University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries Magazine, Fall 2015 Fall 2016 - Page 26

Wisconsin Idea, A World Away By Erin Doherty Larry Ashmun, Courtesy U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh The premise of the Wisconsin Idea is that the reach of the University of Wisconsin should go beyond its students and faculty and into the community. In 1904, former University President Charles Van Hise famously said, “I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the University reaches every home in the state.” There are UW faculty, staff, and students all over campus who bring the Wisconsin Idea to life. Their work reaches outside the boundaries of the University and has a positive impact on people not only here in Wisconsin, but all over the world. Among them is Southeast Asian and Hmong Studies librarian and Linguistics liaison Larry Ashmun. “[My work] is always ongoing, between helping faculty and students here and helping people learning around the world in some cases…. Everybody and anybody is part of our audience.” Ashmun has three decades of experience as a librarian and a well-spent 30 years it has been. He started working for the UW Libraries as a Southeast and South Asian Studies Bibliographer in 2001. His current focus is on Southeast Asian and Hmong studies. During the late summer of 2015, he travelled to Cambodia and Thailand to run a 26 | LIBRARIES Fall 2016 training program for Cambodian librarians. “[The Center for Khmer studies] invited me to go to Cambodia for roughly a week’s work,” he said. “I went to Thailand too...Thailand is one of our big countries for Southeast Asia [Studies], and I just happen to be a specialist in that area, so it dovetailed nicely.” The trip consisted of two parts. The purpose for which Ashmun was contracted was to serve as a consultant and trainer for the Center for Khmer Studies (CKS) in Cambodia. He still provides assistance to them as they continue to develop their information services and library program, and his overseas colleagues had nothing but praises about his helpfulness and contributions to their work. “Larry worked closely with the librarian team at CKS for two and a half days. This training helped us better understand the online resources,” said Daraneth Um, Head Librarian at CKS. CKS Executive Director Krisna Uk, who also worked with Ashmun, expressed hope that he benefitted as much from spending time with them as they did from spending time with him. “He is a very good instructor, very eager to understand the CKS Siem Reap and other libraries’ needs,” she said. The workshop that Ashmun led took place in the capitol, Phnom Penh, and was entitled “Building the Capacity of Cambodian Librarians.” There were fourteen Cambodian attendees, most of whom were information specialists and librarians from Phnom Penh. One was from the U.S. Embassy and three were from outlying “American Corners” libraries. The second part of his trip took him to Thailand, where he went in search of new resources for the Libraries here at UW. “Thai Studies is presently the UW’s strongest area of Southeast Asian studies, so I always include time in country for liaisoning and networking with colleagues and resource contacts, as well as business with my principal Thai vendor, Thammasat University’s Bookstore,” he said. “Success this time included identifying new resources for acquisition and adding a new dimension to my arrangements with the Bookstore, namely that they will now acquire resources from Cambodia for the UW.”   This trip followed a number of others, including one in 2012, when Ashmun was the recipient of a Fulbright Specialist Program grant to Thailand, which also led to a series of U.S. Embassy-sponsored presentations in Laos. Of his various trips, he said, “[My work] is always ongoing, between helping faculty and students here and helping people learning around the world in some cases. Everybody and anybody is part of our audience.” The impact of his work is just as great in Wisconsin as it is across the world. Every summer he works with the Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute (SEASSI), an intensive eight-week language training program on campus. Approximately 100 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students attend the program each year. At the beginning of each program, Ashmun meets with the students to talk about the Libraries and the resources we offer. “I always want to connect to it because most of the students who are involved are from elsewhere; they’re not UW students…. in the summer, people from places that don’t offer these languages, at least on a regular basis or at the level they would like to study, will come here. I always make it a point to meet with them right at the beginning and just orient them to let them know that we have a lot of resources that [they] may not always have had access to,” he said. The University is not the only beneficiary of Ashmun’s dedication. For the past ten years, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has facilitated the Sunrise Program, which involves students from Thailand coming to live around the state for a period of three weeks. Ashmun serves as a contact for the University and helps to organize the visitors. He also assists Olbrich Botanical Gardens with the organization of its Thai Fest, which first began in 2005. Ashmun noted that Olbrich has the only Thai pavilion in North America. In addition to all of this, he also manages an impressive collection of books and other resources, one which regularly receives monetary support for Southeast Asian studies from the federal Title VI program and now includes the leading academic Hmong studies collection. Ashmun’s work, as well as the work of other librarians around the University, is valued by people not only in the geographical areas with which he is involved, but also by students and scholars all over the world. It is a living testament to the Wisconsin Idea; proof that the work done at the University does indeed span outside Madison, the state, and the country. (Top) Larry Ashmun with Krisna Uk of the Center for Khmer Studies. (Bottom) Larry Ashmun with 13 Cambodian librarians visiting the Information Resource Center in Phnom Penh. Courtesy U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh University of Wisconsin–Madison | 27