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The Road Ahead for SEAM

Fe Susan Go
Head Librarian, Southeast Asia Division, University of Michigan Libraries


Classified page from November 1, 1930, edition of Trung Quoc Nhat Bao (Cholon, Vietnam). From CRL collections.

The Southeast Asia Microform Project (SEAM) was established in 1970 with cooperation from the Committee of Research Materials on Southeast Asia (CORMOSEA). The founders (composed primarily of faculty members) intended to preserve and have access to rare and unique resources in Southeast Asia for future use. To these scholars, SEAM represented the most economical way to acquire and preserve collections in both Southeast Asia and the United States. The founders selected the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) to house and service the collection. From the very beginning, SEAM flourished as faculty recommended titles for preservation from broad and varied subject areas. Over time, librarians with specialization in Southeast Asia replaced faculty as the project representatives responsible for selecting new materials and making recommendations for SEAM acquisitions.

Over the years, SEAM has used its modest budget to preserve and collect newspapers and archival and ephemera materials from all over Southeast Asia. The organization augments these funds with many foundation grants. SEAM partnered with the Genealogical Society of Utah and the Library of Congress Cooperative Acquisitions Program in Southeast Asia to preserve genealogical materials and other important collections found in the region. SEAM also received grant funds from the Henry Luce Foundation to preserve Vietnamese colonial-era materials held by the National Library of Vietnam (see related article on p. 9). SEAM has also given grants to its own member institutions in the United States who have unique materials in need of preservation.

Last year, SEAM completed a two-year microfilming project of Vietnamese-Chinese newspapers housed in the National Library of Vietnam. The Chinese-language newspaper titles were published in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and Hanoi mostly from the 1920s to 1940s, a time of particular conflict between French administration and the Vietnamese anti-colonial movements. These newspapers highlight Vietnamese and Chinese interactions, migration and work patterns, and noteworthy figures in the communities.

Titles microfilmed for preservation include large runs of principal Chinese-language titles, including: Trung Quoc Nhat Bao (1930–45), Hoa Kieu Nhat Bao (January 1924–May 1941), Xin Yue Hua Bao (July 1956–September 1976). The project also preserved several shorter-run newspapers including: Che Pao (August 1938–May 1939), Nam Phong (May 1943–May 1945), Tan Dong A Bao (November 1943-May 1944), Wa Nan Yat Po (February–March 1939), Wa Siang Pao (May 1937–June 1939), and Yueh Nam Jip Pao (September–October 1939).

The Director of the National Library of Vietnam, Pham The Khang, realized that his institution lacked the full capacity to microfilm these titles. He permitted SEAM to pack and ship these newspapers to Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. The university’s microfilming unit has had significant experience in handling and microfilming all manner of old materials including newspapers, and was able to complete the project in a relatively short time period. The original newspapers were returned to the National Library of Vietnam at the end of 2008. An agreement between SEAM and the National Library made it clear that the owner of the collection would receive a negative and positive copy of the microfilmed project, with a positive copy retained by CRL/SEAM.

SEAM also recently acquired the holdings of the Philippine Star newspaper from its publishing inception in 1986 through 2007. This prominent newspaper is the only broadsheet that enjoys wide circulation in and beyond the Philippines, from Saudi Arabia to New York. The Philippine Star recorded the activities of the Marcos regime and continued its exposé of political corruption during the Corazon Aquino presidency.

Like all Area Microform Projects administered by CRL, SEAM has been exploring many options in the transition from microfilming to digitization. SEAM is aware of the need to digitize its existing holdings, but for now has put the emphasis on identifying and locating additional unique materials in Southeast Asia, such as archival and ephemeral resources. SEAM hopes to explore digitization in a collaborative context, maintaining its longstanding partnerships while reaching out to additional colleagues in Europe, Japan, Australia and Southeast Asia to create a universal-access database.

SEAM’s core mission of preserving and making available Southeast Asia research materials will continue and develop in response to initiatives presented by its constituent members, scholars and researchers, and partner institutions around the world.