Library Committee Handbook

Executive Committee



AREA STUDIES AT THE UIUC LIBRARY: A PROPOSAL FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

November 2005 

 

Introduction

 

Service to scholars and undergraduates in the Main Library is currently under review, while a major reassessment of library space usage is taking place. In this environment, the Area Studies Division proposes a collaborative realignment of our Area Studies Libraries--designed to improve services for UIUC area studies communities, and better position our area libraries for 21 st century demands. This proposal builds on (1) the Area Studies Division vision for FY08, (2) the Library's 2003 International Strategy document, and (3) the continuing reassessment of library space.

 

Our Philosophy

 

The Area Studies Division believes that area studies collections should be serviced together in a separate space that is closer to area units and their additional materials and expertise than to a centralized service point.  Area Studies reference differs from humanities and social sciences reference, and although we have great respect for our humanities and social sciences colleagues, a merged humanities/area studies service point (or an area service point near a general service point) would not reasonably satisfy our users' expectations due to some unique characteristics listed below:

 

However:

 

Our proposal, built on the concept of a separate Area Studies Division, maintains and enhances current services while identifying new directions for the Division.

 

Background and History

 

The Library units involved in this plan include the six existing Area Studies Libraries/units: Africana, Afro-Americana, Asian, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Slavic and East European, and Women and Gender Resources.  These area libraries/units have been highly successful in support of the internationally recognized programs of our University.  Our extraordinary services have historically been facilitated by significant amounts of federal funding.  In fact, four campus area centers served by four of the libraries in the Division are designated National Resource Centers by the US Department of Education under Title VI of the Higher Education Act.  They are the Center for African Studies, Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center.  In addition, the Program in South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies is currently applying for the same Title VI grant to become a National Resource Center.  Title VI funds make up a high proportion of the budgets of these Centers.

 

The strength of the library is one of the five criteria for winning these Title VI grants, which bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars to the University every year.  In addition, Title VI funds also benefit the Library directly through collection development funds, graduate assistantships, librarian and support staff positions, and travel and research support.  Indeed, our superlative expertise and collections are absolutely crucial to obtaining these Title VI funds.  Hence, in order to maintain our Title VI status, it is important for area library units to maintain their identities and have a clear profile within the Library and campus structures.  Loss of these funds would have a severe impact on the operation of the Centers and on the affected library units. 

 

While most of our services focus on world areas outside North America and Western Europe we also have units that cover the entire world.  Moreover, each librarian in the Division has subject knowledge of the cultures in the various regions/countries we cover.  This unique attribute well positions us to engage in dialogue regarding the possibility of incorporating other multicultural studies in the division, including Asian American Studies and Latina/Latino Studies.  In recent years, the University has shown a strong commitment to area and ethnic studies.  In 2001, the University hired new directors for the Afro-American Studies and Research Program and the Women's Studies Program.  In 2002, the University hired new directors for the Asian American Studies Program and the Latina/Latino Studies Program.  All these programs have hired new faculty, representing increased commitment from the Campus Administration.  Just as the Area Studies centers and programs partner with their Diaspora studies programs, our librarians will continue to work closely with these programs, within whatever new structures are established.

 

 

New Challenges and Appropriate Responses

 

a)      Undergraduate Education

 

UIUC Area studies libraries are internationally recognized for their exceptionally high quality. Our rich collections in a large number of languages including English help recruit faculty and graduate students in diverse disciplines and facilitate scholarly exchange through numerous international seminars, symposia and workshops. But although most of our units have concentrated on faculty and graduate student needs, our collections and services also play an important role in expanding the cultural understanding and language skills of undergraduate students. Recognizing the University Library's new emphasis on undergraduate education, the Area Studies Division is keen to preserve and reposition these riches for imaginative scholarly and undergraduate use in the years to come.

 

b)      Area Studies and Global Studies

 

Traditional area studies approaches in the academy and library have enduring educational value. We believe that the coming of age of the " China Century" and other countries covered in the Area Studies Division will stipulate even more services in the coming years. In essence, foreign materials, including materials published in the languages of the countries we cover, must be widely collected. Area specialists and special procedures are needed for effective area studies librarianship. Indeed, at the recent conference at Yale on The Global Record, Don Waters of the Mellon Foundation noted the following:

 

"The problem is that primary and secondary resources from other countries are not collected comprehensively enough to support US scholars ."

 

This statement supports our belief that area studies centers like UIUC must act carefully to protect established riches.  Yet we wholeheartedly agree that changes are needed to preserve, expand, and further position our collections for the 21 st century.

 

Indeed, with the growing interest in "global" or " transcontinental" aspects in the world of learning, area studies become even more indispensable since they underlay these newly developed approaches. Global studies treat trends across world areas, while area studies examine the specificity of world areas; the two complement each other.  In fact, some institutions like Pittsburgh place Global Studies and Area Studies within the realm of a Center for International Studies.

 

In this environment it is imperative that we not only maintain and develop our rich collections, but also service them appropriately for the benefit of our users.

 

The Proposal

 

We believe the following proposal builds on our solid foundation and addresses all the goals of the Library's International Strategy: (1) Develop an international dimension to all library services, (2) develop outstanding collections, (3) promote the University Library within the international library community, (4) engage the public in international activities at the University library, (5) strengthen the role of international activities within the University Library, and (6) develop the resources to support international library activities.  The proposal also attends to the ongoing goals that the Library has identified:

 

 

The Area Studies Division therefore proposes the following new directions:

  1. Establish a centralized Area Studies Information Center to promote our public services and collections, including appropriate digital equipment and software as well as traditional reference sources. This service will handle more requests, not only from undergraduates, graduates, faculty, and local communities but also from smaller regional academic centers and our peer institutions worldwide;
  2. Develop a coordinated outreach program to undergraduates and members of the local and regional communities, including a broad-based information and digital literacy campaign.  We hope to spark interest in the wider world at a time in their lives when undergraduates are open to the exploration and study of other cultures;
  3. In collaboration with the Library's Digital Services and Development Unit, identify a space in which to expand Area Studies digital initiatives in support of scholarship, so as to provide an appropriate environment for consultation on area themes and technology services from scholarly to undergraduate;
  4. Expand promotion of Area Studies collections and the expertise of the faculty by building upon existing partnerships and instigating new partnerships with various units in the Library and on campus;
  5. In collaboration with subject librarians, pursue expansion of our collection focus for all Area Studies units to include more English and other Western language materials in order to collect important neglected materials, fill gaps, and extend our user base to undergraduates and local community members;
  6. Maintain and enhance the Asian and Slavic technical services operations, which are based on language and subject expertise.

 

1. Centralized Area Studies Information Center

 

> Establish a centralized Area Studies Information Center to promote our public services and collections, including appropriate digital equipment and software as well as traditional reference sources. This service will handle more requests, not only from undergraduates, graduates, faculty, and local communities but also from smaller regional academic centers and our peer institutions worldwide.

 

(1)   Area studies services and collections emphasize geographic and linguistic expertise necessary for scholarship at all levels. "Global" or cross-cultural and transnational studies are currently popular, but cannot take the place of area studies.  Global and area studies complement each other and are both valid for their own purposes. Area studies require specialized resources along with linguistic and subject expertise.

 

(2)   A centralized service point can maximize service potential while minimizing service demands. The Area Studies Division currently has four service points in the following locations: Africana/Afro-Americana, Asian, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Slavic and East European units. These four service points would be merged into one.  The central point would be staffed by all of the division's librarians and library specialists. Reference or research questions needing expert advice and language expertise not immediately available would be referred to the appropriate librarians.

 

(3)   Further development of a more extensive English-language reference service will greatly expand our ability to serve undergraduates and the wider community. See Section 5 below.

 

(4)   All of the Area Studies units now provide local, national, and international reference service.  But the highly successful Slavic Reference Service can serve as a model for a combined Area Studies Reference Service and possibly an expanded International Reference Service that will handle more requests, not only from undergraduates, graduates, faculty, and local communities but also from smaller regional academic centers and our peer institutions worldwide.

 

(5)   It should also be noted that 50 percent of the queries now handled by the Slavic Reference Service fall into the area of science and technology (enabled by the greater abundance of electronic resources).  This underscores with great clarity the integrated, interdisciplinary and core nature of our area studies services

 

2. Digital Literacy and Outreach to Undergraduates

 

> Develop a coordinated outreach program to undergraduates and members of the local and regional communities, including a broad-based information and digital literacy campaign.  We hope to spark an interest in the wider world at a time in their lives when undergraduates are most open to the exploration and study of other cultures.

 

(1)   Undergraduate outreach and the promotion of digital literacy are important library priorities.  It is vital that area studies librarians join these efforts, and collaborate with other library colleagues in promoting initiatives already underway.

 

(2)   The work of the Slavic Library's Digital Humanities Fellow can serve as a model.  It will include even closer interaction with teaching faculty, including extensive involvement in the teaching of appropriate classroom-based information literacy.

 

(3)   The Area Studies Division will coordinate its outreach programs with other library units, especially the Undergraduate Library, as well as with the area studies centers, ethnic studies programs, the International Studies Office, Study Abroad Office, the international living-learning programs, and student groups;

 

(4)   It will be important to have an excellent exhibit space to showcase collections and highlight activities.

 

(5)   Library programming including films, music, and poetry should be used in outreach to appropriate campus organizations and groups.

 

3.  Digital Initiatives in Support of Scholarship

 

>  In collaboration with the Library's Digital Services and Development Unit, identify a space in which to expand Area Studies digital initiatives in support of scholarship, so as to provide an appropriate environment for consultation on area themes and technology services from scholarly to undergraduate.

 

(1)   In creating a small space with limited but appropriate equipment for digital services and technology consultation that caters to the special need of our users, the Library will clearly strengthen the new image of the Area Studies Division.

 

(2)   This facility will allow members of the Division to respond to the increasing demand for digital assistance as faculty and students become more interested in area-relevant technology applications like GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and XML-based SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics).

 

(3)   This activity will certainly increase when Area Studies librarians participate extensively in the classroom-based information literacy efforts noted 2.2 above.  

 

4. Partnerships

 

>Expand promotion of Area Studies collections and the expertise of the faculty by building upon existing partnerships and instigate new partnerships with various units in the Library and on campus.  

 

(1)      The core activities outlined above will benefit greatly from an expanded emphasis on partnerships of all kinds.

 

(2)       Partnerships are an effective way to reach out to diverse populations, allowing Area Studies to highlight its rich and unique collections and its expertise. 

 

(3)      Through partnerships, the Area Studies Division can explore collaborative projects with other library and university units to strengthen collections and meet the needs of underserved populations.

 

New partnerships

 

 

Existing Partnerships

 

 

5. Western-Language Collections and Services

 

>In collaboration with subject librarians, pursue expansion of our collection focus for all Area Studies units to include more English and other Western language materials in order to collect important neglected materials, fill gaps, and extend our user base to undergraduates and local community members.

 

(1)   UIUC has been a flagship library for delivery of service through subject libraries.  It has been a deliberate strategy for area libraries to rely on them for some portion of their collecting--enabling most area libraries to invest more funds in vernacular language texts and materials published in the areas covered, and allowing them to build collections of almost unparalleled strength.

 

(2)   But this strategy has had unforeseen consequences: a perception among some librarians that Area Studies libraries seek only to acquire little-used foreign material, and a perception among some users that they are best served by library units focusing on English-language resources.

 

(3)   We propose to expand our collaboration with colleagues outside of the Division whereby Area Studies libraries increase their responsibility for English/Western language titles.  This will make it possible to buy currently neglected important materials and fill in significant gaps while maintaining the preeminence of our foreign language collections.

 

(4)   We suggest a regularly scheduled caucus meeting for all selectors in humanities, social science, and area studies to foster broad and more frequent cooperation.

 

6.  Technical Services Operations

 

> Maintain and enhance the Asian and Slavic technical services operations, which are based on language and subject expertise.

 

(1)   Members of the Division understand that there are certain advantages to a centralization of Library technical services operations.  However, due to the unique nature of procedures for acquiring and processing vernacular material and the language and subject expertise required, we strongly maintain that the current workflow from selection, to acquisitions, to cataloging, and shelving should remain within the two units to achieve economy and efficiency.

 

(2)   Asian and Slavic librarians have multiple functional responsibilities which are language and subject based.  These responsibilities include collection development, fund management, reference, cataloging, faculty liaison, information literacy, and training/supervision of acquisitions/cataloging performed by the language specific staff and students.  This holistic approach to area studies librarianship is entirely appropriate and beneficial, as it allows us to have a good understanding of the needs and demands placed on our technical services.  By maintaining and enhancing our technical services we are positioned to better support other library operations, such as reference, digital projects and outreach efforts, in the division and beyond.

 

(3)   We would welcome discussions on enhancing the role and the aims of Area Studies technical services within the greater system of Library technical services.  

 

Conclusion

 

We believe that, if implemented in tandem, these new directions would achieve important results:

 

• Expand current and develop new and exciting services for undergraduates, underserved racial, ethnic, and cultural student populations, and members of the local and regional communities;

 

• Preserve the integrity and improve the use of materials, including vernacular collections;

 

• Achieve staffing efficiencies and promote staff development while maintaining specialized area studies expertise.