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Bhutan: Religious literature goes online

October 17, 2010

By Sonam Pelden
Kuensel Online (Bhutan)
October 12, 2010

About 120,000 religious texts and books, which
researchers and librarians call as the national
written heritage of Bhutan, are now accessible
online worldwide, both in English and Dzongkha.

The process of digitalising the national
library's entire collections took 14 years and is
the single largest cultural development aid that
ever came into Bhutan, said officials from the library.

This was made possible through a project called
library twinning project, a joint research
project between the national library of Bhutan
and the royal library, Copenhagen, with support
from Danida. The collection is the largest database available online.

"The whole library collection is now online
worldwide and it’s the largest detailed data base
on Tibetan and Chokye books,” one of the project
officials involved since 1996, when the project
began, Prof Dr PK Sørensen said. "This is a huge
achievement and it’s been extremely successful."

Completed in four phases, the project's main goal
was to catalogue, survey and ensure the
preservation of Bhutanese and Tibetan books at
the national library, and in temples and monasteries across the country.

Project manager, Dr Yonten Dargye, said the
project kicked off with cataloging and
classification of the entire library's
collection. “Library holdings were classified
according to schools of Nyingma, Kagyud, Sakya,
Geluk and Bon for the convenience of general readers," he said.

NLB today has instituted the ALEPH system, an
automated library system used to process library
materials and provide public access to a database
for cataloging books. The system contains 7,534
records of foreign language books, 11,800 records
of Chokye and Dzongkha, 3,175 records of
microfilms, 64 archival materials and 423 records
of legal deposits. The data base is however still hosted in Denmark.

As of September this year, the project has
surveyed temples, monasteries and dzongs of 12
dzongkhags and registered over 4,000 titles.
“Rare documents over 400 titles are digitalised
and storied in CD ROMS," the project manager said.

Besides publishing several books, the project
also helped procure wooden shelves with shutters
to protect books from dusts on all its three
floors, and replaced the cement floors with wood.

Despite all these achievements and as the project
was officially closed yesterday, officials are
worried that the library would not turn into a
museum. “What's missing so far is the
accessibility to these resources to the common
people and students," Prof Dr Sørensen said.
"It’s not used to the extent it should be, which
is a great tragedy but it has to be used and not turn into a museum."

Officials said that the only people, who are
accessing the library collection are researchers,
monks and a few civil servants, who love reading Buddhist texts.

"It’s difficult for others, because the younger
generation have problems identifying and reading
Chokye and Bhutanese texts,” the professor said.
“It’s also a question of opening up for which
we’ll have lectures and workshops to attract young people."

The professor said that in his 14 years of
working with the project in Bhutan, he did not
see a single youth using the national library.

One of the plans now is to extend similar
facilities to libraries in all institutions under
the royal university of Bhutan (RUB). This would
mean that all books across the libraries in the
country could be searched from one place, explained consultant Anne Buchardi.

"It’s about having a common gateway to all RUB
institute libraries, which is already created but
access to which is still limited,” Anne Buchardi
said. “This collaboration with RUB is important
for those who are interested in studying the national heritage of Bhutan.”

What Bhutan needs now, said Prof Dr Sørensen, is
an overview of all the books available on online.
“If we are able to coordinate all libraries and
get funds, it would probably take about five years,” he said.

Another plan in the pipeline is to come up with a
modern general library, with books on every
topic, said officials. “The national library is
the main backbone, in terms of scriptures, and
having a modern general library would be a huge
challenge,” said Prof Dr Sørensen. “But we have
to have one, because you can't develop a country
without information, and information is found in books.”
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