October 28, 2008

10/28/08 Tibetan manuscripts

A couple of weeks ago, we had a new roommate at Shendrup Ling, Bob Chilton. Bob is here doing technical work at the National Library for the Asian Classics Input Project (ACIP). And while he was here, Bob offered us a tour of the project.

ACIP - Mongolia Project
Cataloging of the great Tibetan text collections in Mongolia has been ongoing since 1999. The cataloging work has been undertaken by a staff of Mongolians working together with ACIP Cataloging Supervisor Ngawang Gyatso (who was trained in India). We estimate that the holdings contain approximately 650,000 titles. The Mongolian collections are especially important, since we have discovered many texts there that we have not found anywhere else in the world. We estimate that it will take many years simply to put all the loose woodblock pages of the works back into order and catalog them properly. The efforts by local Mongolian scholars to restore the Library are admirable, although they have a serious lack of material and financial support needed to complete their task.

Just a few of the Tibetan manuscripts

Some of the thousands stored at the library

Each separate work is cataloged

Mongolian staff hard at work

Literally stacked to the ceiling

Fragile manuscripts get photographed

Others are scanned

To me the collection was just amazing. So much knowledge and they don't even know what they have yet. Right now, most of the work is just cataloging the manuscripts so they know what they have. Then, as more funding becomes available, they will work more on preserving the texts by copying them digitally which will also make it easier for others to have access of the manuscripts anywhere in the world.

Bob told us that the collection at the Mongolian National Library is not only a national treasure for Mongolia but a treasure of world heritage. Totally unique. But no one really knows what is there. So the cataloging cooperation between ACIP and the Library is finally giving the world access to this unique treasure of classical literature.

I'd like to mention that the ACIP is constantly short of funds, surviving on a shoestring. It's really amazing how far $1000 goes in Mongolia compared to in Europe or the U.S. The entire Mongolia operation, with 12 staff, runs on barely more than $4000 per month. They have almost no overhead because all the U.S.-based staff donate their time. But raising even $4000 per month, each and every month, is a real challenge. The ACIP truly appreciates anyone who wants to help -- with a regular monthly donation or a one-time donation or by spreading the word to others. So if anyone has an interest in helping all these people continue their work in preserving these priceless Tibetan manuscripts, follow the link below to the ACIP website to get more information.

Asian Classics Input Project (ACIP)
"The Asian Classics Input Project (ACIP) is dedicated to locating, cataloging, digitally preserving, and disseminating rapidly disappearing Tibetan and Sanskrit manuscripts that hold the philosophical, cultural, and religious heritage of endangered cultures dating back more than 2000 years. ACIP works to preserve these texts containing the great ideas of the Eastern half of humanity and to make these books and ideas accessible to the world at large. Our mission is carried out in several steps. First, we search the globe for the surviving collections of books, and record their location and contents in catalog form. Next we copy or digitally image the books and send these copies to be input onto computer media at several data entry centers that we have established. Finally, we make these books and the important ideas they contain freely available to everyone - scholars, translators, libraries, universities and individuals - on CD media and via the Internet."