Today, I’ll be highlighting the South Asia Open Archives. The South Asia Open Archives (SAOA) is a rich, curated collection of historical and contemporary resources from and about South Asia. The SAOA collection contains hundreds of thousands of pages of books, journals, newspapers, census data, and magazines with a focus on social and economic history, literature, women and gender, and caste and social structure. The collection includes documents in English and in other languages of the region such as Hindi, Urdu and Bengali.
SAOA is administratively hosted by the Center for Research Libraries, and is the product of a broad consortium of 26 current member research libraries in South Asia and around the world, including the University of Texas Libraries. It is enriched by substantial contributions of content, human and material resources from a community of libraries, research centers, archives and other institutions partnering to bring these resources out for global scholarship and pedagogy.
Some of the titles that have been digitized with direct support from the University of Texas include: Baghi, Viplav, and Viplavi Tract. All three titles have a Leftist/Marxist focus and engage with workers and labor issues.
In keeping with the OA Week theme for this year of Open for Climate Justice, I did a search for climate,in the SAOA Collection, and found over 1200 results ranging from census information, Indian Assembly debates, newspapers, correspondence, and books. SAOA has been digitizing and will be publishing collections of colonial records related to public works (irrigation), forests, land settlement, trade and navigation, and famine that will be available to support the work of environmental historians and climate scientists.
Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship. Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.
This post was written by Jyotsna Vempati, the Global Studies Digital Projects GRA at Perry-Castañeda Library and a current graduate student at the School of Information.
A Telugu (pronounced ˈteləˌɡo͞o) literature classic – Bāriṣṭaru Pārvatīśaṃ, is a novel that I brought along with me despite the strict luggage weight limits of international flights so that I have a piece of my childhood and home with me in a new country. But if I am honest, this was my way of ensuring that I don’t forget how to read and write in my mother tongue. Although the biggest of the Dravidian language family with over 80 million speakers and 4th most spoken language in India, the future of Telugu is in danger from the proliferation of English and other less-regional languages in Telugu speaking regions.
Many believe it is time to take deliberate action to preserve a language that has a rich history and culture, and many compelling literary works that date back to 575 CE. While there is still a sizable reader base for Telugu literature, there is a rising need to make these texts more accessible and visible in today’s digital era. And in comes the first of its kind Telugu audiobook application – Dasubhashitam.
Founded by Konduru Tulasidas and his son Kiran Kumar, this ‘uncommon app’ draws its essence from multiple disciplines that include Literature, Behavioural Science, and Non-Dualism. It promotes personal, professional, and spiritual wellbeing through original content in a style that is simple and straightforward. The app contains free content as well as paid literature works, which can be accessed through subscription plans.I think this app fills the gap by providing an opportunity for those who speak Telugu but face difficulty in reading the script to reconnect with their roots, thus reviving the language from its slumber.
The Dasubhashitam app is paving the way to immortalize the works of both renowned and new authors by creating an ecosystem where people connect Telugu texts to audio content. It contains literary works in various digital formats such as audiobooks, ebooks, podcasts, interviews, and albums within categories like short stories, novels, poetry, wellbeing, and educational content. The audiobooks need a mention of their own due to the deep cultural context within which they’re recorded and presented. Not only is a book read out loud, but some audiobooks of play scripts also have accompanying musical notes that add a touch of the popular Telugu cinema experience, transporting one back to the age of black-and-white films. Another noteworthy aspect of this app is that it offers the opportunity for individuals to suggest a book to digitize, or submit their audiobooks to the app for hosting (after a strict copyright and quality check, of course).
As a student of User Experience Design here at UT, I cannot help but comment on opportunities for improvement when it comes to the user experience and usability aspect of the mobile application. I find that the app’s heuristics are yet to be optimized to make the content more accessible to their user base. Especially, ramping up the in-app search and filter options, standardizing the transliteration of the literary title to the English alphabet (romanization), having uniform navigation gestures across and refining the information architecture would surely minimize user pain points and add value to the overall experience.
This spectacular enterprise is carving out a presence for itself rapidly and, all-in-all, the kind of content and initiatives undertaken by the creators clearly reflects their intentions, namely, to promote the wellbeing of their users. I look forward to witnessing the great potential of this piece of technology, especially as some of the notable names in the world of Telugu literature are available on the Dasubhashitam app.
I’m also delighted to discover that UT Libraries hold a great collection of Telugu literature. One might be encouraged to read one of UT’s print versions of these titles alongside the audio book on Dasubhashitam! See for example the Telugu writings by:
Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the UT Libraries Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship. Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of, and future creative contributions to, the growing fields of digital scholarship.
I had the lucky opportunity recently to catch Nickoal Eichmann-Kalwara’s presentation on the University of Colorado’s Digital El Diario project at the UC San Diego Digital Initiatives Symposium wherein she advocated for the use of “minimal computing” to achieve “archival justice.” Deeply inspired by her comments but woefully ignorant of the corpus on minimal computing within DS/DH (what seems a combination of activist- and digital-turn on the “less process, more product” concept in archival work), I took it upon myself to learn more as I struggle with the constant nagging tension between achieving the immediate task at hand (“will a simple Google chart effectively communicate my point?”), exploiting technologies to their fullest extent (“boy, I sure bet I would impress folks if I used a sexy Tableau dashboard”), and justifying resources (“this will cost how much??”). When, I wondered, is less actually more in DS/DH, when is more actually more, and how should we negotiate those differences?
“Digital humanities practices are often understood in terms of significant scale: big data, large data sets, digital humanities centers… This emphasis leads to the perception that projects cannot be completed without substantial access to financial resources, data, and labor… While this can be the case, such presumptions serve as a deterrent to the development of an inclusive digital humanities community with representation across academic hierarchies (student, librarian, faculty), types of institutions (public, private, regional), and geographies (Global North, Global South).”
I found their argument compelling and wondered where I had seen these tensions in practice. As a South Asianist, I had to look no further than the uniquely colonial way of knowing—lexicography–and the uniquely 21st century way of access–digital reformatting.
For over 20 years, the Digital Dictionaries of South Asia (part of the Digital South Asia Library at the University of Chicago) has arguably been the gold standard for online South Asian language dictionaries. Recognizing the inadequacies of OCR tools to convert images of most South Asian scripts to accurate text data, the DDSA has utilized strategies such as “double blind keying” to produce highly accurate digital editions of established and respected dictionaries. The process is time-consuming and expensive but produces trusted full-text data that can be used and manipulated in a variety of ways, including those beyond dictionaries. The institutional positioning of the University of Chicago has allowed for many successful grants over the years to fund DDSA, including those from the US Department of Education, the Mellon Foundation, the Association for Research Libraries and others. The DDSA is truly extensive in scope and in impact.
At the other end of the spectrum is the DigitalRoses project. In this pilot, an individual researcher, Gil Ben Herut, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida, presents another approach to digital dictionary making. Rather than seeking a fully searchable, text-mineable dictionary, Herut suggests that simple encoding that operationalizes headwords alone (rather than the full-text) for navigation within a dictionary is sufficient for most user applications. Using target words, the DigitalRoses approach “resolves a common problem in OCR text ingestion through the utilization of manual indexing of the first entry word on each page in physical media, [thereby… ingesting dictionaries at a fraction of the time and cost of full digitization,… streamlining searching by allowing partial, wildcard and fuzzy searches, and maintaining the richness of the printed layout.”
In comparision, then, we have two approaches to the same problem and therefore two solutions. See, for example, a search for the Kannada word for “book,” Kitaba/ಕಿತಾಬು, in the DDSA version of Kittel’s Kannada-English Dictionary and in the Digital Roses version.
The thoroughly meticulous approaches used in the DDSA model produce a robust and unique digital experience built on fully manipulatable, multiscript data while the simple imaging and only partial inputting of the DigitalRoses project produces a quick digital surrogate to the analog counterpart.
Turning back to “minimal computing,” these two projects offer up models to complicate our understanding of who gets to do what and how in our technologically informed research. Grant funding allows for big data and big research at big institutional levels. Minimal computing allows individuals and less resourced cohorts to also meaningfully contribute to the field. Both approaches have the potential to positively impact users and the creation of new knowledge.
I encourage you to consider where you fall on this debate: is less more? Is more more? And when does it matter?
For more on minimal computing, justice through DS/DH, lexicography, and Kannada, see:
Much of the research being conducted at universities, colleges, and institutes around the world is written up by professors, graduate students, and research associates and published in toll-access (subscription) journals. Anyone lacking a subscription to that journal will not be able to access the articles published there. This creates a serious access problem for many people across the globe.
An alternative method of publishing, called Open Access, allows for anyone to read the results of research for free.
So, why should you care?
The short version:
expensive journals = less access to research results, especially for those outside of wealthy higher-ed institutions
less access = less research being done and/or research not happening quickly because of access barriers
UT Libraries cares deeply about the issue of access for all. For many years we’ve invested in open access publishing and infrastructure in an effort to help shift the scholarly publishing system to a more equitable form.
In celebration of Open Access Week 2020, we’d like to highlight some of the projects we’ve invested in and/or supported over the years. This support can take the form of financial contributions, technical support, content creation, and ongoing promotion and management. We encourage you to check out these open access projects and experience the wide range of disciplines and content types that they represent.
This is a newly-launched open access, peer-reviewed journal in mathematical analysis. One of the founding editors is a UT faculty member and UT Libraries financially supports this journal so that it is free for both readers and for authors.
SAOA is a collection of open access materials for research and teaching about South Asia. The initial emphasis was on colonial-era materials, but current selection criteria include: value to research, utility for a broad population of users, uniqueness, at risk, and complementary to other resources.
This effort is supported by the Center for Research Libraries and over 25 member libraries, including UT.
“The Information Literacy Toolkit is a collection of resources that faculty and instructors can use to help plan or implement assignments in classes. These resources can help you scaffold research skills into your classes, think of new ways to assign research, and help you assess your students’ work.“
The toolkit was created and is maintained by the Teaching & Learning Services unit within UT Libraries (UTL), although others at UTL are free to contribute.
Content is licensed with a Creative Commons License Attribution Non-Commercial license.
This resource is a starting point for educators wishing to design instructional sessions that incorporate campus collections into final digital projects. Here you will find learning outcomes, things to consider before you begin planning, sample syllabi and assignments, assessment tools, recommended readings, and guidelines for copyright and fair use
This project was created by staff from UT Libraries, LLILAS Benson, and the Harry Ransom Center.
Content is licensed with a Creative Commons License Attribution Non-Commercial license.
The Portal provides access to some of the geospatial data from the UT Libraries collections. It’s also been configured to allow users to search raster and vector datasets from other universities that utilize the GeoBlacklight infrastructure.
All items contributed by UT Libraries are free to reuse.
LADI is a digital repository that provides access to thousands of items from the 1500s to the present. The repository has an emphasis on providing access to collections that document human rights issues and underrepresented communities.
This repository provides open, online access to the products of the University’s research and scholarship. It is hosted by the Texas Digital Library, a consortium of higher ed institutions in Texas that builds capacity for preserving, managing, and providing access to digital collections.
TDR is a platform for publishing and archiving datasets created by faculty, staff, and students at UT. It is hosted by the Texas Digital Library.
Copyright status of items varies, but most are licensed for reuse.
When we started documenting all the things we support, we found the list was longer than is feasible for a single post, so please see our Open Access blog and Twitter account for more examples of open access projects being supported by UT Libraries.
Because we believe that access to information is a fundamental right, UT Libraries will continue to prioritize support for open access publishing, open educational resources, and open data.
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!
Throughout the fall of 2018, I was honored to be able to convene UT South Asia Institute’s Seminar Series, “Popular | Public | Pulp: form and genre in South Asian cultural production.” Throughout the series, speakers explored printed examples of South Asian popular culture—mysteries, romances, comics—as they underscore and grapple with historical and contemporary concerns such as identity, power, & representation. In addition to interrogating literary approaches, speakers in the series further addressed questions of gender, of sexuality, of caste & religion, and of authority, helping readers and scholars alike challenge what qualifies as “worthy” both in terms of style and substance.
One goal of the series was to draw attention to UT Libraries growing collection of popular and pulp fiction in South Asian languages, a collection that is nationally and internationally unique in gathering and preserving popular materials and subsequently making them available for users. Beyond publicity, however, the series was also intended to uncover reading and distribution networks for these materials so that I might continue to creatively and productively acquire them while on acquisitions and networking trips to South Asia. In November and December, and with the generous funding of both UTL and the South Asia Institute, I was privileged to travel to India and more deeply explore a venue repeatedly invoked in the fall speaker series: small lending libraries.
Small lending libraries are a cultural phenomenon throughout South Asia which support themselves through highly localized, neighborhood-based memberships. Unlike UT Libraries which has a long-term and “long-tail” research agenda, the mission of these lending libraries is to support current and highly popular reading practices, not unlike many small public libraries in the U.S.
While in Chennai, I was able to visit two lively lending libraries—Easwari and Senthil—to observe their operations, to ask questions about the popularity of particular authors, and to acquire second-hand materials. Both libraries carry all the bestsellers—in English [Mills and Boon, Harry Potter, James Patterson] and in Tamil [Rajesh Kumar, Indira Soundarajan, Raminichandran]—and experience high circulation of their books. Because preservation is not part of their mission, the libraries are willing to sell the most ephemeral of their materials, namely monthly periodicals which include crime, detective and “women’s” fiction (romances as well as family dramas).
Despite the vibrant activity I observed at both these libraries, I am told that lending libraries are slowly vanishing from the South Asian landscape, ceding space to other entertainments and ways of “time pass.” I was happy to have had the chance to visit these libraries and I do hope they will still be open and serving their readers on my next visit. If not, though, I am comforted knowing that UT Libraries is participating in documenting and preserving some of this literary and cultural history for researchers long into the future.