12 December 1995
London, Great Britain
Conference of the National Council on Orientalist Library Resources

Asian Links: Opportunities for Library and Archive Cooperation

The National Council on Orientalist Library Resources (NCLOR) is the umbrella organization for Area Library Groups in the field of Asian Studies on Korea, Japan, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and China in Great Britain. The main aim of the NCLOR is to coordinate the library activities of the several Area Library Groups and to facilitate the flow of information between them. It is policy that its annual meeting addresses a specific theme concerning Asian library resources. During the 1994 NCLOR annual meeting librarians from all over Europe turned their attention to the theme of international cooperation in the field of automation and electronic services. The papers delivered during this meeting were published as a supplement to IIASN 4 (1995) entitled: 'Provision for Asian Studies in Europe'. The NCLOR is the only national organization in Europe which deals specifically with library resources in the field of Asian Studies and as such could be viewed as a blue-print model for future organizations in other countries and eventually for a European organization on Asian Library and Archival Resources. In the Netherlands plans are afoot to create a Dutch Platform on Asian Library and Archival Resources.

By Paul van der Velde

The NCLOR Meeting 1995 took place at the British Library Oriental and India Office Collections Building in London. Many researchers into overseas history are familiar with the rich treasure-trove this building shelters and with its excellent research facilities. Fifty librarians from all over Great Britain gathered in the board room to attend what turned out to be a lively meeting. Six lecturers addressed the theme of the meeting, 'Asian Links: Opportunities for Library and Archive Cooperation', approaching it from both general and specific angles.
The opening speech, 'Policy Framework for Emerging Information Societies', was delivered by Nick Moore, Senior Research Fellow, Policy Studies Institute and British Council Regional Information Coordinator for East Asia. Using a policy matrix featuring the degree of development of information technology, human resources, and legislation/regulation in the organizational, industrial, and social reaches of society in the United States, Europe, and Asia. He made no bones about the fact that the policy frameworks in the United States, Korea, and Singapore were the most developed, whereas Europe as a whole and countries in Asia such as Indonesia and Myanmar have poorly developed policy frameworks (You will find the integral version of Moore's paper in this Newsletter).

Asia Archival Source Publication Projects
Anthony Farrington, deputy director of the British Library and a thoroughbred source publisher, gave a lecture on East and Southeast Asian archival publication projects in Great Britain. He briefly reviewed the endeavours relating to Asia in the source publications field which commenced with the Records of the Commissioners of the East India Company (EIC) in 1800. Up to the 1950s, approximately 50 volumes of various sizes and contents saw the light. Some of these contained full text publications and others, such as the English Factories in India Series (17 vols, 1906-1954) had a calendar format. The factor they had in common was their eurocentric background. Due to the dismantling of the empire, the interest in source publications on Asia dwindled in 1950s and 1960s. Since the 1970s, a new impulse has been given to source publications by researchers from recently independent countries who consider the Asian sources in European archives to be pivotal to the reconstruction of the histories of their countries. Eurocentrism has been relegated to the past and Asian researchers are becoming increasingly involved in the editing of new source publications. Such joint venture publications receive most of their funding from the governments of Asian countries or Asian funding organizations. Recently, in cooperation with researchers in Japan and Taiwan, Farrington has published volumes on the early English encounters with these two countries in the seventeenth century. Farrington's real interest is not India but the more marginal factories of the EIC in Thailand, Vietnam, Java, and Sumatra. Source publications projects concerning the factories in Thailand and Vietnam are now being undertaken in cooperation with Asian researchers. The Indonesian project is still at the teething stage, but plans to edit themed volumes, including pictures on e.g. tea and coffee, have been finalized and work on them will start in 1996. Here is an appropriate point to add my own personal conviction that Asia Archival Source Publication Projects should be stimulated at a European level. The development of a European Source Publication Policy with a strong Asian input would have the advantage of being able to address those themes which are important in present-day Asia-European relations. It would also include countries like as Portugal and Spain with long-standing source publication traditions in the field of Asian studies while countries such as Denmark, Germany, Russia, Italy, Austria, and France could be encouraged to step up their source publications projects (See are articles in this Newsletter on such projects in the Netherlands).

The Pagel Tibetan Database
Ulrich Pagel, Tibetan Curator of the British Library Oriental and India Office Collections, gave an interesting presentation about the relational database he developed in cooperation with a Paris-based firm in order to catalogue the Tibetan manuscripts in the British Library. It now contains detailed information on the 3000 odd Tibetan manuscripts in the British Library. Having 80 different fields the database offers a wide variety of search options and can be described as user-friendly. Several other institutes in the field of Tibetan Studies in Asia are already using the Pagel database and no doubt this database can be used to catalogue both Tibetan and other Asian manuscripts in institutes all over the world.

The British Library and Asia
All the other lectures dealt more with the activities of the British Library as such. Sue Howley, head of the International Office of the British Library, pointed out that the British Library has an expenditure of 110 million pounds, of which one-third is generated by income from services rendered by the Library. It employs nearly 2500 people, of whom only a small percentage is actively engaged in the study and documentation of Asia. The internationalization of library activities e.g. through the Conference of Directors of National Libraries, is high on the agenda of the British Library, as is the continuing development of the accessibility of its holdings through the internet. The Web- site of the British Library, Portico, is experiencing a steady growth in demand especially by Asian users. Graham Shaw, deputy director of the British Library, delivered a lecture on document dissemination as a means of cultural heritage sharing. He dealt specifically with dissemination to Asian partners, through (black-white) micro-films which he still finds qualitatively superior to more modern means of reproduction. Among the advantages of the dissemination of micro-films he singled out: increased access to all kinds of sources; the positive role it plays in cultural diplomacy; the archival back-up function; the revenue it generates for the British Library; and the evidence is supplied that Asia is playing an increasing role in the British Library itself.
The photo reproduction of Asian material in the British Library is also one of the services which creates both goodwill and generates money. In her lecture Annabel Gallop, Indonesian and Malay Curator of the British Library, talked about successful travelling photographic exhibitions from the British Library in Asia. She singled out the one sent to Indonesia entitled Golden Letters that toured the Indonesian Archipelago from 1991 to 1993 and visited 28 places. The exhibition, which attracted large audiences, was an Indonesian initiative and paid for largely by the ministries of Tourism and Postal Services of Indonesia. The British Library was also instrumental in choosing the gift from the British Government to the Indonesian Government represented on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its Independence, which consisted of a complete set of photographic reproductions of all early nineteenth century drawings in the Raffles collection.
You will find a feature article on the activities of the British Library in connection with Asia in the next issue of the IIASN.


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