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OHIO Libraries awarded $1.2 million to support Southeast Asia Digital Library

Kathleen Mason
July 16, 2019
Jeff Shane, Southeast Asia Reference Librarian
Jeff Shane, Southeast Asia reference librarian and author of the grant. Photo by Lexi Browning/ Ohio University Libraries.

On June 6, 2019, the Henry Luce Foundation, supporting and strengthening crucial areas in the field of Asian studies, awarded Ohio University Libraries $1.2 million on behalf of the Committee on Research Materials on Southeast Asia (CORMOSEA) for the Southeast Asia Digital Library’s new digital initiatives: to enhance international collections worldwide.

From its very beginnings, CORMOSEA was very cooperative in terms of collection development, which placed an emphasis on collaboration among the institutions that work on Southeast Asia to build a national collection—and "something that could be shared,” explained Jeff Shane, OHIO’s Southeast Asia reference librarian and chair of the committee.

“When the Luce Foundation announced a new grant, the Luce initiative on Southeast Asia, it was almost like the call for proposals was written for us. It was perfect. Its emphasis was on sustainability and finding new innovative ways to collaborate, to develop human resources and to develop an infrastructure to make sure that whatever we do is sustainable—that it lives well beyond the life of the grant,” said Shane, principal investigator and author of the grant.

As with all academic areas of study, much of the Southeast Asia collection development was historically focused on print. But as is true with any library in the nation, CORMOSEA began to explore more options for digital content, and by the 2000s their digital collections became increasingly important. Despite its initial success, the initiative ultimately proved difficult to sustain.

So, Shane and his colleagues began looking at different models that would meet their CORMOSEA criteria and still be sustainable.

“I looked at a model that was being done in the ivy-league system, called Ivy League Plus. The idea was that certain positions [were shared] …In theory, they work with all the different ivy league schools—that is their responsibility,” said Shane. “They are not supposed to have any particular allegiance to one institution over the other, and that position is a shared position. Each of the ivy leagues schools are putting money into the pot for their salary.”

As all this was developing, the Luce Foundation announced a new multi-year grants competition on Southeast Asia, the first major initiative on Southeast Asia since the 1980s. And Shane thought, “This is a good time; the timing is right for us to make our move.”

The project Shane and his colleagues came up with dovetailed perfectly with all those aspects.

“The core of the project is: we requested seed funding for two positions, which means funding these positions for five years, and then after that, we [CORMOSEA member institutions] will pick up the [shared] bill,” said Shane.

The first position is the web developer at Northern Illinois University who is responsible for just the Southeast Asia Digital Library over a five-year span. The second position is digital librarian at Cornell University, “whose sole responsibility is working on this digital library, grant writing and supporting all the different [CORMOSEA] institutions, and all their digital initiatives,” explained Shane. “A dedicated librarian [and] a shared librarian, who is working for each of us.”

The CORMOSEA grant also enables the identification of rare, unique, and for the most part, largely inaccessible materials in Southeast Asia that are in critical need of preservation, such as Ohio University Libraries’ collaborative Southeast Asia project with the Thai Film Archive in Bangkok, which includes digitizing, translating and adding sub-titles to about 60 unique films that would not otherwise be accessible to Western audiences.

According to Shane, once the films are digitized at the Thai Film Archive, we will electronically receive a MP4 file that Pittaya Paladroi-Shane, Thai lecturer for the Center for International Studies, and Shane will translate and sub-title. Shane will also be reviewing the final edits on all the films to make sure the sub-titles match with the conversation dialog in the film. The OHIO team will average about 22-23 films a year.

Shane, who was the driving force behind the grant, believes this collaboration project between the best institutions in the country for Southeast Asia—gives OHIO a reason to be proud.

“We are not just back in the game, but we [OHIO] are leading it,” said Shane.