Following more than 10 years of service, South Asia Studies Librarian Deepa Banerjee was recently promoted from Associate Librarian to Librarian at the University of Washington. She spoke with our graduate student assistant, Shelby House, about her career as a librarian and her experience at UW. Read their full conversation below to learn more about Deepa’s favorite parts of the job and her work on the South Asia collection.
For students at any level, Deepa can:
- Recommend the best databases to search for your research topic
- Answer your questions via email, phone or in-person
- Meet with you individually to hash out your topic or discuss research strategies
- Tell you about library services.
You can reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To start, I’d love to know how you came to be the South Asian Studies Librarian and what your experience has been at UW.
My career in librarianship began in a public library system in Sydney, Australia soon after the completion of my Masters in Library & Information Science (MLIS). I also worked as a librarian in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the King County Libraries in Seattle. I transitioned from public to academic librarianship when I joined the University of Washington as South Asian Studies Librarian in 2006. This career shift opened a fascinating world of new exposures and experiences in the arenas that were unknown and unfamiliar to me.
The last fourteen years at the University of Washington Libraries have given me many opportunities to apply my library and creative skills to efficiently manage my day-to-day responsibilities, take up exciting projects, expand library collections, and learn new technologies. Whether it’s answering an in-depth reference question, using a tool like Omeka for a Digital Scholarship project, each day brings endless possibilities of learning or trying something new. I’ve really been enjoying the multifaceted aspects of subject librarianship, and I have learned enormously from my knowledgeable colleagues every step of the way. Their continuous support and cooperation have been a continuous inspiration to strive for excellence and forge ahead.
Since joining the UW Libraries in 2006, I’ve collaborated with local, national, and international partners to establish professional relationships with vendors or shortlist materials to be digitized for South Asia Open Archives or present at international conferences in India. I’ve also contributed to digital scholarship projects and participated in cooperative collection development efforts. I was one of founding institutional members of the South Asia Open Archives initiatives, which works to provide open access to rare resources from and about South Asian continent.In addition, I am also one of the six active members of SAOA Digitization Working group since its establishment. As a member of this team, I have worked on prioritizing the resources for digitization based on high demand.
What’s your day-to-day like? How has COVID-19 changed your work?
My day to day job responsibilities include reference, collection development, instruction, budget management, community outreach and liaison with the South Asian Studies Department. I’m responsible for all facets of collection development for the department, and I am an advocate for the needs of South Asian Studies faculty and students. Since the library budget for buying these resources has been shrinking, I often write grant proposals to ensure continuous acquisitions of important materials.
In addition, I also secure grants for Foreign Acquisitions trips. These trips are unique opportunities to attend international book fairs in cities such as New Delhi and Kolkata to purchase books and other specialized materials from a variety of publishers in English and vernacular languages. Selected examples of important acquisitions over the years include South Asia Archives (Taylor and Francis), Foreign Office Files – India, Pakistan and Afghanistan – 1947-1982 (Adam Matthew Digital) and Times of India Digital database.
COVID-19 posed some challenges, with the closure of the library buildings and inaccessibility to physical resources. But with enormous technological and administrative support from UW Libraries, I was able to adapt to the new online working environment so that I can continue to offer my services.
What are you working on these days?
I’ve just completed the fourth phase of the South Asian Oral History Project, which aims to document the stories of South Asian immigrants who came to the Pacific Northwest in 1950s or later. This ongoing project provides an amazing opportunity to collaborate with community members, students, librarians and museums. While working on this project, I’ve established strong relationships with the South Asian community and local South Asian organizations, such as Indian Association of Western Washington, Indian American Education Foundation, and Uttoron.
The first three phases of the project formed the basis of a book (University of Washington Press, 2012) entitled Roots and Reflections: South Asians in the Pacific Northwest. This book was co-authored by Amy Bhatt and Nalini Iyer, and I contributed a foreword. The 50-minute documentary Raga and Tala: South Asian Performing Artists in the Pacific Northwest provides an overview of the fourth phase.
These immigrant stories serve as valuable primary resources for researchers and continue to enrich the South Asian Studies collection. They are also used as teaching materials by professors in History and Ethnic Studies. My long-term goal is to turn this project into a comprehensive and primary resource for current and future researchers at the UW.
Deepa is an invaluable resource to South Asia Center faculty, staff, and students.
Learn more about her work here.