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To Bangkok Conference programme

65th IFLA Council and General

Bangkok, Thailand,
August 20 - August 28, 1999

Code Number: 052-149-E
Division Number: V
Professional Group: Serial Publications
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 149
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

Serial murder in Southeast Asia:
collecting and preserving serials in changing landscape

Carol L. Mitchell
Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, Wisconsin, USA



Whether due to the age of a resource, its accessibility at the time of publication, its mode of publication and distribution, or its topic of interest, scores of journals, newsletters, and newspapers have fallen victim to time and history. They are victims of "serial murder". The scenarios that I describe in this paper uses examples drawn from Southeast Asia; however, the scene is played out daily across the globe; for every day we loose valuable information and unique cultural artifacts offered to us in serial publications.

A student or scholar approaches the librarian with a reference to a scholarly journal published in a colonial era newspaper. Our librarian sleuth checks major on-line databases then moves on to small printed bibliographies, but can find no evidence of this title. Has a serial murder been committed? Most sleuths will tell you that without a body, it is hard will be difficulty to prove murder has been committed much less find the culprit.

But is the culprit only our librarian predecessor who failed to anticipate our research needs by preserving the lesser know titles of their era? No, this problem is not one which is confined to the erstwhile negligence of our forebears. For today, we see that with ever increasing volume and variety of serial publications, the proportion which we are able to save has probably even declined since the colonial period.

For example: Non-governmental organizations representing everything from women, to peasants, to forestry and wildlife came of age in the Philippines after the fall of Marcos. The NGOs are spread all across the archipelago. If our librarian sleuth can find them, it is likely she will find broadsheets published on cheap, acidic paper. Can she get there in time to save these threatened species?

Every year sees an important political or social event in one or another of the countries of the region: an election in the Indonesia, social discontent in Thailand following economic restructuring, civil war in Cambodia, and student refugees from Myanmar forming political organizations. Astute politicians and non-governmental organizations started to promote their views on the social and political issues using electronic newsletters. Most of these ephemeral electronic products have now apparently disappeared, or are disappearing without so much as the proverbial pile of dust to mark their passing. Is this a virtual murder of an important artifact?

Music, fashion, movies, and MTV are the stuff of a thriving pop culture. Slick magazines decorated with movie stars and slim models may line the check-out counters of the modern Southeast Asian grocery store, but what of their predecessors, which document the desires and fashions of the 1950s and 60s? The hard-boiled librarian detective finds few on a library shelf.

As a librarian and mystery aficionado, I see a parallel between my job of finding a serial victim and that of the hard-boiled female detective (my favorite type of heroine) who stumbles into murderous trouble. Like most of us who deal with specialized area collections, I regularly discover a serial victim. It may be a minor reference to some long lost journal title or to a present-day advocacy group newsletter, but in both cases I am faced with inadequate bibliographic control and no address to pursue the printed record of its existence. I am no longer puzzled by the question: why I may have discovered some skeleton, a remnant of a past or peripheral culture. My job is find evidence of the possible victim and ensure its preservation for some unknown scholarly detective seeking to solve another historical or cultural mystery in another age.


In this paper I survey the sad, but seemingly inevitable loss of important serials from and about Southeast Asia. As librarian-sleuth with a knowledge and interest in Southeast Asia, I will introduce you to the victims of "serial murder" and investigate the usual suspects with war, time, and ignorance as the prime contenders on my list. However, I conclude optimistically that we can save past, present, and future serials, but only through the strong cooperative programs and alliances which I will suggest.

Why serials. Periodicals provide a regular glimpse at a society's workings across time. Statistics of trade provide us with a look at the basis of wealth for a particular nation in a particular period. Health statistics inform us about the prevalence of disease and sanitation habits. While comics might delight us with their visual appeal, they can also carry coded political messages that are clues to underlying social and cultural trends. Changing concepts of beauty and women's issues can be found in evolving women's magazines. There are, thus, many reasons to focus on serials as an important component of an area studies collection. Yet these are the most problematic of all resources. Identifying, acquiring, cataloging, and inevitable claiming, make managing Southeast Asian serial collections a challenge. But the challenge is not without rewards. In my work on women's resources, and more recently on women's serials in Southeast Asia, I have found absolute gems that owe their continued existence to a resourceful librarian-sleuth who was at hand to collect and preserve a unique cultural artifact.

Substantial increases in periodical titles, especially in science-technology-medicine, coupled with relatively stagnant budgets have forced many U.S. libraries to cancel sizable numbers of serial titles. A recent study of domestic serials cancellations in the United States indicated that most of the titles targeted for cancellation were unique (Chrazastowski and Schmidt, 1997). I suspect that the same would be true if we studied cancellation patterns for Southeast Asian serials in U.S. and European libraries. Yet, there has been no systematic analysis of serials resources to ascertain the rate of new subscription titles and cancellations.

The Victims: At risk titles

Statistical serials: While annual statistical compilations may now appear to be safe, closer scrutiny reveals serious gaps in the colonial-era statistical record. In an effort deserving accolades from Interpol, Hitotsubashi University in Japan has mounted an international program to collect and preserve historical statistics of Asia. As a result several unsolved mysteries have been resolved. For the Philippines, the economic historian, Yoshiko Nagano, has compiled a very comprehensive picture of colonial activity by piecing together runs of statistics for much of the nineteenth century from the Library of Congress, the Biblioteco Nasional of Spain, and the National Library of the Philippines. Similar crusades for economic, education, agricultural, climatic and medial statistics are required to give us both depth, that is frequency, of publication; and breadth; that is, statistics produced at the smallest reporting administrative levels.

The Library of Congress' filming initiatives in Southeast Asia will ensure the preservation of many of the province level statistics from the region, and the Committee on Research Materials on Southeast Asia (CORMOSEA) initiative to cooperatively collect and provide access to sub-Kabupatan level reports for Indonesia, will assist in ensuring access to statistics even from the lowest administrative districts of this country. But these materials remain hard to identify and acquire. Even local libraries with legal deposit arrangements complain of the inadequate of these deposit provisions.

Regional press: Librarians in the US have done a fair job of ensuring that the major metropolitan press is acquired and preserved, when this is not being done in the region. But has our careful attention to the press of the cities of Bangkok, Jakarta, or Manila, access to which our research community demands, been at the expense of holdings for the rest of those countries. Because of the presence of the Library of Congress in Jakarta, there are far better holdings in US libraries for the regional press in Indonesia than there are for the Philippines, Thailand or Vietnam. How can future generations of scholars understand the events of the local regions or perspectives from the periphery of events at the center, without adequate access to the daily or weekly press of those regions?

Minority language magazines: Like the regional press, languages outside of the national or official languages, appear to be poorly represented in libraries. For US libraries such acquisitions are hard to justify when language programs offered are usually confined to the official national language of a country. For research libraries in the region these materials are often regarded as marginal and not worth the difficulty of collection from remote locations.

Science and Technology: I suspect there is little systematic coverage of science publishing. Are such titles as New InfoScience (an information science title published by the Dept. of Science and Technology in the Philippines), Majalah Geografi Indonesia (from Indonesia), Anima (an Indonesian psychology journal), or the popular environmental, National Geographic-type magazine of Thailand, Nittayasan Sarakhadi = Feature well represented in our collections? Our study and understanding of the history of science will be poorer if Southeast Asian titles are not available for future reference, and the contribution of a differing regional perspective will be lost.

Political and non-governmental organizations: Here I am thinking of advocacy organizations rather than official or governmental political parties. Even when I can locate a small political organization's publications, like the Bulletin Board of the National Movement for Civil Liberties in the Philippines, or the Tambuyog Development Center's Lundayan Journal, it may be difficult to acquire. Subscriptions may be inexpensive, but in a large research library making such small payments can be difficult. CORMOSEA with the help of the Library of Congress office in Jakarta is undertaking a cooperative effort to ensure that the many newspapers and newsletters representing the full range of political sentiment in pre-election Indonesia are collected and preserved. It is almost impossible to reconstruct this type of comprehensive coverage of political upheaval after the fact. As we have seen in the case of Vietnam, very little remains of the ephemeral serial publications of the popular movements and anti-war activities of the South in the 1960s.

Popular or mass press: In addition to the large portion of women's magazines that seem to constitute the majority of mass market magazine publishing, I have collected car magazines, gardening and other hobby sorts of magazines, slick music/video/tv or mass media magazines. Teen magazines tend towards a female market although I have seen some that appear to be produced for the teen male. Few in number are the serious gay and lesbian magazines, like Indonesia's Gaya Nusantara of the Philippines, BreakOut. Far more common are the gay sex magazines; however, these number far fewer than the pornography magazines with women as their subjects.

Women's magazines: Having written on women's magazines and women's serial publishing in Southeast Asia, I see that the publications of and for women continue to be victims of oversight. Women's journal or magazine publishing falls into three broad categories: scholarly, advocacy, and popular. While major libraries seek out the former category, the latter two are both hard to acquire and often difficult to justify to collection administrations.

Electronic including computers, cameras, and video: The explosion of an electronics industry and availability of relatively cheap electronic goods ranging from pocket cameras to sophisticated computer systems has been accompanied by the growth of a publishing sector for aficionados of high tech gadgets. With possible exception of computers, few of the titles that might document the dramatic rise in access to electronic goods by the middle class are held in our research libraries.

Children's: Research libraries collect very little in the way of children's publications so few of the puzzles, readers, and other magazines that provide a clue to transmission of moral and cultural values to children are available to us. One category I have yet to see emerge is that of home building and repair. With the advent of home repair and hardware stores in the air conditioned malls of Southeast Asia, can the "how to build it" magazine be far behind? And when it emerges, do we need to collect and preserve it? Many of these categories of magazines did not exist in Southeast Asia ten years ago; they may remain nonexistent to posterity if they are not in at least some of our collections. But how much do we need to collect? Clearly some of these categories need to be collected comprehensively in order to be meaningful. For others, representative samples across time may be sufficient to indicate trends. Serial collections serve as important barometers of change; the more frequently we can document that change, the more refined our understanding of it.

The Suspects: Problems and Issues

Physical conditions of libraries and archives: Articles on libraries and preservation conditions in tropical climates, including much of Southeast Asia, describe humid storage conditions, open windows bringing in not only street dust and smog but often rain that serves as an open invitation for "biological" infestation and mold. Resources are housed in poor and unsuitable premises. Poverty forces many nations, including those in Southeast Asia, to use highly acid paper for book production. It is not uncommon to find high quality publications in newsprint.

War and turmoil: Few Southeast Asian countries have escaped tragedy of war and the destruction it brings to historical resources. Judith Henchy notes a dearth of resources in Vietnam caused by the Chinese invasion of 1407-1427, "during which time the Chinese Emperor ordered that all original Vietnamese books be sent to Nanjing" where they have been lost. This was the first of many such purges in Vietnamese history. Needless to say, the year between 1954 and 1975 were not kind to Vietnamese printed heritage. Under Pol Pot, Cambodia suffered the destruction of its printed heritage. World War II left Manila, including its National Library, in ruins; bombed by U.S. forces in the closing months of the war.

Weak bibliographic control: This is the term applied by Judith Henchy to materials found in Vietnamese archives and can aptly be applied to serials for much of Southeast Asia. She continues by describing bibliographic access as "limited to the original card catalogs produced by the French librarians at the Central Library in Hanoi and the EFEO library". Unfortunately, aging printed and card catalogs are not uncommon in the region. As the idea of national bibliographic networks in Southeast Asia is coming of age, much of the early pioneering effort aimed at regional integration of bibliographic information seem to be foundering. Without the understanding of collections that can only be gained through careful bibliographic control, it is difficult to undertake cooperative collection development and preservation programs.

Scattered collections: It is not unusual to find miscellaneous issues of a single title spread over several locations. Although not lost to posterity, such titles are of little value to the researcher who wants to consult long runs of statistics or look for trends in rhetoric in magazines. In Vietnam it is very common to see serials runs arbitrarily divided between the former National Library of the Republic in the South and the current National Library in Hanoi.

Secrecy and censorship: For those of us accustomed to open access to basic government statistics and reports, acquiring Southeast Asian government serials can be frustrating. Even when government information is not officially suppressed, there are often strict limitations placed on access to physical copies. Many publications are distributes only to other government agencies on the basis of a "need to know" doctrine. In Vietnam many important reports are labeled for internal distribution only, not because they are secret, but because it saves the author the bureaucratic effort of acquiring permission for more wide distribution and limits their liability for content. Limited distribution may appear to serve a short-term purpose, but poses a serious threat to future generations seeking knowledge about the growth and change in their Southeast Asian societies.

Indexing and bibliographic access: Use of journal articles for research is further hindered by the lack of comprehensive indexing. Indexing capabilities vary greatly from country to country, with many major research libraries in the region providing local indexing, often duplicating each others efforts.

Training and expertise: Developing coherent Southeast Asia serials collections that will meet immediate and long-term needs for research, requires multiple levels of expertise. Librarians must have broad knowledge of a vast and complex region, be aware of research trends as they emerge, be conversant in the book and knowledge industries, not only of Southeast Asia, but also of the United States and Europe, where much specialized secondary research is taking place. They must also be attuned to multi-institutional collaborative projects from cooperative collection development to large-scale microfilming projects. The need for such trained scholar-librarians is certainly not limited to Europe and the United States. With funds from the Toyota Foundation, and other sources, Southeast Asian institutions are seeing the development of broader programs for the study of their own national heritage, and for the study of Southeast Asia as a region. While the Library of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore is one of the largest research collections on Southeast Asia in the world, other library collections within the region which support this growing field of study remain relatively small and narrowly focused. National libraries of course collect the national book and serial production of the country, but such collections have not necessarily been framed to meet the needs of these new fields of study.

Privatization: While those in government may call this a process of "devolution", those of us developing collections view the commercialization of knowledge industries with some trepidation. Publications and resources once developed by the public sector are being devolved to a commercial sector that seeks more than recouping its investment. For many of these resources, including dictionaries, bibliographies, directories, and indexes there can be little hope of profit since the market remains so small. The result is to further limited access to important bibliographic and collection information. As is the case with the "crisis" in scholarly publishing throughout the world, Southeast Asian publishers and research institutions need to find viable mechanisms for the distribution of serial information which are both equitable to those producing the intellectual content and reasonable to the information consumer.

Shifts in collection management philosophy: Limited resources, a seemingly expanding universe of publications, and explosion of internet and associated technologies have led to changed assumptions about collections. Emerging from a "crisis" in scholarly publishing and library collections is a philosophy of collection management that dismisses the model of a large self-sufficient library collection developed for some unknown user of the future. Ross Atkinson succinctly stated this new view at a 1997 ALA Midwinter panel, Collection Assessment in the Library without Walls, as "Priority is given to immediacy: meeting local needs now rather than national needs in the future." In the wake of the digital library, we, in U.S. libraries, are being encouraged to think not in terms of collection management, but rather in terms of "content management". We are no longer storehouses but gateways. Yet, for those of us working with materials from Southeast Asia, the artifact is very much alive, though increasingly marginalized, as academic libraries seek to justify spending and look to developing core collections of highly used materials while depending on resource sharing for those materials outside this core.

In other words, while the relatively well-funded US libraries have been able to step into the breach to save obscure serial collections which regional libraries have been unable to preserve, will they be able to continue to do so under the pressures of this new doctrine?

Shifting attitudes and laws regarding copyright: Following in the wake of electronic delivery of scholarly content are the lawyers and lobbyists arguing for sweeping reforms of our current copyright practices. Stricter laws and regulations regarding the sharing and delivery of resources will add a new level of complexity to cooperative development of serial collections.

Electronically formatted titles: The Internet is being used to disseminate news and information that is both unique and in printed version. Most major dailies have mounted web sites that serve up the day's events and news. Availability of electronic archival back files of these titles varies widely. As more papers become available electronically more libraries cancel subscriptions to paper copies, preferring to rely on contemporaneous electronic access and historical archives on film. But as we cancel these paper subscriptions, will anyone be acquiring the hard copy in order to film and preserve the original format, the visual presentation of the actual physical item? Even more problematic are those serials that are published only electronically. We have yet to set standards or develop protocols that move us towards the capture and preservation of important Internet serial titles.


Nearly fifty years ago American research libraries conceived a bold cooperative experiment - the Farmington Plan.

"Its objective [was] to make sure that at least one copy of each new foreign book and pamphlet that might be reasonably be expected to interest a research worker in the United States will be acquired by an American library, promptly listed in the Union Catalogue at the Library of Congress, and made available by interlibrary loan or photographic reproduction."

While seemingly naive in today's world of supposed global information exchange, the Plan provided libraries with a long-term vision of cooperatively developing collections for an unknown future scholar. That future scholar's collection may once again be at risk unless area library specialists take positive steps towards developing an equally powerful vision for the 21st century.

It is therefore imperative that we create a truly international Southeast Asian librarianship. Southeast Asia librarianship has yet to evolve to point were librarians from the region participate in meetings and forums in Europe and the United States and visa versa. Full international participation is prerequisite to developing, managing, servicing, and preserving our unique serial collection of Southeast Asia.

Through CORMOSEA and the Southeast Asia Microfilm Project (SEAM), Southeast Asia collections in the United States have had some success at coordinating collections. However, we have been less successful at sharing these successes and building upon them.

  • In assuming collecting responsibility for different geographical regions of Indonesia, CORMOSEA members effectively distributed responsibility for developing strong regional representation of Indonesian serials in our collections.
  • Recently, SEAM with assistance from the Library of Congress, took on the task of ensuring the acquisition and preservation of the many political weeklies and party newsletters in pre-election Indonesia.
  • Using start-up money from the U.S. Dept. of Education, CORMOSEA is working with the Library of Congress and Center for Research Libraries to establish a Thai resource collection of serials. The Library of Congress will support collecting serials from its Bangkok office; the Center for Research Libraries will house the collection; and CORMOSEA members will create the bibliographic resources that will give researchers access to the contents.
  • As part of the larger Global Resources Program, of the Association of Research Libraries, CORMOSEA is undertaking a indexing project which currently involves collaboration with TIAC here in bangkok. We hope that this can develop into a global project.

Action agenda

  • Broad fact-finding report to define scope of the problem. Anecdotal evidence indicates there remains a need for wide-scale efforts to collect and preserve serials, but foundation support will require more evidence. Such a report would include identify those titles and categories most at risk of being lost or destroyed, recommend priorities, and offer a long-term plan for ensuring Southeast Asian serials are preserved.
  • Develop appropriate legal and administrative and economic structure to facilitiate international cooperative endeavors.
  • Where approporiate, work with commercial preservation publishers in their efforts to create complete editions on microform.
  • Development of a microfilm registry that eliminate duplication of preservation efforts.
  • Strong program to ensure bibliographic control and physical access to cooperatively developed collections.
  • Develop strong evaluation tools that provide for constructive feedback.

In closing, I would like to add the importance of maintaining realistic expectations. In this "can do" era of electronic communications, we need to be reminded of the many hurdles that remain in our path. In the end, as Dan Hazen reminds us, "successful cooperation must make economic sense: a structure that replicates existing capabilities at a higher prices should not survive. Economics remains central." (Hazen, 1997, p. 272) While Southeast Asianists may gain outside support for initial start-up costs, it is unlikely to be sustaining. Ultimately, our cooperative models must be self-sustaining. To be self-sustaining there must be a vested interest by all participants.

A truly successful cooperative venture will require support, commitment, and leadership that encourages the creation of "a spirit of interdependence... [and] effective network organization and administration" that will allow us to meet the collection needs of that unknown 21st century scholar. (Woods, 1997, 242)

References and Recommended Readings

Budd, John M. and Bart M. Harloe. "Collection Development and Scholarly Communication in the 21st Century: From Collection Management to Content Management". In Collection Management for the 21st Century: A Handbook for Librarians, ed. by G.E.Gorman and Ruth H. Miller, pp. 3-25. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997.

Chrzastowski,Tina E. and Karen A. Schmidt. "The Serials Cancellation Crisis: National Trends in Academic Library Serials Collections". In Library Acquisitions: Practice and Theory. 21:4(1997): 431-443.

----. "Economic Statistics on Vietnam during Its Colonial Period: Exchange Rates and Exchange Rate Policies from 1895-1954 and Population and the Labor Force from 1900-1954". In Newsletter of the Asian Historical Statistics Project. No. 12 (March 1999): 4-15.

Eng, Pierre van der. "Gauging Growth: Development of National Accounting in Indonesia". In Newsletter of the Asian Historical Statistics Project. No. 4 (January 1997): 9-11.

----. "Historical Economic Statistics for Indonesia". In Newsletter of the Asian Historical Statistics Project. No. 3 (October 1996): 12-15.

Fox, Lis L., ed. "Preservation Microfilming: A Guide for Librarians and Archivists". 2d ed. Chicago: American Library Association, 1996.

Hazen, Dan C. "Cooperative Collection Development: Compelling Theory, Inconsequential Results?". In Collection Management for the 21st Century: A Handbook for Librarians, ed. by G.E.Gorman and Ruth H. Miller, pp. 263-283. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997.

Henchy, Judith. "Preservation and Archives in Vietnam". Washington, D.C.: Commission on Preservation and Access, Council on Library and Information Resources, 1998.

Jakubs, Deborah and David Magier. "Library Collections and Access: Supporting Global Expertise". Washington, D.C.: Association of Research Libraries, 1997.

Mitchell, Carol L. "New Asian Woman: Women's Magazines and the Spread of Mass-Culture in Southeast Asia". In Serials Librarian. 35:1/2 (1998): 247-259.

Miyata, Toshiyuki. "Trade Statistics in Prewar Thailand: Customs Clearance Data and British Consular Reports". In Newsletter of the Asian Historical Statistics Project. No. 10 (August 1998): 11-13.

Nagano, Yoshiko. "The Location and Composition of Philippine Historical Statistical Materials". In Newsletter of the Asian Historical Statistics Project. No. 8 (January 1998): 10-12.

----. "Resource Guide: The Foreign Trade Statistics of the Philippines in the Latter Half of the 19th Century". In Newsletter of the Asian Historical Statistics Project. No. 3 (October 1996): 10-11.

Nishizawa, Tamotsu. "Historical Statistical Materials on Malaya in London". In Newsletter of the Asian Historical Statistics Project. No.5 (April 1997): 10-11.

Smith, Merrily A., ed. "Managing the Preservation of Serial Literature: An International Symposium". München: K G Saur, 1992.

Szilvássy, Judith. "Basic Serials Management Handbook". Rev. ed. München: K G Saur, 1996.

Tol, Roger. "Acid Irony? Or How to Deal with Negatives Positively: An Evaluation Report of the Microfilming Projects in Indonesia Supported by The Ford Foundation". 1998.

Wood, Richard J. "The Axioms, Barriers, and Components of Cooperative Collection Development". In Collection Management for the 21st Century: A Handbook for Librarians, ed. by G.E.Gorman and Ruth H. Miller, pp. 2221-248. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997.


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