DABOH Consultation, 18-23 August 2008, Balaton, Hungary

 

DOCUMENTATION OF CHRISTIANITY IN ASIA AND THE ROLE OF FORATL
A REPORT OF THE FORUM OF ASIAN THEOLOGICAL LIBRARIANS
Mission and Memory: Documenting World Christianity in the 21st Century
DABOH Consultation, 18-23 August 2008, Balaton, Hungary

 

Report by:

1. Elizabeth T Pulanco (Email: btpulanco@yahoo.com)
ForATL Convenor; ForATL Area Representative for the Philippines

2. Christabel Wong (Email: christabel@stm.edu.my)
ForATL Treasurer; ForATL Area Representative for Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam; and Chief Librarian, Malaysia Theological Seminary, Malaysia)


Summary

This report intends to give a brief introduction to ForATL and its initiatives towards the documentation of Christianity in Asia, as well as the challenges faced.


I. Introduction

This DABOH Consultation is all about the important task of documenting world Christianity. Indeed, effective and fruitful research depends largely on the ability to locate well-documented resources on the selected topic of research. As such, documentation and good finding tools are key to research. Whilst Western Christianity, by and large, is fairly well documented and finding tools are reasonably accessible, such facilities and the impetus for their development have been sadly lacking for Asian resources. Language barriers and illiteracy also impede the documentation and access.

However, the past two decades or so has seen a growing awareness of the significance of Asian Christianity in the whole story and history of Christianity. More emphasis has also been given in Asian theological institutions on the Christian faith as understood, experienced and lived out in our own local context, culture and history. This has led to increased activity in documenting Asian Christianity, but the task is faced with many challenges.


II. The Forum of Asian Theological Librarians

1. Our history

Realizing the importance of collecting Asian resources in the teaching, constructing and utilization of theology in Asian contexts, in May 1991 a Consultation of Asian Theological Librarians was initiated by the Program for Theology and Cultures in Asia. The late Mrs. Rita England of New Zealand, the PTCA Librarian at that time, took on the immense task of organizing the Consultation, which was held at the McGilvary Faculty of Theology, Chiang Mai, Thailand. A core group was subsequently appointed to look into various matters arising from the Consultation.

Several issues and initiatives discussed by the core group over two meetings in October 1991 (Singapore) and July 1992 (Manila) included:
• the possibility of a Master’s degree in Theological Librarianship under the SEAGST program
• to form a network of the theological librarians in Asia
• to publish a directory of Asian theological libraries
• to compile guidelines for Asian theological librarians
• that ForATL should be independent from PTCA and carry out its own programs and activities
• to emphasize the development of Asian resources.

Due to certain circumstances, the group remained inactive for several years until Rita and John England mobilized into action to organize a second Consultation in October 1997. They also helped to secure sponsors and grants to finance the Consultation. This second Consultation, held in Yogyakarta saw several key decisions being made, namely:
• the group was formally recognized as the Forum of Asian Theological Librarians (ForATL)
• the first ForATL Executive Committee and area representatives were elected into office
• the ForATL objectives were formulated and finalized; viz.
i. to facilitate the development and exchange of resources for theology in the Asian context
ii. to encourage and support the formation of:
- national theological library associations or networks
- national depositories of Christian literature
- union listings, directory of Asian theological libraries, guidelines, indexes,
bibliographies, etc. for publication
iii. to promote cooperation among, and training of, theological librarians;
iv. to arrange short-term courses and workshops; and
v. to develop an Asia-wide network of theological libraries
• a draft Constitution was drawn up

At the third Consultation in Bangkok in February 2003, the ForATL Constitution was finalized and accepted.


2. Our members

According to our directory (DATL 2001), we have 66 theological libraries/librarians listed with some additional 30 new members joining our number in 2004 after a ForATL-related training event in Bangalore. To-date, we have a total of almost a hundred registered members in ForATL, coming from 23 countries in Asia and Oceania.

ForATL membership is open to libraries, practicing librarians, and any other organization or individual interested in the development of Asian theological resources and archives. Since no membership fees are charged at present, we are indeed thankful to various individuals and organizations who have financially supported our projects and activities.


3. Our activities, plans and projects

In line with our objectives, ForATL has initiated and organized several activities and projects over the years. Some key projects and activities include:

a. Publications

i) Directory of Asian Theological Libraries (DATL)
• 1st and 2nd editions published in 1997 and 2002 respectively
• 3rd edition currently in the works
• Primary objectives:
- to aid networking and resource-sharing among theological libraries
- to identify location of special collections and collections of Asian resources

ii) ForATL News
• Official newsletter of the Forum of Asian Theological Librarians
• Published twice a year in June and December; first issue was in June 2003
• Primary objectives
- to disseminate useful information and articles
- to introduce theological libraries and promote networking

iii) Ministering Asian Faith and Wisdom
England, Rita & John. Ministering Asian faith and wisdom : a manual for theological librarians in Asia. Quezon City : New Day Publishers ; Delhi : ISPCK, 2001. (Acronym: MAFW)
• fulfilled ForATL’s need for a handbook on librarianship that not only focuses on the theological context, but also the Asian context.


b. Networking and resource sharing

i) Internet Database of Asian Theological Journals
• Rationale: lack of comprehensive indexes for Asian theological journals, especially non-English titles
• Status: assign various theological libraries to index selected key theological journals in their holdings or country

ii) Union list of Postgraduate Theses
• Primary objectives:
- to locate resources and aid research
- to identify subjects already written to prevent duplication

iii) Website and mailing list
• Website: www.foratl.org
• Blog: http://forum-theolibrarian.blogspot.com/
• Mailing list: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foratl
Subscribe: foratl-subscribe@yahoogroups.com
Post message: foratl@yahoogroups.com


c. Training programmes
• Rationale: a large number of librarians in Asia do not have formal librarianship training.
• Primary objective: to provide librarianship training with an emphasis on the theological library setting in the Asian context
• Some training programmes:

i) Theological librarianship programme
- Theological librarianship course started in 1998 at Lutheran Theological Seminary, Hong Kong, in answer to the call for theological librarianship training in the Asian context. LTS is currently offering Diploma, MA (Theology) and MDiv programmes in theological librarianship.
- Explorations underway in recent years for Philippines to also offer theological librarianship degree programmes

ii) Short-term courses
- With the help of The Board of Theological Education of Senate of Serampore College (BTESSC), South Asia Theological Research Institute (SATHRI), WCC-ETE and CCA, a month-long Archives & Records Management training was organized in Bangalore, 2004. Papers and reports published in: Prabhakar, Samson; Wati Longchar & Arun Kumar Wesley (eds.). Religio-cultural traditions and heritages : collection, preservation and interpretation. Bangalore : BTESSC/SATHRI, 2005.
- In consultation with WCC-ETE for possible short-term librarianship training courses in Cambodia and Vietnam
- Provided subsidies for short librarianship training courses
? Basic librarianship training for theological librarians, held at Jakarta, Indonesia, 7-8 August 2003.
? Library automation training course for theological librarians from member schools of the Asscociation of Theological Schools in Indonesia, held at Surabaya, Indonesia, 8-19 September 2003.
? Philippines Theological Librarians Association Seminar-Workshop, held at Cebu City, Philippines, 12-14 September 2007.
? Basic librarianship training course for theological librarians, held at Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 22-27 September 2008.

iii) ForATL Consultation and Workshop
- Consultation and workshop once every 3-5 years as an avenue for networking, resource-sharing and training, and to elect office-bearers.
- 1st Consultation and Workshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 1991. Theme: Asian Resources and Theological Library Development.
- 2nd Consultation and Workshop in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 1998. Theme: Creativity and Partnership: Resourcing Asian Theological Libraries.
- 3rd Consultation and Workshop in Bangkok, Thailand, 2003. Followed up on initiatives launched in previous Consultations.
- 4th Consultation and Workshop in Seremban, Malaysia, 2006. Theme: Strengthening The Collaboration Between Theological Librarians And Scholars Toward Growth in Asia.
- 5th Consultation and Workshop to be held in Singapore, 2009. Theme: Asian theological librarians moving on and reaching out : professional development and collaboration in the light of emerging technologies.


4. Some common challenges faced

a) ForATL
- key challenge: distance and workload main barriers to collaboration and carrying out of projects.

b) Librarianship
“Theological librarians in Asia have quite a crucial and indispensable role for all the work of theological education and for the equipping of all God’s people for God’s mission in our countries. They are full team members in this with specific skills and ministries, without which the riches of faith and witness in our region, the history and theological lifeblood, could not be preserved and shared. They are not only guardians of past records of the Church’s work and witness over many centuries and guides to its present resources, but often initiators in encouraging student research, or theological writing, and in educating the whole church in the mission of God within the surrounding community. Yet often they are very isolated people, without the support of either their theological librarian colleagues or the recognition of their status by faculty and administration within their institution. Adequate training for their crucial role is also sadly lacking.” - Rita and John England, introd., p. xiv, MAFW.

- The lack of support faced by theological librarians has been addressed somewhat by the formation of ForATL and other theological library associations in various countries. Asian countries that have theological library associations are: Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan and Malaysia, not forgetting Australia and New Zealand.
- However, the recognition of the status of the librarian as a full team member of the faculty is still a debated issue in many institutions.

Other problems faced are ones common to librarians and libraries almost everywhere:
- lack of funds
- lack of personnel

c) Documentation in Asian Christianity
• Although Asian finding tools exist, these are generally not as accessible to the wider research community due to limited finance and technology for dissemination, as well as language barriers.
• Low literacy levels and the fact that Christianity is a minority religion in large parts of Asia further limit the availability of documented resources and finding tools.
• Response, cooperation and follow-through – projects lower in priority as compared to essential routine library administrative tasks.
• Shortage of library personnel and time – tedious task!
• Collecting resources and recording oral histories often needs lots of energy, effort and powers of persuasion!
• Difficulties in translation – library staff often not effectively multilingual
• Reluctance to list holdings or donate materials due to controversial and sensitive materials.
• Some problems listed in the report by Eun-hui Park (archivist, Korean Anglican Archives) to the Bangalore archives training in 2004 (Religio-cultural traditions and heritages, p. 210-211):
- few among those who were engaged in this historical documentation are still alive. Significant effort should be mad to secure information from any of these elderly historians.
- Due to the rotation of priests every five years … record quantity, consistency and accuracy are dependent on the interest level of the individual priests at the individual church level
- a smaller number than is needed appear to recognize the importance of this historical record [Christabel’s note: churches often only realise the importance of historical and archival records only when they want to celebrate an anniversary]
- the nature of records management does not show itself in short-term benefits nor does it provide incentives for aggressive financial investment.
- lack of efficient equipment and information systems.
- need for the systematic and regulated collection and management of records
- imperative for establishment of regulations from the top level of the church organization with an expression of strong support for church records management.


IV. Concluding Words

The documentation of Christianity in Asia seems a daunting task. Nevertheless it is a necessary task that brings rewarding results. For in the task of documentation, we recover our past, we chart our future, we discover our identity, and we recognize God’s presence and movement in history.

For all of us engaged in the task of documentation, I’d like to end with a prayer written by Rita and John England in MAFW (p.198), adapted slightly for this occasion:

ETERNAL GOD of all peace, justice and joy
Known to us in Jesus Christ through your Holy Spirit,
Show to us again the life of Jesus in our midst
And open our hearts and minds to his light and grace.
God of all truth, beauty and wisdom,
We thank you for the living heritage of all those
Who have gathered, preserved and passed on the faith stories of your people.
We thank you for calling us to join this ministry as librarians and historians;
We dedicate ourselves to search out, care for and share all writings and stories
That nourish the life and faith of our people.
God of history, insight, vision and hope,
We praise you for all that reveals your light and knowledge on our paths.
Grant us your Spirit’s strength for our ministry as librarians and historians
As we grow in fellowship and support wherever you have called us.
Into your hands, loving God, we give our study, our work,
Our institutions, our very selves.
Journey with us to your coming Kingdom
Through Jesus Christ who lives and reigns
Now and forever more. Amen.

Contact Persons *
*

Mrs. Elizabeth T. Pulanco, Convenor, email: btpulanco@gmail.com
Mr. Yesan Sellan, Secretary, yesans@gmail.com, library@saiacs.org

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