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NIU Libraries receives $610,000 grant for Southeast Asia Digital Library

October 2, 2019

NIU Libraries has been awarded a four-year grant of $610,000 by the Henry Luce Foundation to enhance the Southeast Asia Digital Library (SEADL), a collaborative project of the Association of Asian Studies’ Committee on Research Materials on Southeast Asia (CORMOSEA), an association of Southeast Asia librarians and member institutions across the United States. NIU’s award is part of a $1.2 million multi-year grant the foundation awarded to CORMOSEA, with Ohio University as the principal investigator.

Since 1969, CORMOSEA members, including about 10 major Southeast Asia collections in the country, together have acquired several million print titles in over 100 languages. The Donn V. Hart Southeast Asia Collection at NIU alone has more than 250,000 print materials, which support student and faculty research in Southeast Asian studies.

The Southeast Asia Digital Library was launched at NIU in 2005 with the support of two grants totaling $1.2 million from the U.S. Department of Education awarded to NIU Libraries between 2005 and 2011. The goal was and is to provide scholars, students, and the public free online access to research materials from Southeast Asia.

Today, SEADL contains more than 69,000 digital objects, including textual materials, photographs and videos. The materials were produced through NIU Libraries’ collaborative digitization projects with more than 40 institutions in Southeast Asia and in the United States. One of the objectives of the Luce grant is to build on that success.

With the new funding, NIU Libraries will be able to upgrade SEADL’s technology infrastructure and expand its digital content. Most of the funding will be used to hire a web developer while the rest of the money will go toward digitization projects for Southeast Asia materials, including palm-leaf manuscripts from the National Library of Cambodia, documentary videos of the Cham people in Vietnam and storage cost.

The remaining $590,000 of the grant will go to Ohio University, Cornell University, the University of Washington and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The projects at those institutions include hiring a Southeast Asia digital librarian, digitizing Thai documentary films from 1957-77, data mining 2,000 rare and unique books from Vietnam and digitizing audio archives from the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia.

“Although it is hard to imagine a future without print books, there is simply no denying the profound impact digital technology has had on the mission of academic libraries,” wrote Ohio University Southeast Asian Librarian Jeffrey Shane in the grant proposal. “The creation of SEADL was a significant accomplishment. It provided CORMOSEA with a prominent, and readily discoverable digital platform to highlight, preserve, and enhance public access to some of the most unique and rare collections on Southeast Asia. Moreover, SEADL gave CORMOSEA, and the underrepresented field of Southeast Asian Studies more broadly, a newfound digital presence in a sphere historically dominated by East Asia and South Asian Studies.”

For more information about the grant and the Southeast Asian Digital Library, contact Hao Phan, curator of the Donn V. Hart Southeast Asia Collection at NIU Libraries.