Collectors, classifiers and researchers of the Malay World
How individuals and institutions in Britain in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries collected, arranged and organised libraries, archives and museums and how that impacts on today’s researchers
by Nicholas Martland
Librarian for South Asia, South East Asia and Pacific Studies
School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London
This paper is not about well-known libraries and archives but is about more specialist libraries, archives and museums, mostly scientific and technical institutions, that hold material on the Malay world. Even though such material might only form a small part of each institution’s overall collection, they are important sources of, often neglected, information on the region.
This paper will look at several issues relating to scientific and specialist collections relating to the Malay World and how this can affect accessing the collections. The paper will look at the terminology used in indexing and filing and how the
researcher, whether using card or online catalogues, needs to be aware of changes in names and terminology. The paper will also note the benefits – but also the challenges – bought about by developments in information technology which have allowed catalogues to be searched remotely – both the online catalogues of individual institutions and simultaneous searching of many institutions’ catalogues by online union catalogues and hubs.
Many of these issues affect all libraries, archives and museums in the UK, not just those scientific institutions to be examined in this paper. However the issue of the Malay World and its connections to the world of the East India Company, and the variations in place names may be more acute in scientific institutions where geographical provenance and historical details might be very much secondary to the scientific categorisation and classification of the collections.