Tanya Lee, standing, program director for Asian Educational Media Service; events coordinator Jason Finkelman; and assistant program coordinator Susan Norris, are responsible for the successful expansion of the service to 118 libraries in East Central Illinois.
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - One of the University of Illinois' many hidden gems, the Asian Educational Media Service, recently became much more visible - and accessible to people based in East Central Illinois.
Earlier this summer, the service - a program of the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies dedicated to promoting the understanding of Asian cultures and peoples, and helping educators everywhere locate resources for learning and teaching about Asia - began making its media library available through the Lincoln Trails Libraries system.
Lincoln Trails provides inter-library loans to patrons of 118 public and school libraries in the system, within nine East Central Illinois counties.
Prior to that, AEMS had been quietly but efficiently going about its business as it had for the last decade in its humble offices on the second floor of a homey-looking building just off campus near the intersection of Pennsylvania and Lincoln avenues.
While instructors at all levels - from those who teach elementary students to college professors - have long relied on the U. of I. service as a resource for locating films, lesson plans and other classroom materials for Asian studies classes, AEMS program director Tanya Lee said access to the media library always has been open to the public as well.
"Anybody can come here, get an AEMS library card and check out items," Lee said. The on-site library includes more than 1,300 videos and curriculum materials.
"We have all kinds of material," Lee said. "At least 75 percent of the items are unique within the Lincoln Trails system. That means our collection is really special. No one in the country - if not the world - can touch our collection of documentaries."
By hooking up with Lincoln Trails, the media library has suddenly become much easier for area residents to use.
"Here we had this really great collection, but nobody knew we were here except for word of mouth or through friends of AEMS," Lee said. "I felt that this is a treasure here that I didn't want to be hoarding."
There's no chance of that happening anymore. "The day we went live and were visible in the (Lincoln Trails) catalog, we found 25 hold requests," she said.
Circulation of media materials to local and regional clients is actually just a small part of the service provided by the unit.
"The main thrust of AEMS is national - and beyond in focus, not local," Lee said. For example, the service maintains an extensive online database that allows people anywhere to search for DVDs, video cassettes, CD-ROMs, audio cassettes and curriculum units with audio-visual components. Each of the 5,400-plus records on file is accessible through the AEMS Web site and includes information on how to obtain the materials from distributors.
Lee said she and AEMS staff members - who include assistant program director Susan Norris, events coordinator Jason Finkelman and graduate assistants Jennifer Veile and Rachel Lenz - also offer free assistance by phone or e-mail. Reference requests range from "straightforward to weird," she said. One of the more interesting was from a soldier about to deploy to Afghanistan.
"He wanted to find films in Pashto," she said. "Susan gave him titles and places where he could acquire them."
Lee said AEMS also provides a number of other services for consumers of Asian films and media, including distribution of a newsletter that features reviews of the latest films. Reviews for the newsletter, which has a circulation of 4,000, are solicited from some of the top scholars in their fields. For instance, a recent issue included a review of a film about high school baseball in Japan, written by William W. Kelly, whom Lee described as "one of the foremost scholars on Japanese baseball."
"The newsletter is for educators, at all levels, whether Asian specialists or not, and we have something special to offer in bringing that expertise of our reviewers to a more general - yet teaching-oriented - readership," Lee said.
AEMS also sponsors a free annual Asian film festival, and is preparing for this year's screenings, which take place Oct. 3-5 at Boardman's Art Theater in downtown Champaign. The theme for the 2008 festival is "Young in Japan." Featured films are "Taste of Tea," directed by Katsuhito Ishii; "Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish," by Isshin Inudou; "Kamikaze Girls," by Tetsuya Nakashima; "Train Man," by Shosuke Murakami; "Hinokio," by Kanata Hongo; and "Wings of Defeat," by Risa Morimoto and Linda Hoaglund.
New this year, AEMS and the U. of I.'s Spurlock Museum will co-sponsor "Asia LENS," a yearlong documentary and independent film series, beginning on Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. in Spurlock's Knight Auditorium, 600 S. Gregory St., Urbana. The series-opening film will be "Golden Venture: A Journey Into America's Immigration Nightmare." The presentation will include a discussion led by Poshek Fu, a U. of I. professor of history, of cinema studies, and director of EAPS.
Among the series highlights, Lee said, will be the Oct. 21 screening of "The Flute Player," a documentary on the life and work of Arn Chorn-Pond, a Cambodian musician and human rights leader who survived the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge and today works to preserve his country's musical heritage and economic survival.
"This is a really exciting one," Lee said. "Arn Corn-Pond will be coming here, so it should all be very moving and inspirational." He will deliver a MillerComm lecture at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 in the Knight Auditorium.
More information about upcoming AEMS events, along with online access to its collection and database, can be found on its Web site at http://www.aems.uiuc.edu/.