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Joshua Kueh, Southeast Asian Reference Librarian, Asian Division
Ryan Wolfson-Ford, Southeast Asian Reference Librarian, Asian Division
Note: This guide was created in 2020.
Created: November 10, 2020
Last Updated: February 10, 2023.
This guide provides an introduction to the Southeast Asian collection which is accessible in the Asian Reading Room of the Library of Congress. It also highlights other relevant Southeast Asian materials which may be found in the Library's over 20 reading rooms and research centers that provide research space and guidance for users to interact with items based on subject (e.g., law) or format (e.g., maps, photographs). For specific questions or assistance using the Library’s resources, you may use the Ask a Librarian service to contact a reference librarian.
The Asian Division's Southeast Asian collection contains the first Asian-language works to be acquired by the Library of Congress. Beginning in 1866 when a small number of Malay manuscripts were transferred to the Library, the collection, plus Southeast Asian material in other reading rooms, has grown to over 370,000 titles in over 100 languages, 86 of which are unique to the region.
The Southeast Asian collection comprises books, newspapers & periodicals, rare books & manuscripts, digital collections, electronic resources and web archives from and/or about the eleven countries of the region: Brunei, Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and most recently Timor-Leste.
The collection has particular strengths in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam mirroring US involvement in the region. While the Southeast Asian collection contains the first Asian works in the Library, serious collecting only began in earnest after 1945. In the 1950s, the US government's concern about rising communism in the region drove the search for knowledge about Southeast Asia. In 1963, the Library's regional office opened in Jakarta permitting a great increase in acquisition. The subsequent opening of branch sub-offices in Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and most recently Burma/Myanmar further accelerated collecting in the region. The Library acquired works directly from North Vietnam (as it was known then) starting in the late 1960s.
The Southeast Asian collection contains works on many subjects spanning ethnology, literature, religion, society, language, gender, the environment and more. The collection is particularly strong in the fields of history, economics and government. Its works on lesser known languages of Southeast Asia are an important resource on the diverse cultures and peoples of the region. Southeast Asian language works produced in the global diaspora are a growing part of the collection. The Indonesian collection is the single largest part of the Southeast Asian collection.
Beyond the Asian Division, material from or about the region can be found in almost every custodial division of the Library. This guide aims to serve as the primary resource to direct interested users to material from and about Southeast Asia scattered across multiple divisions of the Library. If you have any questions about Southeast Asian materials at the Library of Congress that this guide does not answer please feel free to contact one of the Southeast Asian reference librarians: Joshua Kueh (especially for island Southeast Asia) or Ryan Wolfson-Ford (especially on mainland Southeast Asia) using the Ask a Librarian service. This guide will also provide some general information about the Asian Division which is home to the Southeast Asian collection.
The Asian Reading Room provides public access to more than 4 million items in approximately 200 languages and dialects from across Asia, including Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Thai, Tibetan, Urdu, Vietnamese, and many others. In the reading room, researchers can use the Asian Division’s collections of printed materials, microform, and databases and confer with reference librarians to answer research questions about the countries of East, South, and Southeast Asia.