Newsletter No. 57 (January 2011)

Serving from the sidelines – supporting Korean Studies at the Australian National University Library1

Darrell Dorrington2

China/Korea Collections
ANU Library


Korean Studies has emerged from the shadows of East Asian Studies and now forms a significant focus for research and teaching at the Australian National University.  With Korean collection development and outreach being performed by an Asia-literate but non-specialist librarian, the challenges can be daunting.  However, by utilizing the expertise and good-will within the ANU academic community and beyond, a satisfactory service model has been developed.  This paper will address the specific challenges encountered and strategies developed in the provision of library support for Korean Studies at the ANU and suggest some ways in which that service might be enhanced.


The Australian National University is a medium-sized multi-disciplinary university.  As such, many of the courses which it offers includes elements which one might describe as having a connection to “Korean Studies” without it being specifically identified as belonging to a Korean Studies program. We also have a number of Korean Studies specialists including five core faculty members (1 Professor, 1 Senior Lecturer, 1 Lecturer, 1 Associate Professor and 1 Tutor), plus two post-doctoral fellows and two visiting fellows.  As far as students are concerned, in 2009, 46 ANU students were studying Korean as a coursework major along with 3 postgraduates.  This year the PhD contingent has grown to 9.

The Korea-specific undergraduate program includes language, history, politics and gender studies while Korea also forms a sometimes significant part of other courses which cover broader topics, including economics, international relations, history, culture and more.

Our university also has the added distinction of being a predominantly research-oriented institution with the undergraduate to research ratio being approximately 2:1, with research, generally speaking, commanding the lion’s share of our attention.  However, in reality, undergraduate courses can at times command a greater proportion of our resources, both financial or in terms of staffing, so the library contribution to the dual teaching/research programs may vary.

Asian Studies has been a core component of the Australian National University’s academic endeavour ever since its inception in 1946.  It was also a significant pursuit in its sister institution, the Canberra University College, with which it was amalgamated in 1960, and Korean Studies to a greater or lesser extent, always formed an integral part of both institutions’ research and teaching profile.

In comparison to the other major Asia-Pacific collections of China, Japan, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, the ANU Korea collection has not been represented in the library staffing profile with a dedicated area specialist.  And unfortunate as this may be, in these straitened times, this situation is not likely to change in the near future, so the task of supporting Korean Studies at our institution has fallen to the China librarian.

This is not to say that other Asia specialists have not been able to make a positive contribution to the pursuit of Korean Studies at the ANU.  My own Chinese studies, for example, have always incorporated a Korean element. Most Asia-Pacific studies students (and especially East Asian Studies) are exposed to a greater or lesser degree to Korea-related information or themes.  The courses of such mentors as Dr. Ken Gardiner or Dr. John Caiger in the Asian Civilization courses at the ANU, which were compulsory for a student specializing in an Asian language, each incorporated material on Korea in both the classical and modern ages.


The challenge for a non-specialist librarian is to enlist all means at his or her disposal to get across the task without actually having the linguistic or subject specialist knowledge to facilitate the process.  In my experience, some of the strategies that have been helpful have been:

1. Liaise closely with faculty members and researchers in identifying needs and opportunities in collection development.  While academic recommendation is the major method of collection development at the ANU, academics often become preoccupied with their own teaching or research and it is important to work on the relationship by attending faculty seminars and functions and maximising the opportunity for liaison and exposure.

2. Liaise closely with other colleagues in the region – and in this respect, having Mrs. Kim at Monash and Mrs. Park at the ANL have been invaluable, not to mention the “virtual” presence of a range of other colleagues in North America and elsewhere via other forums such as Eastlib, Asialib or H-ASIA.  Monitoring and participating in such forums offers valuable assistance, specific guidance and ideas for collection development which might otherwise be unavailable.

3. Work closely with Gift and Exchange partners: this also helps alleviate another problem that plagues many tertiary institutions: our budget.  Exchange partners are often the source of resources crucial to the academic endeavour.  The ANU for example, has established valuable relations with the National Library of Korea, the National Assembly Library, the Academy of Korean Studies, the Korean Overseas Culture and Information Service, the Korea Institute for National Unification and many others, as well as being a beneficiary of the invaluable support of the Korea Foundation (both for gift monographs and also for financial assistance in subscribing to online resources such as the DBpia and KRpia databases) and other bodies.

4. Take advantage of other staff members who may have the language skills to help you in your task.  For example, we at the ANU have had the good fortune to have on staff Korean-speakers and by re-organizing a section’s work priorities or tasks it has been possible to deploy that person to process materials which has of necessity been put aside until such an opportunity has arisen.  One method I have used is to identify online records or describe an item’s contents such that one can make a decision as to the relevance or otherwise of an item to the overall collection profile of one’s institution.

5. Take advantage of external funding to process and develop your collection.  As mentioned above, the Korea Foundation is one such partner, but in the past, certain departments within the university have also offered funding to process material that they would like to see taken into the collection and this has enabled us to marshal staff and/or resources to complete the task.


Our service and outreach to Korean Studies scholars at the ANU has consisted of several strategies:

1. We offer “Library Discovery Sessions” to first year students in which we cover general library-related topics and search strategies, followed by a “walk-around” to familiarise new students with the building(s), the collections, the services and the study spaces.  My philosophy is that, if we do manage to attract a student to one of these early sessions, it often means that we then have them “for life” (or at least for the remainder of their academic life at the university)

2. We also offer vernacular language tours of the main undergraduate libraries in some of the Asian languages that we have within our Collection Management team.  Unfortunately at the moment this does not include Korean, but in some of the other discipline areas we have found that other library staff with a relevant language skill may be coopted to help out with such tours (e.g. for Thai), and there is no reason to believe that this may not be the case for Korean in the not too distant future.  This service is not immediately subject-oriented as the students may not be studying Asian or indeed Korea-related topics.  Rather, it is more intended to welcome them into the ANU community in a language they understand, and we do find that, again, this creates a bond between the library and the individual student, which often endures for the term of that student’s course at the ANU.

 3. Liaison with department heads and student affairs offices to identify newly arrived academics and research students and identify their area of interest so as to inform our everyday monitoring of the various sources of information of new publications or products.

4. “Opportunistic” follow-up of approaches by academics to the library.  For example, if an academic approaches us on a search topic or acquisition suggestion, we can use this opportunity to offer other services or enquire what other research needs the individual may have.

5. We currently offer two specialist sessions per year, hosted in a library learning space, on topics like “Researching your essay or thesis – with a focus on Korea”.  This is often timed to coincide with mid-term essay preparation or the new postgraduate cohort arrival.

6. “One-on-ones” with honours or post-graduates.  For this purpose I usually prepare a checklist of resources that academics at our institution have access to through our library for their literature review and I use this opportunity to stress that it is our role to assist them with respect to their information needs while they are pursuing their research at the ANU.  Post-graduates (as opposed to established scholars) within our institution are especially time-sensitive in terms of their information requirements and it is my policy to prioritise their needs as far as possible.  They are also often keen consumers of information products and as such can often present as more active partners in collection development.

7. We also offer tailored sessions on specific topics on request.  This is usually initiated by the convenor of a course and can take the form of a library “treasure hunt” on a specific topic or a session on how to use the Reference Collection for a specific essay topic.

8. One of the other useful tools in supporting our academics I have found is to maintain a set of “Handouts” which we are able to offer to new or continuing scholars to highlight the services or products that we may be able to provide.  I find that it is good to maintain an introductory hand-out as an Overview of Resources, accompanied by a list of “Significant Acquisitions for Korean Studies” and then a more detailed guide for identifying materials that would assist a new scholar in completing, say, a literature review.


Finally, I would like to outline some of the challenges that we may face:

1. Many of our “clients” can be “hidden” within other disciplines.  This can lead to an uneven service to our academic community if we are not careful.  However by using some of the strategies outlined above, this problem can be alleviated and the library can come to be seen as an important element in every scholar’s experience.  The challenge is to remain visible and available to help if and when the need arises.

2. As a research institution, often the materials our academics require are of necessity, not commonly available.  It is therefore a challenge both to identify a source and then to facilitate its supply – either by inter-library loan, outright purchase or copying.  Fortunately we do have a good library network that makes this job less challenging – probably because we all know that at some time or other we will be the requesting library and therefore it behoves us to take that extra step to help out.

 3. Increasingly, budgets and pricing pose a major challenge to academic institutions the world over and the ANU is no exception.  Fortunately in the field of Korean Studies, we have a cooperative relationship with the National Library of Australia such that, broadly speaking, the ANU supports undergraduate teaching and study while the National Library supports research.  This has worked well in the past but in the increasingly online environment and the concomitant burgeoning of products on the market, it may be necessary to explore more sustainable models of collection development into the future.

Especially in “niche” areas such as Korean Studies (much like Chinese studies), it makes sense to collaborate in order to be able to serve our clientele better.  Given the relative size of the population we serve in Australasia when compared to other markets such as Europe or North America, I feel that it behoves us to look at ways of guaranteeing a quality of access not inferior to our colleagues elsewhere in the world.

Whilst some institutions may benefit by co-location such that scholars are able to visit nearby institutions within the same city or region (whether that be New York or, on a smaller scale, Melbourne or Sydney) and either access materials as “walk-in users” or through reciprocal rights, given the distances and paucity of population in Australasia, this may not be the best guarantee for equitable access to the increasingly rich array of materials out there.  In order for our clients not to be disadvantaged by our population and distance, I would submit that a better user access model might be that offered by Germany or Canada.  For example, the Berlin State Library, through their www.crossasia.org consortium, offers access to scholars of Asia to products negotiated at the national level, thus guaranteeing equitable access to scholars across the country.  This also includes such Korea-relevant products as the E-Korean Studies and KISS databases and many others.

Negotiating national (or in our case, possibly Australasian?) access would guarantee equitable access by all scholars across the region, no matter how well resourced or otherwise their institution may be.

How this may be achieved I would submit should be a topic for discussion between colleagues and academics alike both within disciplines such as Korean Studies as well as broader subject areas, such as Asian Studies.  While in Australia we do currently have a forum called the Council of Australian University Libraries (CAUL), I would submit that often areas such as ours is not only confined to the university sector, but that national, state and even local libraries do have common needs in terms of information access, and therefore I would encourage such a conversation to take place.


1. This article was a paper presented at the 10th Pacific-Asia Conference on Korean Studies, held 24th and 25th November, 2010 at the University of Auckland. The Conference's theme was Korean Studies in Shift.

2. Photos: courtesy of the Author taken at the Conference and library visit.


This is a photo of Luke Hwang's presentation.  Luke is the Korean Studies librarian for the University of Auckland. In the audience is also (from left to right): Chie Emslie (Japanese librarian, University of Auckland) Haiqing Lin(Chinese librarian, University of Auckland) Darrell Dorrington (China/Korea librarian, ANU) Kim Jung-Sim (Korean librarian, Monash University).


This photo was taken on the day following the conference at the University of Auckland library. The Asian area librarians attending the conference were given a tour of the Asian collections and the library in general and then had a very constructive dialogue about the various practices, problems, and challenges facing us in our respective institutions and in the field generally. I would like to encourage other librarians to continue to try to make the effort to get together at every opportunity. The next such opportunity may be the 2011 Chinese Studies Association of Australia conference (http://www.conference.csaa.org.au/index.php?conference=CSAA&schedConf=2 011) to be held at the ANU 13-15 July 2011.


One more shot, just to make everyone jealous: this is the view from the window of the Asian Studies Library at the University of Auckland.


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