Project History

The South Asia Microform Project*
by Jack C. Wells**

The South Asia Microfilm Project (SAMP) acquires material in microform relating to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. This article describes SAMP in detail, including its acquisitions programs.


The South Asia Microfilm Project (SAMP) is one of five cooperative microfilm programs located at the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) which catalogs, stores, and lends these microfilm resources to the projects' member libraries. The other projects are the Cooperative Africana Microform Project (CAMP) which began in 1963; the Southeast Asia Microfilm Project (SEAM) which began in 1970; the Latin American Microfilm Project (LAMP) which began in 1975; and the Middle East Microform Project, recently formed to acquire materials from the Arab Middle East, Israel, Turkey, Iran, and Central Asia.

These cooperative acquisition projects provide a centrally held pool of materials which are shared among the projects' participants. Because most of the projects deal with study areas which were more or less ignored by most U. S. research libraries before the late 1950s, much of the material required to support research and teaching in these areas has had to be acquired long after publication. The out-of-print market has been able to provide significant monographic resources for those institutions which were able to devote their resources to searching out these materials but systematic collection of government publications, serials, and newspapers is impracticable because, in most cases, these are unavailable at any price in their original form. The extensive use of microform to fill in major gaps in almost all collection areas is an obvious response to the growing need for research materials. Most microform acquisitions tend to be retrospective and, since libraries must devote the major share of their budgets to current acquisitions, it is difficult to justify expensive, local, systematic acquisition of low use materials for programs with relatively small numbers of students and faculty. Cooperative acquisitions transcends local priorities, supports long-term collection objectives, and allows the participating libraries to devote their limited resources to local, immediate needs. The projects' activities confer other advantages. They support preservation abroad by identifying and locating important scholarly materials and encouraging their filming by libraries which normally have few extra resources which can be devoted to this purpose no matter how desperate the need. The projects provide a pool of experts by bringing together librarians and scholars to make collective judgments on materials and establish priorities for acquisition.

The Center for Research Libraries plays a central role in the projects' efforts. Negotiations for filming privileges are, in many cases, complex and time consuming and the Center provides the experienced personnel and continuity of effort which are important for successful acquisition efforts. The Center also collects and holds significant quantities of other area-related material such as foreign newspapers on film and current periodicals, making it a logical location for project materials.

SAMP, formed in 1967, acquires materials dealing with India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka and provides a resource for difficult to acquire, expensive, limited-use materials for those participating libraries which support major South Asian teaching and research programs. One of the program's stated purposes at the outset of the project was to film materials of research interest in South Asia which are in immediate danger of disappearing because of local disinterest or inability to find the necessary resources to deal with deteriorating collections. As described below, achievement of this objective is difficult due to a combination of commercial and political factors which prevented access to much of this material. Fortunately, much. research material of interest to South Asianists is held in archives and libraries in Asia, Europe, and North America and it was these sources, by default, that SAMP first utilized to build the foundations of its collection. A number of commercial firms in the U. S. and Europe entered the business of filming South Asian research materials for libraries and SAMP was able to exploit these sources as well. Further, in the two decades since SAMP's beginnings there has been a growing recognition in South Asia of the need to preserve materials of research interest, which has resulted in an increase in the number of agencies in the region having the capacity to produce microfilm of archival quality. SAMP acquisitions acquired directly from South Asian libraries and archives have shown a steady increase since the inception of the project.

Governance and Administration

SAMP is an affiliated body of the Association for Asian Studies. The SAMP Committee is made up of one representative from each of the participating institutions; the group's meetings are held in conjunction with the annual meetings of the Association for Asian Studies, when it determines and approves acquisitions policy and suggests new acquisitions efforts to the SAMP Executive Committee. The Executive Committee is made up of four elected members from participating institutions, who serve two year terms, and ex-officio representatives from the Library of Congress, the Committee on South Asian Libraries and Documentation (CONSALD), and a Project Administrator from the Center for Research Libraries. A Chairperson is elected for a two year term from among the members of the Executive Committee and serves an additional year on the Committee to provide leadership continuity. The tradition of joint participation in the program by academics and librarians has been institutionalized by the custom of choosing half of the Executive Committee's elected members from the academic community. It is the Executive Committee's responsibility to make policy recommendations to the full SAMP Committee and to implement the collection decisions made by that body. The Center for Research Libraries administers the project, acquiring materials, assessing and collecting fees, and loaning requested materials. The Project Administrator provides the major link between the two organizations, circulating meeting agendas, ballots for new acquisitions, and much of the administrative material required to keep the organization functioning (1).

Membership Privileges and Fees

CRL membership is not required to participate in SAMP. Any institution or nonprofit organization which maintains a library may become a SAMP member and have access to the pool of materials acquired by the program. In addition, a participating institution can purchase, for the cost of printing, a positive copy of any SAMP negative for its own use. Borrowing privileges are generous and flexible with time limits being imposed only when a title is wanted by another library. The borrowing institution pays mailing and insurance costs and is responsible for the material during the loan period. Annual project fees are $550, a sum which has been increased by only $50 since the inception of the project in 1967. Any member of SAMP may request the acquisition of a low-cost, less than $300, item through SAMP's "demand purchase" system without going through the time consuming process of circularizing the membership.

A perennial problem has been the situation of the "loner" scholars located at institutions with modest South Asian collections which are not affiliated with either CRL or with SAMP. The SAMP membership has long been aware of this situation and has attempted to meet this very real need by permitting limited, ad hoc borrowing by non-affiliated libraries through negotiated cost arrangements. The obvious dilemma has been how to provide reasonable access for scholars at non-participant institutions and still continue to encourage SAMP membership. In response to a request from CRL's Board of Directors for a less restrictive lending policy, the SAMP Committee has established a much more generous loan policy for its materials which:

  1. permits CRL member institutions which are not part SAMP members to borrow three items a year from the collections, and,
  2. allows libraries that are not members of CRL or SAMP to borrow up to three items a year for a nominal fee, and counts these borrowings against the ten requests per year permitted under CRL's general policy.

Under this new plan, CRL will not recall materials from SAMP members to meet non-member requests. (2)

SAMP Origins and Early History

Although the South Asia Microfilm Project began its corporate life in 1967, its origins go back five years earlier when a group of academics and librarians saw the need to preserve materials with a low probability of physical survival, and to coordinate the filming and bibliographic control of these materials. The Inter-University Committee on South Asian Scholarly Resources emerged from discussions at a meeting held at the University of Chicago in 1962 and was formed in December 1963 with the office of the Committee's secretariat being placed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Led by its first Chairman, Robert E. Frykenberg of the University of Wisconsin History Department, the Committee's immediate objectives were:

  1. promote cooperative acquisition efforts;
  2. begin a bibliographic survey of existing South Asian microfilm resources in the U.S.;
  3. maintain a master file and information clearing house for these resources;
  4. assist scholars and librarians in locating filmed materials;
  5. acquire a portable microfilm unit to be located in India to be used on a rental basis by US. scholars; and
  6. publish a newsletter dealing with microfilm resources (3).

By the end of the first year of the Committee's existence, the Chairman was able to report good progress toward achieving some of these objectives. With support from the Asia Society, a portable microfilm camera had been acquired and was in place for use in India. A Secretariat office, the South Asia Microform Center, had been established in Madison and the first four issues of the South Asia Microform Newsletter (vol. I, no. 1-vol. III, no. 1; Feb. 1964-Feb. 1966) had been published and sent to 110 institutional and individual subscribers. (4) The Newsletter was devoted to organizational issues, conference reports, and lists of the microfilm holdings of U. S. research libraries (Library of Congress, Chicago, Michigan, California, Wisconsin, etc.) and individual scholars. In addition, scholars and librarians responded to the Committee's requests for suggestions about possible microfilming opportunities. By 1965, the Committee had changed its name to South Asia Microform Committee (subsequently the South Asia Microform and Library Committee) and had become an affiliated committee of the Association for Asian Studies which contributed funds for the salary of the Center's administrator.

By 1967, because of funding shortfalls, the South Asia Microform Center's headquarters had been moved to New York where it continued operations as part of the Foreign Area Materials center under the direction of Ward Morehouse. The Center's Indian operations, principally the loan of the portable microfilm equipment and negotiations for filming, were taken over by the Educational Resources Center, New Delhi (ERC). The South Asia Microform Newsletter continued as South Asia Library and Research Notes (Sept. 1966-1972?), which appeared for some time in issues of Quarterly Review of Historical Studies, published by the Institute of Historical Studies, Calcutta, with the Notes section sent as reprints under separate cover to U. S. subscribers. As the supply of bibliographic information from the U. S. was exhausted, South Asia Library and Research Notes began to include the holdings of some major Indian research libraries. By the early 1970s, the Notes were appearing infrequently and, by 1972, seem to have ceased altogether. (5)

During the South Asia Microform Committee's five-year existence much was accomplished. Throughout this period, Committee members, notably Robert Frykenberg and Steven Hay, devoted considerable time and effort in persuading microform publishers that a market existed for South Asian materials on film. Hay, Frickenberg, and Morehouse worked very closely with the well-known European publisher Inter Documentation Corporation (IDC) of Zug, Switzerland and Leiden, the Netherlands organizing the international South Asian scholarly community in providing encouragement and bibliographic information on high priority filming projects. Frykenberg spent portions of two research leaves in India attempting to obtain permissions for IDC to film deteriorating materials before they disappeared completely. In addition, the Committee worked closely with the Library of Congress, encouraging the continuation and expansion of LC's operations in India. The Committee suggested that the Library of Congress should film and distribute copies of important current government publications as well as monographs published before the establishment of the Library of Congress program in India. While it was impossible to undertake these visionary suggestions at that time, it is noteworthy that both of these activities are now a routine part of the Library of Congress effort carried on at its Field Office in New Delhi. (6)

The South Asia Microfilm Project, 1967-

By 1967, a good deal of the groundwork in identifying and locating desirable materials had been done and it had become obvious that South Asian scholarship in North America needed access not only to bibliographic information about research materials but would be best served by a single source for these materials which would concentrate the tasks of locating, acquiring, and housing them. No one institution could afford to undertake these tasks but a consortium of academic libraries, by allocating relatively small fractions of their acquisitions budgets, could create an important collection of research material. The successful Cooperative Africana Microform Project, already in existence since 1963, served as a model for SAMP which was formed by twenty-two participating libraries in late 1967.

At the end of its first year, SAMP's acquisitions totaled thirteen items, mostly purchased from IDC. By 1980, the printed SAMP Catalog, 1980 cumulative edition listed 2,096 separate items; ranging from single monographs to long newspaper runs acquired from a wide variety of sources. (7) The bulk of the collection covers pre-independence India with less attention being paid to Nepal and Sri Lanka, and to the subcontinent after 1947. This concentration reflects both the needs of the SAMP member libraries as well as the kinds of materials which have been available for filming. There is, to be sure, a vast quantity of valuable research material in South Asia but the difficulties of mounting foreign sponsored filming projects there have proved to be virtually insurmountable. Shortages of raw film stock, undependable supplies of electricity, and, most important, difficulty of access due to institutional inertia and indecision, all serve to make it most difficult for foreigners to systematically microfilm materials. SAMP, therefore, has had to obtain its materials through libraries in that area and in Western Europe. Fortunately, in many cases, cooperation has been possible and such repositories as the India Office Library, London, the Nehru Memorial Library and Museum, New Delhi, and the National Archives of India have been major sources for the Project's holdings.

The SAMP collecting effort has been concentrated on major, expensive items not held on film elsewhere in North America. The tendency has been to purchase runs of important newspapers, the journals issued by scholarly institutions dealing with the social sciences and humanities, important literary and political periodicals, and significant publications issued by government bodies at all levels. In some cases, these holdings are incomplete and efforts are continuing to locate and purchase copies of the missing materials.

The SAMP newspaper collection includes a significant number of nineteenth and twentieth century daily and weekly publications in English and in the regional languages. A few of the significant holdings are: "The Statesman" Calcutta (1875-1970), founded by Robert Knight, who earlier edited the "Times of India"; "Bandemataram" Calcutta (1906-1908), a Bengali language journal strongly influenced by Aurobindo Ghosh; "Forward" Calcutta (1923-35) started by C. R. Das and the organ of the nationalist Swaraj Party; "Independent India" Bombay (1937-1949), a weekly edited by M. N. Roy of Comintern fame; the "Harijan Ahmedabad" (1933-40; 1942-1956), the weekly begun by M. K. Gandhi; the "Bombay Chronicle" (1913-1950) founded by Sir Phiroeshaw Mehta, a prominent Bombay nationalist; "Amrita Bazar Patrika" Calcutta (1924-40; 1949-51), originally a nationalist Bengali language daily founded in 1868 which switched abruptly to publication in English ten years later to avoid the restrictions of the Vernacular Press Act of 1878; "Hindustan times" New Delhi (192445); "Verad Samachar" Akola (1868-1918); "The Tribune" Lahore (1881-1947); and the "Madras Mail" (1872-1878). A number of these papers are still being published and, in addition to many other South Asian newspapers, CRL is acquiring their post-1960 runs as part of the Foreign Newspaper Microfilm Project. (8)

The above are only a few examples of the many daily and weekly newspapers held by the Project. Some runs are incomplete, issues or whole volumes having been destroyed by time and the hostile Indian climate. Copyright ownership can be a serious impediment. The managements of the "Hindu" and the "Times of India," for example, have been most reluctant to allow independent filming, claiming that it is their intention to produce film for sale. Retrospective filming of the "Times of India" is well underway but work on filming the "Hindu" appears not to have started.

The publications of the many scholarly societies organized in India since the early part of the nineteenth century are held by SAMP. A few important examples are: the "Proceedings and Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal;" the "Journal" of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, Bombay Branch; the "Journal" of the East India Association, London; the "Journal" of the Bombay Anthropological Society; the "Madras Journal of Literature and Science;" and the publications of numerous local historical societies such as the "Journal" of the Bihar Research Society.

Publications from all levels of government make up an important share of SAMP's resources. This segment of the collection is so large and comprehensive in the number of agencies and periods covered that it is difficult to describe adequately. The few examples cited here will only provide an overview of wide variety of materials included in the Project's holdings. One of the most voluminous collections is "Selections from the records of the Bombay Government" published as a series throughout the last half of the nineteenth century to provide to members of government, among others, examples of significant government activities. Of the several hundred items in this collection many concern revenue matters, a subject of paramount concern to the government, but others deal with the government's relations with native states, police and judicial affairs, public works, etc.

The "official politics" of British government in India are almost fully covered by the reports of the proceedings of the various legislative bodies of the central government, the presidencies, and the states held by SAMP. One example is the complete run of abstracts, debates, etc. of the several successive legislative bodies of the central government from 1862 to 1947. SAMP also holds a large collection of official publications which cover a wide variety of matters of concern to both the central and local governments. Among the more interesting and unusual of these concerns was the effort to discover and preserve Indian antiquities and inscriptions. The Archaeological Survey of India published regular reports of these activities and also published volumes of inscriptions as they were discovered and copied. SAMP's holdings of "South Indian Inscriptions," "The Archaeological Survey of Western India," "The Archaeological Survey of India, new series," and the reports from the Survey's several circles are an invaluable resource for scholars interested in ancient and medieval India.

For some social historians, the jewel in the crown of SAMP's collection is the "Indian Land Settlement Reports" which numbered 785 separate items in the "SAMP Catalog, 1980 cumulative edition." These reports, published from the early nineteenth century up to independence and partition in 1947, describe government efforts to determine the proper level of land revenue demand by means of periodic assessments at the district level and below. Settlement operations were not casual affairs but required a lengthy and detailed examination of local agricultural conditions which, in many cases, took several years to accomplish. These reports, in their fullest form, describe the district's physical character and economic condition, its previous revenue history so far as could be determined, provide statistics of tenancies and rents, and describe in detail the current settlement. Land tenure in South Asia is filled with extraordinary complexities, in the words of one exasperated settlement officer "subinfeudation gone mad," and is obviously of paramount importance in the complex social and economic relationships of rural India. Because these settlement efforts were repeated in each revenue district it is possible, when reports from the same district are available, to detect significant changes in land revenue policy as well as in patterns of ownership. The acquisition of the settlement reports is an on-going project and it is SAMP's objective to eventually acquire as complete a collection of these documents as possible.

SAMP also acquires currently published materials in microform. Within the last several years the SAMP Executive Committee decided to acquire from the Library of Congress Photoduplication Division copies of each microfiche made by the Library of Congress Field Office, New Delhi. These fiches cover a wide range of subjects and include titles of which the Field Office was only able to acquire one copy or which, because of their poor physical condition, were obvious candidates for filming. This set includes currently published material, but also contains important retrospective publications acquired for the Library of Congress or materials borrowed for filming by the New Delhi office. The titles in the fiche sets are fully described in the monthly "Accessions list: South Asia." (9) A subscription to a full set of these fiches costs approximately $4,000 per year, a sum most libraries would be unable to pay. By purchasing these materials cooperatively, the cost per institution is much reduced and the material is readily available.

Bibliographic Access

Catalog cards describing each SAMP acquisition have been issued on request to those participating libraries which have opted to file the cards in their public catalogs, treating SAMP materials as part of their collections. "The SAMP Catalog ...." mentioned above, describes the collection through 1980. All SAMP cataloged materials are listed in OCLC and a major share of them appears in RLIN. A new printed catalog, probably in fiche form, is contemplated.


The progress made in SAMP's twenty year history is most encouraging and clearly demonstrates how effective a cooperative effort of this nature can be. Indeed, without this program the resources available for the study of South Asia would be greatly diminished. No single library could have afforded the mass of important research material on South Asia which has been assembled at the Center for Research Libraries. The value of the program to the participating libraries seems clear. Their institutions' teaching and research programs are significantly assisted by SAMP holdings which are available to them at a modest annual cost. South Asian scholarly activity in North America has been immeasurably strengthened and, as the quantity of SAMP materials increases, future scholarly effort will benefit accordingly. It is to be hoped that SAMP membership will increase as the benefits of the program become evident to more scholars and librarians. Additional information on SAMP membership is available on request from the SAMP Project Coordinator at the Center for Research Libraries, 6050 South Kenwood Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637.

Institutional members of the South Asia Microfilm Project.


1. Prospectus of the South Asia Microfilm Project. 1983/revised.

2. This policy was approved in Spring 1987 and will be reviewed after one year with every expectation that it will be continued.

3. "South Asia Microform Newsletter" vol. 1, no. 4 (Dec. 1964) p. 1.

4. "Year End Report" South Asia Microform Newsletter. vol. 1, no. 4 (Dec. 1964) pp. 1-2.

5. Despite their age the nine issues of the Newsletter are still worth examination, providing contents notes for multi-reel film holdings which are not readily available elsewhere. A union list of the titles included in these issues is: South Asian microform union list edited by Joan M. Ferguson and Henry Ferguson. [New Delhi] Educational Resources Center, University of the State of New York Education Department, [1969] (South Asian library & research notes, vol. VI, nos. 1-4) 151 pp.

6. Robert E. Frykenberg, "US bibliographical and microfilming programs in South Asia: a retrospective examination of SAMP," in South Asian Studies, papers presented at a colloquium 24-26 April 1985, pp. 159-164. (British Library occasional papers, 7).

7. SAMP Catalogue 1980 Cumulative Edition - Chicago, South Asia Microform Project and the Center for Research Libraries, n.d. 246 pp.

8. The list of current South Asian newspapers being received by CRL may be found in: Handbook, The Center for Research Libraries 1987, Chicago. Center for Research Libraries [1987]. pp. 118-122.

9. Inquiries about the lists should be directed to the Field Director, Library of Congress Office, N-11, New Delhi South Extension, Part 1, New Delhi-110049, India. Earlier volumes of the list are available on microfiche from the Photoduplication Service, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20540.

* This article originally appeared in Microform Review, vol. 17, no. 1 (February 1988), pp. 26-31. It is reprinted by permission of K. G. Saur, Ortlerstr. 8, D-81373, Munich, Germany.

**Jack C. Wells is South and Southeast Asian Bibliographer, Memorial Library University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Featured: Unique Urdu and Hindi Collection

Prof. Robert Phillips, lecturer for the Program in South Asian Studies at Princeton University, teaches courses in Hindi-Urdu and South Asian Studies, and has used both South Asia Materials Project (SAMP) and CRL resources to support different research, writing, and teaching projects.

Accessing Āmukha in SAMP’s holdings offered an opportunity to incorporate the crucial - but often less-collected - genre of the little magazine into his research on Hindi modernism and a subsequent conference presentation.