SEALG Conference and Annual Meeting, Marseille 2023

The conference and annual general meeting of the Southeast Asia Library Group (SEALG) took place in collaboration with CNRS / Maison Asie Pacifique at the University Aix-Marseille, on 15-16 June 2023.

It was attended by participants from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The first day, Thursday 15 June, started with a roundtable discussion of organisational news that was opened by SEALG chair Christophe Caudron and Louise Pichard-Bertaux, director of the Maison Asie Pacifique in Marseille.

The roundtable was followed by the annual general meeting, during which the minutes from the annual general meeting 2022 in Paris were approved, and financial matters following the stepping down of Margaret Nicholson as Treasurer last year were discussed. Next a question regarding the possibility to introduce membership certificates was raised and the attending members voted against the issuing of such certificates since the group has no capacity to carry out vetting. Christophe Caudron and Jana Igunma then gave an update regarding the migration of the SEALG website to a hosting platform that is free to use. All the content of the old website had been moved to the new site, except the section ‘Libraries’ which was still in progress of being updated. Plans have been made to improve the website and to make it more useful to researchers and librarians/curators working with Southeast Asian collections. The website is a ‘project in progress’. A link on the new website leads to the SEALG Blog which will be kept for the time being.

It was also discussed to find ways to secure good contributions for the SEALG Newsletter regularly. The participants agreed that graduate students could be invited to contribute, as it is not a peer-reviewed e-publication. To allow potential authors more time to work on their contributions, the Call for papers must be circulated earlier than in previous years. Other discussion points were ways to improve and intensify co-operation with the North American network CORMOSEA (Committee on Research Materials on Southeast Asia) and libraries in Japan, and the possibility of a joint online meetings or a joint online conference in the future.

Reports from the participants’ libraries included the following updates:

  • Recent completion of digitisation projects of Burmese, Cambodian, Javanese, Lao and Thai manuscripts at the British Library, London
  • Addition of original scripts to catalogue records of materials in Burmese, Lao and Thai languages, specifically back-transliteration of Romanised Burmese records with support of Aksharamukha at the British Library, London
  • Chevening project to research and catalogue manuscript textiles from Southeast Asia at the British Library, London, to be completed in September 2023
  • Provenance research related to an exhibition “Burma to Myanmar” with loans from the British Library to open at the British Museum in London later this year
  • Community event with a show & tell session for the Rohingya community in the UK to share knowledge about their history, held at the British Library in London
  • Development of a digital library of publications from Southeast Asia at the Maison Asie Pacifique, Marseille
  • Cataloguing project of a large donation of over 20,000 publications including many 19th-century materials from Thailand at the Maison Asie Pacifique, Marseille
  • Completion of the move of the Library of Southeast Asian Studies into the new building of the central library at Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University in Frankfurt
  • Conference on looted artefacts and repatriation was held at UCLA Library, Los Angeles
  • Community outreach activities that aim at informing different communities about the collections and engaging members of these communities at UCLA Library, Los Angeles
  • Planning of a future community outreach event with the theme ‘Diaspora’ to inform communities about the libraries collections with the aim to increase usage at UCLA Library in Los Angeles
  • Development of a new digital finding aid “Collection Guides” in form of a search tool that offers a full text search of 663 Collection Guides at the Leiden University Library
  • Trip of a delegation from Leiden University and the University Library to Indonesia for the purpose of networking and discussing cooperation in the field of education and research, during which a new cooperation program with the National Archives of Indonesia was signed
  • Three Lingling Wiyadharma fellowships started in 2022, and another three have been selected to arrive after the summer 2023 for a three-month stay in Leiden to carry out research in the Special Collections at Leiden University Library
  • Research and support for libraries regarding the application of existing and development of more UNICODE scripts for inclusion in catalogue records of materials in Southeast Asian languages; support with back-transliteration of Romanised catalogue records provided by Jennifer Wong, Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (Inalco), Paris
  • Provision of advice for the development of an OCR method for the Digital Buddhist Library for advice on developing OCR for palm leaf manuscripts, Jennifer Wong, Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (Inalco), Paris
  • Celebration of the 100th anniversary of the East Asia Department at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, with contributions of the Southeast Asia section to an anniversary publication and the lecture series „CrossAsia Talks“
  • Project to improve accessbility of Thai and Vietnamese materials at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, e.g. acquisitions from the 1960s and 1970s. Cataloguing of 500 Thai books with external support by the Thai Embassy in Germany , as well as cataloguing of a donation of approximately 280 Thai books from the collection of Heinrich Damm; online cataloging of futher 500 Thai and 200 Vietnamese titles has started
  • Project to sort and catalogue a large collection of newspapers from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, mostly in English and a few in French, and a small quantity in Thai and Myanmar languages at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin
  • Expansion of the collection of electronic resources at the Staatsbiliothek zu Berlin and revision and update of two large databases with over 18,000 digitised manuscripts: Digital Library of Lao Manuscripts and Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts, which increased usage numbers drastically.

Finally, suggestions for the annual general meeting in 2024 were discussed. Suggestions included Amsterdam and Venice, with Amsterdam being the preferred option as the host city for the EuroSEAS Conference planned to take place in the city from 22-26 July 2024. Although a final decision about Amsterdam has yet to be taken, one idea for a panel has already come up: scripts and transliteration. It was suggested to await the Call for panels/papers and to discuss a final decision in an online meeting of the committee later this year.

In the afternoon session of that day, the latest research activities of participants were presented.

Maria Kekki, British Library, spoke about “Cataloguing Burmese Titles: The Burmese Script Conversion Project” highlighting work carried out at the British Library to add original script to approximately 20,000 existing catalogue records of Burmese materials.

Jennifer Wong, Associate researcher at ERTIM, Inalco, gave a presentation titled “Adventures with Myanmar Unicode – Challenges & Workarounds” concerning computerization issues faced by researchers working with Burmese, both in natural language processing and general research in Burmese, explaining specific details of encoding Burmese in Unicode, the subtleties of which can create confusion. She outlined some examples of the solutions she’s been using, such as error detection methods and online keyboards. 

Christophe Caudron, Maison Asie Pacifique, Aix-Marseille Université, gave a talk on his ongoing research project “The Lao Archive Collected by Arthur J. Dommen. Contents and Valorization: First approach” giving an overview of the collection and approaches to analyse the contents and to catalogue the materials.

Next, Holger Warnk, Department of Southeast Asian Studies, Goethe University Frankfurt, presented his research on “The Collection of Professor Wilfried Lulei”, former Professor for Vietnam Studies at Humboldt University Berlin, which the library of the Goethe University Frankfurt acquired recently.

Marije Plomp, Leiden University Library, discussed new approaches to improving discoverability and accessibility of Southeast Asian collections at the Asian Library of the University in Leiden in her presentation with the title “Where to Find the Finding Aid? and Other Tales on Obstacles on the Users’ Journey”.

Jana Igunma, British Library London, and Noon Methaporn Singhanan, Chevening Fellow at the British Library, gave an overview on the “Chevening Fellowship 2022-23: Manuscript Textiles in the Southeast Asian Collections” which highlighted the discovery of rare and precious textiles in the Southeast Asian collection at the British Library.

Jade Alburo, UCLA, gave a talk on “Collection development of Southeast Asian and Asian American materials at UCLA Library” informing about acquisition strategies of Southeast Asian materials and increasing the involvment of and outeach to Asian American communities in collection development to increase usage.

Noon Methaporn Singhanan and Jana Igunma gave a talk on the “Chevening Fellowship 2022-23: Manuscript Textiles in the Southeast Asian Collections” at the British Library

On Friday, 16 June, the group visited the Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer (ANOM) in Aix-en-Provence. Isabelle Dion (Director), Sylvie Pontillo (Assistant Director), Anne Laure Vella and Bruno Poinas (archivists) welcomed the participants and gave an introduction to the collections related to Southeast Asia at the Archives, which was followed by a tour of the public areas where users can consult the archival materials. Afterwards, the group attended an outstanding show&tell session of selected archival materials related to the history of Southeast Asia during which the participants had the opportunity to ask questions about preservation and storage, collection management, digitisation and how to get access to these materials.

Display of archival materials relating to the history of Southeast Asia at the Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer

After the visit to ANOM, the group travelled to the Blue Coast at Niolon where a final roundtable discussion gave participants the opportunity to network and to further discuss the presentations and talks from the previous day.

The committee of the Southeast Asia Library group wishes to express their utmost gratitude to the CNRS/Maison Asie Pacifique at University Aix-Marseille for their generous support and for hosting the conference and annual general meeting of the Southeast Asia Library Group.

Report by Marije Plomp and Jana Igunma

Excursion and Round Table discussion at the Blue Coast, Niolon