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When we think of an item or a book being ‘unique’ we tend to immediately associate this with age – indeed, every item featured so far on this blog has been at least 80 years old. To change pace a bit I wanted to feature something from the last 5 years in today’s post.  The rise of Amazon, ebooks, and other electronic publication venues over the last 20 years have made finding and acquiring new media extremely easy for many of us. This embarrassment of riches conceals the still immense amount of  publication that is not readily available to most in the Penn community or the U.S. broadly. This is especially true of books printed in languages other than English and in countries outside North America and Europe as well as video and audio materials from all over the world. The team of subject specialist librarians here at Penn works hard to make sure we acquire these hard-to-get items.

Screen capture [5:40] from Padharo Mharo Des

You might think that winning an award at a prominent film festival would ensure the availability of the film for interested researchers. However, in the case of Padharo Mharo Des [a road trip through Rajasthan] that won the Best Documentary Film Award at the 2nd Dadasaheb Phalke Film Festival in Delhi this year is ‘unique’ to Penn in that it is not available at any other library in North America. It is not for sale through any usual internet channels and distribution networks. Dr. Pushkar Sohoni, our bibliographer for South Asia, acquired a copy of the film by personal communication with the film-maker, after he realized that her prize-winning films were not represented in our collections or those of other universities. In addition to Padharo Mharo Des, Dr. Sohoni also acquired Silent Ghungroos...a documentary about the traditional Lavani dancers of Maharashtra, also made by Gauri Warudi and also not in any library in North America [1].

Items produced in the past five years, found only at the Penn libraries, are unique for several reasons. Locally produced items for small fields of circulation and consumption are often ephemeral, and can only be collected in the field. Such material, otherwise difficult to acquire through regular channels of vendors and distributors, can sometimes be requisitioned through networks of dealers and vendors with whom personal relationships have been established. Rare, local, ephemeral, unusual and occasionally unique items might be brought back and gifted by faculty and graduate students in areas of their research. But as opposed to such passive collecting, it takes a lot more to pro-actively acquire primary source material unique to the libraries.

Dr. Pushkar Sohoni contributed to this post. For more on his research interests and areas of expertise see here.

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[1] Silent Ghungroos was similarly acclaimed, winning not only the Best Documentary Film Award in the IDPA-Nautanki.tv Online Film Festival (2007), but was also nominated at the Pulotsav Short Film Festival, Pune (2006), the Golden Gate Film Festival (2007), the Pen Thirai Film Festival, Madurai (2007), and the Capetown Bollywood Film Festival (2007).