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Library Outlook 2013


The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies Library (ISEAS Library) is a cornerstone of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies research programmes and the heart of the research process on contemporary Southeast Asia. It was set up one year before the Act of Parliament to establish the Institute was passed in 1968 as a research centre which interest is focussed on the many faceted problems of development and modernization, and political and social change in Southeast Asia. The ISEAS Library’s role is to support the mission and research goal of the Institute as a regional research centre for scholars and other specialists concerned with modern Southeast Asia particularly in its three main areas, viz., economics, politics and international relations, and social and cultural issues. Its aims is to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date research collection in printed and   electronic forms for both in-house and external researchers on Southeast Asian studies as well to perform a comprehensive archival role for the region of its wealth of information resources.

The Library now has a total of 15 permanent staff, five of them are professionally qualified librarians. Since its inception 45 years ago, ISEAS Library has earned the distinguished reputation as a de facto regional library-based resource centre that houses an excellent collection of Southeast Asian materials on the applied social sciences.


Collection Policy

One of the main and important functions of the ISEAS Library is collection development in which the library professionals with the help of in-house core researchers select and recommend for acquisition information materials on Southeast Asia in all languages and formats in the applied social sciences, except for law.  Indonesia constitutes a major acquisitions programme.  As a social science research library, it also makes prudent and judicious selections of post-doctoral research materials in non-programme areas, and endeavours to fill in gaps in related subjects. The Library collects selectively in certain disciplines in the humanities relating to fine arts such as textile designs, built forms, dance and music. The environment as it relates to social, economic and political developments, human rights, gender issues concerning women, emigration and immigration, demography and population, and traditional medicine are also of interest.

The book trade in the region poses tremendous challenges to the Library collection development, especially in regard to non-commercial publications and small and unknown presses and publishers. The Library needs to scour and ferret research materials which are not normally available in the retail market, by applying unconventional ways of sourcing for these materials. Increasingly, Web sites of the book and publishing trade, international and regional organizations, government and non-government institutions are being checked frequently for sources on new publications. Field trips to the individual countries have to be made from time to time. Although the field trip is a time-consuming and expensive way of acquisitions but it is necessary if the Library wants to maintain a good quality and comprehensive collection development.

The Library also uses an informal strategy utilizing the knowledge expertise of researchers to help source the hard-to-get materials and/or purchase them on behalf of the Library when they go on field work themselves. Some of them can also be persuaded to deposit copies of their research materials at the beginning, or end of their research work. Some researchers on their own initiative give the Library research publications, some of which are unpublished materials, and they continue to alert the Library of new sources and publications in their field of study. This of course takes a lot of patience, time and perseverance, and requires a network to be developed and sustained due to the high turnover of visiting researchers, research topics and projects. 

Networking is also established with other libraries and librarians connected with Southeast Asian studies. The Library participates in the U.S.-based discussion group CORMOSEA (Committee on Research on Southeast Asia) on the Internet. Since 1992, the ISEAS Library has been participating in the United States Library of Congress (LC) Acquisitions Program for Indonesia, extended incrementally to cover the rest of the region. Joining this LC programme has substantially enhanced the collection development efforts of the Library.

Considerable time and emphases are devoted to collection development which constitutes the core foundation of what makes the ISEAS Library unique and excellent as a social science research library on the region. However the efforts are being hampered by the shortage of professional and non-professional staff that has to be multitasking and multidisciplinary in their work approach and content.

The Collection

A major strength of the library collection is in primary materials which form a large part of the collection to beef up the research capability of the Library. They include current newspapers, manuscripts, private papers, unpublished materials such as conference papers, dissertations, statistical data, etc. Others are fugitive or grey literature such as short print-runs of documents, press releases, pamphlets, leaflets, brochures, posters, exhibition catalogues, calendars, etc., of research value. Increasingly, the Library is converting some of its collection to digital format, as with reformatting some into microform. It is also acquiring and storing in its databases digital information in full-text as well as statistical data in its servers and CD-ROM formats. These are for preservation, conservation and/or access purposes.

The main collection of ISEAS Library is now totalled to nearly 600,000 items, comprising about 227,000 volumes of books (or 148,000 unique titles), 240,000 fiches and microfilm reels (or 50,000 titles) and over 1,300 current serial titles (including 36 newspapers and 550 print and e- journals) In addition there are almost one million pages of private papers of 18 prominent personalities of the region with another three are still pending.


Deposition, Gifts and Exchange

It is a practice of ISEAS Library since the early nineties to ask researchers to deposit at least a copy of their work which arises from their utilizing the resources of the Library and also, a set of papers from the conference they have attended, upon their return.  A large number of unpublished doctoral dissertations and conference papers have been collected via deposition to enhance the collection. The set up of the Library’s Gifts and Exchange Programme with selected libraries and institutions allows them to deposit or exchange their publish titles especially journals, working/research/occasional/ conference papers. Exchanges are established mainly when the institution prefers an exchange, does not sell its publications, and/or when the currency exchange mechanism is prohibitive.  The number of partners and titles of exchange programmes vary from year to year. There were 102 exchange partners during the last report year with 51 per cent of which from within the region. Where it is possible, a direct purchase is preferred because exchange programmes are labour intensive and require tenacious and special skills, including a lot of patience on the part of the librarian in charge. Even then, some institutions in the programme experience problems with the high cost of postage that forced them to cease depositing or exchanging their publications with ISEAS Library.

Archival Materials and Microforms

Retrospective materials constitute a vital collection to meet the objectives of an applied social science research library. Where relevant print materials are reformatted or purchased in reformatted digital and/or microform for preservation and conservation to facilitate access to them once their current appeal ends. This is a continual exercise which is time-consuming and expensive, but is a committed project. The problem of space makes it necessary to select only a small number of journal titles and documents to be bound, with the rest being converted to digital and/or microforms. Up to the present time, very few old book titles are discarded, except for non-regional titles. In time, a warehouse may have to be considered to house these important materials to solve a problem of shelving space due to the increase of the collection over the years.

Rare Books

Since its inception, the ISEAS Library has been selecting and collecting rare or antiquarian titles on the region through second-hand and antiquarian bookshops, most of which are located in the U.S., U.K, and Australia. There was an unwritten agreement with the National university of Singapore (NUS) and the then National Library (NL) (now reconstituted as the National Library Board (NLB)) that they would have first priority on titles relating to Malaysia and Singapore respectively, while  ISEAS Library would concentrate on the rest of Southeast Asia.  A good portion of Southeast Asian rare books are now in the ISEAS Library collection, the earliest volume being Description historique du royaume de Macacar, divisee en trois livres by Nicolas Gervais, published in 1688. The first-two editions of Stamford Raffles’ The History of Java published in 1817 and 1830 respectively are prized titles in the collection.  Apart from English titles on Burma (Myanmar), there are substantial Dutch titles relating to the Dutch East India Company, as well as French titles on Indochina (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia).

Increasingly, selected titles up to the pre-war World War II period, and some up to the 1950s from the general collection, are added to the collection. As the rare books are a valuable asset to the ISEAS Library, they have mostly been reformatted into microfiche or microfilm and digitized whenever fund permitted. They are stored on display shelves in a suitably climatic-controlled room. Users can only refer to the film or digital copy, unless a study of the physical volume is necessary. The library is planning to have the collection reviewed by experts so as to assess their value for internal record purposes. In lieu of its inherent value the collection is to be stock-take every two years instead of every five years as with the general collection.  

Private Papers

The Library has a collection of Private Papers collected from 1971. The papers are from:

  1. Alex Josey
  2. David Marshall
  3. G. William Skinner
  4. George McT Kahin
  5. Gerald D. Cruz
  6. H.S. Lee
  7. J.P. Hannah
  8. Lim Kim San
  9. Loke Wan Tho
  10. P.G. Lim
  11. S. Rajaratnam
  12. S.Q. Wong (Siew Qui)
  13. Tan Cheng Lock
  14. Tun Ismail Abdul Rahman
  15. Ivan Polunin NEW!

The latest additions to the collection were papers of a well known naturalist Dr Ivan Polunin. Except for the photographs and some artefacts, all the papers either have been or will be digitized and converted into microfilm to conserve and preserve the originals, and users can access only their microfilm or digital copies. The original papers are stored in a special room with proper 24-hour climatic control.

Multimedia collection 

The collection comprises a core collection of slides, photographs and black and white negatives taken by the late American architect Dorothy Pelzer who spent eight years from 1962 to 1970 travelling the region to capture on film habitats, folklore and cultural norms of indigenous peoples. Collections of other researchers taken on field trips, and some which have been purchased from specialist vendors have been added to the collection. Duplicates have been made, where the originals are put in   permanent storage, all of which are in special rooms which are climatically controlled. There is also a small collection of audio and video recordings of documentaries on cultural activities such as festivals, folklore, music, drama, fiction, including speeches and readings.


Access and online finding aids

The Library started its computerisation effort when it became a full participant of SILAS (Singapore Library Automation Services) in May 1988. It input cataloguing records into SILAS system and in return received its weekly accessions lists New Arrivals which alerted researchers and other users to new materials acquired by the Library, a printed catalogue, catalogue cards, spine labels and a microfiche catalogue from SILAS. The manual card cataloguing system was discontinued on 31 December 1989 and thereafter all new records were only available online and in the microfiche catalogue. Although it would take a few years for all the Library’s catalogue cards to be fully converted and input into SILAS database, it was necessary to close the card catalogue because of the growing backlog of cataloguing cards to be filed. At the request of ISEAS Library, SILAS acquired and downloaded OCLC microfiche records to which ISEAS holdings of Library of Congress (LC) microfiches, which the Library bought in bulk on standing order, were attached automatically by SILAS.

Since SILAS is only limited to cataloguing on a common platform, like other major libraries, ISEAS Library embarked on a search for a suitable library integrated computerization system. Appropriate library integrated management software was installed in 1992, of which the cataloguing module was the backbone, SEALion accessible online. Modules for acquisitions, serials, and journals articles index (SEABase, for in-house use only) were also developed. This software, Marquis, later renamed Horizon, and now SirsiDynix, went through several generations and change of ownership. In the latest version, ISEAS Library opted to lease and operates its system on the developer’s servers through the Internet Web, reducing the cost of investing in an in-house server, and dependence on in-house IT personnel. However due to the limited functions of this management software databases for the Library’s biographical records, private papers index, and text files had to be executed on separate proprietary software such as InMagic and Cumulus. Using the latter, the Library’s 100,000 over slides, photographs and negatives are being digitized and captioned (using metadata guidelines) with the view to making them available on the ISEAS Library online database worldwide. Soon, such access will also be possible for the private papers indexes, except that due to donor restrictions, no primary and unpublished documents may be made available online, i.e., researchers would still have to visit ISEAS Library to consult them.


Challenges ahead

Establishing, developing and building the Southeast Asia collection in the ISEAS Library is a combination of specialist professional skills, expertise and deep interest, including a sustained labour of love. It is, however, peppered with challenges like the lack of funding, shortage of professional and support staff. Be that as it may, the Southeast Asia collection in the ISEAS Library has  received distinguished international recognition, with its Indonesia collection second only to that of the Cornell University in the U.S., and in this too, it is steadily achieving parity in its current  titles.

Therefore it is in the ISEAS Library’s interest that its applied social science collection of contemporary and archival materials on Southeast Asia continues to attract interested researchers and users as they used to be in the first three decades of its establishment. The 1997 Asian financial crisis and the economic and energy crises of 2000s impacted greatly on the financial capacity of overseas scholars and post-graduate students to do sabbatical research here. With the advent of the Internet there is a lesser need to pay a physical visit to a Library as users can easily now locate the required information and data online and download.  Therefore it is imperative that the library find new ways of publicising its unique library collection and services to make the Library seen relevant as far as the visitors’ head count is concerned. Much of the efforts however have to be directed towards encouraging in-house researchers to make more visits to the Library by instituting for instance a research project that required researchers to use the Library’s special collections like private papers. Its circulation and reference policies and procedures could be refined to further facilitate the use of the collections. What the Library can do in this respect is however depending on the terms and conditions imposed by the donors of the collections and the current research trends of the Institute.