press.
I am grateful for, and awestruck by, the generosity and
hospitality with which I was met in Turkey, and which made my trip possible. I
extend my sincere gratitude to the UT Libraries and the Center for Middle
Eastern Studies for supporting my travel and acquisitions in Istanbul this
UT Libraries’ Global Studies liaisons regularly travel internationally in order to maintain their expertise as librarians, establish and nurture international networks and productive collaborations, and acquire unique materials that distinguish UT Libraries’ collections and make them a destination for researchers from around the world. In March of last year, I traveled to the United Arab Emirates and Oman for materials acquisitions and networking on behalf of the UT Libraries. Dubai, UAE, served as my home base as I made trips to Abu Dhabi and Ajman, UAE, and to Salalah, Oman.
In Dubai, I attended the Emirates Airlines Literature Festival where I was able to acquire a number of children and young adult books, as well as special editions on Shaykh Zayed, a leader in the UAE who was being celebrated in 2018. David Hirsch, formerly the Middle Eastern Studies Librarian at UCLA and now the Chief Adviser for the Muhammad bin Rashid National Library in Dubai, joined me at the festival and introduced me to local presses and booksellers. I also had the pleasure of attending a panel on Arabic Science Fiction featuring Ahmed Saadawi, the author of Frankenstein in Baghdad, winner of the International Prize in Arabic Fiction 2014 and short-listed for the Man Booker international prize this year; and Nora al Noman, a young adult science fiction author.
In addition, I was able to meet with new colleagues at Zayed University, one of the UAE’s top institutions of higher education. Riham al-Khafagi and Ahmed Salem were kind enough to give me a tour of the university, including its library, and sit down with me to discuss the unique challenges facing a top research university in the Middle East. In particular, we spoke about electronic resources, open access, print collection consortia in the Middle East and Middle Eastern Studies contexts, and censorship, all of which are current and pressing concerns shared by universities across the Middle East.
Following my visit to Zayed University, I took a day to drive down to Abu Dhabi and visit with colleagues at NYU Abu Dhabi. Justin Parrott, Middle East Studies Librarian for the NYU Abu Dhabi Library, kindly gave me a tour of the library and introduced me to his colleagues. I met with Ginny Danielson, Director of the NYU Abu Dhabi library, with whom I discussed the challenges of keeping up with local publishing and literature. I also met with Brad Bauer, Special Collections librarian, who told me a bit about the history of their young but growing Special Collections. I was particularly interested in their local photography and maps collections. The current exhibitions were of Shakespeare in translation, which was fascinating to see. Much of my conversation with Justin, however, had to do with being a Middle East subject specialist at, essentially, a small liberal arts college in the Middle East. I had time as well to meet with faculty members Masha Kirasirova and Maurice Pomerantz in Middle Eastern Studies, and to learn more about the programs on offer at NYU Abu Dhabi that may be of interest to UT Austin students and researchers.
I was also fortunate enough to visit Salalah, Oman, during my trip. There, I met with Ali Bakhit Salim Al Awaid, the library director at Dhofar University Library. Dhofar University aims to be the leading science and technology university in Oman, although they also have strengths in English language education and law. Mr. Al Awaid and I spoke about the library’s collections, services, and areas of development, as well as the possibilities for an Interlibrary Loan cooperation. I also met with Khalid Mashikhi, the dean of the Arts and Humanities college, who was eager to discuss potential collaborations of benefit to both UT and Dhofar University student bodies. Dhofar University is a promising location for UT Arabic students to study Arabic and subjects relevant to their majors in the Arabic language. The U.S government Critical Language Scholarship program already relies on Salalah as one of their primary Arabic program sites.
I spent my last days in Dubai visiting local booksellers to collect young adult and science fiction. I found works in this genre from all over the Middle East, but I was particularly pleased to invest in titles from local authors. Gulf publishing is still developing, and it is difficult to track, but more and more I am finding materials more than worthy of adding to UT Libraries’ distinctive collections. This focus on youth literature and science fiction introduced me to a number of local authors and artists who might otherwise not normally make it onto the shelves of a research library in the U.S. I am sincerely grateful to the UT Libraries and CMES for supporting my travel to the UAE and Oman to purchase these materials, learn more about publishing, research, teaching, and technology in the area, and establish contacts on behalf of UT.
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?