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Re-examining the Role of University Libraries in the Service of Tibetan Studies

Hartley, Lauran R.

The founding and growth of Tibetan Studies in North America would provide an apt case to study the historical link between university library collections and academic programs. The receipt of Tibetan language materials through the PL480-authorized acquisitions program coordinated by the Library of Congress closely correlates with those schools where sizable amounts of Tibetan research and instruction eventually took hold, and in most instances pre-dated the first hiring of Tibetan Studies faculty. While this direct correspondence has weakened, many of the stronger programs in North America remain at schools with PL480 legacy collections. Exciting strides in the provision of Tibetan Studies resources and metadata in recent years, however, have been most dramatically led by groups not necessarily centered at university libraries -- with the innovative exception of the Tibetan and Himalayan Library, brain-child of David Germano and others at the University of Virginia. This trend holds true especially for North America, where the vast majority of collection development has passively relied on the PL480’s successor program, the LC South Asian Cooperative Acquisitions Program (SACAP). The result for our field has been relatively uniform print collections at most schools and a dearth of Tibetan-literate professional librarians and catalogers. The advent of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC) Core Text Collections has rapidly expanded the availability (and searchability) of materials for scholars, and now from the comfort of home. Such projects, in their vitality and prominence, have also served to highlight the value and breadth of Tibetan textual traditions and a field of vibrant scholarship at academic institutions. At the same time, vast digitization efforts have prompted some libraries to wonder about the need to preserve their legacy collections. Drawing on data from academic research library databases and with reference to current trends in university library and information science, this paper aims to identify challenges in the current model and practice of Tibetan Studies librarianship at North American universities. Taking as a premise that it is the role of academic research libraries not just to collect, but also to organize, preserve, and make knowledge accessible, this paper then explores models for how academic research libraries can better leverage and parlay their institutional strengths in a new environment through partnerships with private initiatives, cooperative projects across academic institutions, and in more robust support of classroom instruction and research.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Libraries and Information Services
Libraries
Published Here
October 15, 2013