South Asian Studies Librarian & Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Libraries
MSLS, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2010
Thacker studies West African dance and cofounded Midwest Mandeng, an annual West African drum and dance festival in Central Illinois
Photo by Heather Murphy
Global Comics on Campus
Mara Thacker’s love of Indian culture began at 18 when she watched her first Bollywood film. Captivated, she dove into South Asian literature, learned Hindi, and, ultimately, earned a degree in Indian literary and cultural studies. This gave her the tools to create a unique collection of South Asian comics and graphic novels at her library.
Now a recognized leader among South Asian library specialists, according to Jo Ann Jacoby, assistant director at the University Library, University of Illinois (UI) at Urbana-Champaign, she brings new ideas and inspiration and finds opportunities for collaboration and outreach. Thacker works with scholars internationally and in the United States to ensure that academic libraries nationwide have a comprehensive collection of resources about Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. She reaches out to students, faculty, staff, and the local South Asian community to familiarize them with the resources in her library and at other institutions. “Although relatively new to the field, [she has] already begun to reshape the landscape of area studies librarianship,” says Jacoby.
One of Thacker’s ideas for public engagement is Chai Wai, an event series that gives the UI community a means to explore global issues through panel discussions, exhibits, and library resources. Chai Wai means “tea, or something like that” in Hindi. Since Thacker created the template for the events in 2014, she and her colleagues at the International and Area Studies Library have offered two or three sessions a semester, drawing 25–105 attendees to each. Topics include gender-based violence, immigration, and international censorship.
The South Asian comics collection came about in 2012 after Thacker was asked to suggest Hindi comics for UI’s undergraduate graphic novel collection. While a few U.S. libraries offer a small selection of Hindi comics, says Thacker, “I realized that nobody [in the United States or India] was really collecting comics from South Asia,” partly because international travel can be a barrier.
Since then, through fieldwork and research, Thacker has established cooperative collecting arrangements to make it easier to acquire Indian comics, forged relationships with vendors in South Asia, and grown the UI collection to more than 1,200 volumes from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. She hopes to develop relationships with libraries and cultural institutions in India to serve scholars there.