Center for South Asia Libraries

The Center for South Asia Libraries (CSAL) is an American overseas research center designed to facilitate scholarly research and teaching on South Asia in all academic disciplines through improved preservation of and access to the heritage of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, as embodied in their intellectual and artistic output in all forms. It functions as a research support facility for American scholars in the region by providing infrastructures and services to enhance research effectiveness and the exchange of scholarly information. These aims are accomplished through current and planned activities of the Center operating in conjunction with several organizations and institutions in South Asia holding similar objectives. CSAL is a member of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC) and works closely with CAORC’s Digital Library for International Research.

CSAL was founded by Columbia University, the University of Chicago, and the Center for Research Libraries. The CSAL Executive Committee consists of David Magier (President), Bernard Reilly (Vice-President), and James Nye (Secretary/Treasurer). With contributions from participating member institutions and consortia, and significant funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Association of Research Libraries, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Ford Foundation, and other agencies and foundations, CSAL operates in the subcontinent to connect students and scholars directly with the research information they need. CSAL’s initiatives are designed to create research support structures that parallel those available for the study of classical antiquity in libraries operated by CAORC bodies in Rome and Athens.

CSAL is based upon the principle of mutual benefit to U.S. and South Asian scholars. Consonant with that objective, CSAL works with research centers, universities, libraries, and archives throughout South Asia to preserve important local resources (usually by microfilming), to provide full bibliographic access (by cataloging, article indexing, and other means), and to prepare them for full-text or full-image delivery over the Internet. Unlike other approaches based on acquisition, CSAL’s modus operandi allows the original research materials to remain in South Asia for the benefit of local scholars, while the information products of CSAL’s activity are disseminated over the Web for use by scholars in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Libraries in South Asia are inadequately funded. Therefore, without a cooperative effort such as CSAL, it is unlikely that the issues of preservation and access would be addressed to the satisfaction of scholars and students doing fieldwork in the region. CSAL acts as a locus for activity and a magnet for funding opportunities to benefit scholars and libraries in South Asia as well as the U.S. and the rest of the world. With its US headquarters based at CRL and its field headquarters in Chennai, CSAL operates through the federation of organizations known as the Council of South Asian Library Centers to carry out its projects in the subcontinent. Major partner organizations include the Roja Muthiah Research Library in Chennai, the Sundarayya Vignana Kendram and its Urdu Research Center in Hyderabad, the Urdu Documentation Center in Hyderabad, the Center for Studies in the Social Sciences in Kolkatta, and the Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya in Kathmandu. The US Library of Congress in New Delhi, as well as the British Library, have also been significant participants in CSAL projects. CSAL also functions in close coordination with the other South Asian overseas research centers: the American Institute of Indian Studies, the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, the American Institute of Bangladesh Studies, and the American Institute of Sri Lankan Studies.

To date, CSAL has attracted funding for such varied initiatives as an extensive survey of archival collections in South Asia; preservation, digitization, and indexing of South Asian materials through the Digital South Asia Library; a cataloging workshops for CSAL partners to be trained in technical issues of AACR2 cataloging; support for the development and maintenance of SARAI (South Asia Resource Access on the Internet); and ongoing funding for the South Asia Union Catalogue (see related article, page 8). In recent developments, CSAL is collaborating with Cornell University to digitize and preserve 19th century Urdu periodicals through the support of the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme.