The Southeast Asia Collection


The Southeast Asia Collection or SEA Collection is possibly the National Library Board's most prized and unique collection. It includes the Ya Yin Kwan Collection, Rost Collection, Gibson-Hill Collection and a wide collection of early 19th century literature. Its most valuable titles are linked to the personal collection of Logan: erstwhile editor of the Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (JMBRAS). These were deposited into the collection as a result of the Legal Deposit legislation.

When Sir Stamford Raffles founded the Singapore Institution in 1823, the core of today's SEA collection was formed and was known retrospectively as the "Q" Collection. Many valuable and rare items were brought in from private libraries. Such libraries included the Rost Collection which was added to the Q Collection in 1897. Its 970 volumes mainly included philological works. In 1928, 87 books were added to this from the collection of late G. P. Owen. In 1987, the Logan Collection of 1,250 volumes was further added to this. The Logan Collection included almost all works on languages in Malaya and Melanesia. The Collection was enriched by the Gibson-Hill Collection of 1,000 volumes generously donated to the Library by Loke Yew in memory of her son Loke Wan Tho, the first Chairman of the National Library Board advisory body.

In 1923, the Library of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society was catalogued and integrated with the Raffles Library's collection. The collection included Straits Settlements Records, Colonial Despatches and contained approximately 450 prints of people, views and buildings of Southeast Asia including Singapore. Valuable additions to the Q Collection continued as gifts to the library were purchased.

The collection policy was enlarged to include materials on Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines. Books on Singapore, purchased or deposited under the Printers & Publishers' Act were added to the Collection. During the war years, the Library continued to function under the protection of a Japanese professor. The Q Collection survived the war with minimal losses. When the National Library moved to its new building at 91 Stamford Road in November 1960, the collection was maintained by the Reference Division on the second floor. By 1997, the SEA collection had increased to about 92,000 volumes of books and bound journals.

The South East Asia Room
In July 1964, the Southeast Asian Collection was enriched by the donation of a valuable private collection of 5,000 volumes of books and periodicals on the history of the Chinese in Southeast Asia. Tan Yeok Seong, a merchant, agreed to donate his private collection, the Ya Yin Kwan Collection, to the National Library with a condition that a separate South East Asia Room or SEA Room be set up to house this Collection for public reading, and staff to look after it. Thus, the SEA Room was set up on 28 August 1964 with an area of 138.5 sq m. This was located on the second floor at 91 Stamford Road and was declared open by S. Rajaratnam, Minister for Culture. The English titles were interfiled with the other books in the SEA Collection. By November 1971, the room was enlarged to 550.2 sq m to meet greater shelving and readers' needs.

The Singapore Resource Centre
From 1 May 1997 to 5 January 1998 the National Library at Stamford Road was upgraded and renovated at a cost of S$2.6 million. The partitioning walls of the SEA Room were demolished and the area was converted into an open access area for public use. It became the Singapore Resource Centre housing the Singapore Collection and some current Southeast Asian titles. Old material in the SEA collection were either sent for storage to the Library Supply Centre at Changi or were stacked in the sixth level of the Stamford Road NLB building. Application for these material can be made at the Current Affairs Counter at the third level.

A third of a Seminar Room situated behind the SEA room was curtained off to house a Rare Books Collection containing mainly Singapore and Malayan titles. This room was named the Heritage Room. It is a closed access area which houses rare books on Southeast Asia and Singapore including local authors' manuscripts in English and Chinese. The Singapore Resource Centre is a one-stop resource centre for information on Singapore.

Heng Wong & Thulaja Naidu

National Library. (1964). South East Asia collection. Singapore: Government Print Office.
(Call no.: RCLOS 027.55957 SIN) 

National Library. (1963 - 1995). Annual Report. Singapore: Author.
(Call no.: RCLOS 027.5557 RLSAR)

Quah, R. (1971). Library resources in Singapore on contemporary mainland China. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
(Call no.: RCLOS 016.95105 QUA)

Singapore - an appraisal. (1973). Singapore Libraries, 3, pp. 32-37.
(Call no.: RCLOS 020.5 SL)

The information in this article is valid as at 1999 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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