The International and Area Studies Library (IASL) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a gateway for international studies. The Library’s collection includes nearly two million volumes in more than 150 languages. It serves as a gateway for students to global studies, and it enhances the collaboration of specialists across disciplines and institutions. In 2011, the International and Area Studies Library was created in order to better serve the needs of the campus community.
As the field of area studies has evolved, the work of librarians has been transformed to better support interdisciplinary research. Librarians are now required to engage with new transnational and interdisciplinary trends. They must be able to effectively communicate their roles, provide access to a variety of sources, and manage digital developments. At the same time, they must maintain their linguistic and scholarly expertise, and develop scholarly networks. These skills will help them contribute to the national area studies collections.
A career as an international and area studies librarian is a challenging and rewarding opportunity. It offers the opportunity to specialize in several programs, including East Asian Studies, Latin American Studies, and Middle East Studies. It also provides the chance to study intensively and develop a professional skill set.
Area studies librarians have a broad range of linguistic and scholarly expertise. They conduct regular fieldwork in regions of expertise and collaborate with area studies faculty on research and teaching activities. They may also participate in outreach programs to constituencies beyond the university. Their specialization is important in shaping the library’s collections. An area studies librarian’s skills are also useful in purchasing research resources and in evaluating the research resources they find.
International and area studies have evolved to reflect a variety of changes in political and economic contexts. Academic libraries are now under pressure to expand their reach and to meet new institutional goals. One of the most significant developments in area studies is the increasing importance of digital cultural output. Many libraries now have databases that allow users to search in multiple languages. However, it is crucial for librarians to stay abreast of the latest trends in transliteration, authority control, and publishing.
Area studies librarians at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are part of a growing network of scholars who engage in interdisciplinary research. For example, Stephanie Porrata, a librarian in the IAS Department, advances equity and social justice at the University Libraries. Nena Couch, head of area studies and Thompson Library special collections, supports strategic collection building and purposeful programming.
Area studies librarians are increasingly expected to examine their collections in light of a growing body of literature on decolonization, indigenization, and related issues. They are also called upon to discuss the changes in access to and distribution of resources, and the changes in publishing and publishing traditions. This work involves an ethic of care that recognizes contextual reasoning, connectedness, and relational responsibility.
Area studies librarians have a unique challenge in communicating their roles. To be effective in this role, they must understand research trends, the role of technology in collection development, and the role of publishing traditions.