intends to give a brief introduction to ForATL and its initiatives
towards the documentation of Christianity in Asia, as well
as the challenges faced.
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.
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
II. The Forum of Asian Theological Librarians
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.
issues and initiatives discussed by the core group over two
meetings in October 1991 (Singapore) and July 1992 (Manila)
• the possibility of a Master’s degree in Theological
Librarianship under the SEAGST program
• to form a network of the theological librarians in
• 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.
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;
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,
bibliographies, etc. for publication
iii. to promote cooperation among, and training of, theological
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
third Consultation in Bangkok in February 2003, the ForATL
Constitution was finalized and accepted.
2. Our members
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.
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
with our objectives, ForATL has initiated and organized several
activities and projects over the years. Some key projects
and activities include:
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
- to identify location of special collections and collections
of Asian resources
• Official newsletter of the Forum of Asian Theological
• 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
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
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
list of Postgraduate Theses
• Primary objectives:
- to locate resources and aid research
- to identify subjects already written to prevent duplication
and mailing list
• Website: www.foratl.org
• Blog: http://forum-theolibrarian.blogspot.com/
• Mailing list: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foratl
Post message: firstname.lastname@example.org
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
• Some training programmes:
- 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
- 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
? 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.
Consultation and Workshop
- Consultation and workshop once every 3-5 years as an avenue
for networking, resource-sharing and training, and to elect
- 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
- 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
- key challenge: distance and workload main barriers to collaboration
and carrying out of projects.
“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.
- 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
- 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.
faced are ones common to librarians and libraries almost everywhere:
- lack of funds
- lack of personnel
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
• 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
• Shortage of library personnel and time – tedious
• 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,
- 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
- 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
- lack of efficient equipment and information systems.
- need for the systematic and regulated collection and management
- 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
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.
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:
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
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
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.