International and Area Studies Collections in 21st Century Libraries: Conference Report

Global map courtesy of Yale University Library.

A small working conference, International & Area Studies Collections in 21st Century Libraries, was held November 2–3, 2012, at Yale University, sponsored by the Duke, Columbia, and Yale University Libraries. Academic library leaders responsible for international and area studies collections and staff gathered to discuss common challenges and identify strategic areas for joint action. The conference represented the first time U.S. research library managers with oversight for these collections have met to create an ongoing forum for exchange.

The idea for a conference emerged as a result of the growing number of librarians with director-level responsibility for international and area studies collections. The conference conveners—Kristina Troost (Duke University Library), Pamela Graham (Columbia University Library), and Ellen Hammond (Yale University Library)—found they faced similar issues and challenges within their respective departments, but had few opportunities to discuss issues of common concern with other colleagues in research libraries across the U.S. who direct or supervise international/global/area collections.

Discussion at the event reflected a sense of urgency about the need to better position these library units so they can continue to thrive in rapidly changing academic library organizations. The participants recognized that improving their ability to advocate for their units while effectively demonstrating their organizational impact is a key challenge going forward.

Conference participants identified four additional broad areas of common concern:

  • financial constraints, especially the defunding of government programs that support international and area studies (including relevant library activities) at the university level
  • access to digital content, including affordable electronic resources, from their world areas
  • recruitment, training, and retention of area studies specialists in libraries
  • development of models for successful collaboration, including collection development (print and digital), digitization, and shared expertise

Through the discussions and working sessions, participants agreed on a number of goals, resulting in the following conference outcomes:

First, since there is no national level organization that provides an institutional home for area collection directors, there was keen interest in creating a means for continuing discussion. It was agreed to establish a listserv and virtual space for document sharing. James Simon, Director of the Global Resources Network at the Center for Research Libraries and a conference participant, offered the use of the CRL server for these purposes. (See further details below.)

Second, there was strong support for the development of strategies for advocacy and capacity-building. Action items include:

  • Development of a “toolkit” for those in area and international collections, to include:
    • methods for assessment and documenting impact
    • talking points for highlighting the importance of global/international/area
      collection activities
    • strategies for development and fund-raising
    • repository for job descriptions, shared data, etc.
  • Communication about the conference themes and outcomes
    • sharing of conference results locally with library colleagues and faculty
    • diffusion of conference outcomes to relevant national library organizations, especially area studies librarian groups
  • Promotion of research and publication related to area and international collections and expertise
    • cooperation with the editor of the Journal of Library Administration on a themed special issue related to this specialty

Third, there was agreement on the need to focus on the recruitment, training and mentorship of area studies librarians.

  • production of a white paper on the topic (or research article for the above special
  • creation of a checklist of competencies for area studies librarians
  • collaboration on mentoring through visiting librarians’ programs, both formal and informal
  • partnerships with library associations, library schools, and scholarly associations to increase awareness of areas studies librarian careers

Fourth, specific areas for collaboration were proposed, including:

  • coordination of acquisitions trips to relevant world areas
  • pilot projects on themes such as human rights or the environment
  • collaboration in areas such as collection development of data and web archiving
  • create an inventory of existing collaborations and define best practices

Continuing discussion and action planning will take place through the listserv and shared virtual space established at CRL. The conference organizers welcome the participation of other librarians with supervisory responsibility of international/global/ area collections. Those interested in participating should contact one of the conference organizers:

Kristina Troost
Head, International & Area Studies
Duke University Library

Pamela Graham
Director, Global Studies
Columbia University Library

Ellen Hammond
Director, International Collections & Research Support
Yale University Library