The Role and Significance of Archive / Resource Management in Asia and Pacific

Seminar-Workshop on Asia-Pacific Forum for Library and Achives Management Training
Bangalore, India, June 7, 2004

The Role and Significance of Archive / Resource Management
In Asia and Pacific
Rita England

1. Self identity - Who Am I?
Elizabeth Tapia of the Philippines wrote a poem entitled WHO AM I? In this poem make changes as we read it to make it fit who you are - replace Filipino with your own nationality, for instance.

Who Am I

I am a woman
I am Filipino
I am alive
I am struggling
I am hoping.

I am created in the image of God
Just like all other people in the world;
I am a person with worth and dignity.
I am a thinking person, a feeling person,
a doing person.
I am the small I am that stands before
the big I AM.

I am a worker who is constantly challenged
and faced with the needs of the church and
society in Asia and in the global community.
I am angered by the structures and powers
that create all forms of oppression, exploitation
and degradation.
I am a witness to the moans, tears, banners and
clenched fists of my people.
I can hear their liberating songs, their hopeful
prayers and decisive march toward justice and freedom.

I believe that all of us – women and men
young and old, Christians and all others –
are called upon to do responsible action;
to be concerned
to be involved
I am hoping
I am struggling
I am alive
I am Filipino
I am a woman.

We could rewrite this poem to make it specific to ourselves: I am a man / woman / old or young. I am a – whatever your country or nationality is. And as you go through the poem you would add to or change some of the other “I am”s, “I can”s or “I believe”s.

Do you feel that you are unique – have a special identity? Do you feel that your college, church, people have special identities which mark them apart from other communities? Take a moment to think about it. … Where do you stand? … What is it that makes you and your people different / special - your own person or community of believers? You are a unique person, and your people, your church, college, group within society, are all unique in themselves.

How did that person who is me – or how did my faith community – my school, the group I am committed to working with for the benefit of others, come to be so special? What has made us who we are? How can we find out what has made us who we are? What has history to tell us? Where can we find out about these things?

2. Let us think a while of Ancestors, History and Theology
i.) Honouring Ancestors
As we begin any major task, and especially in librarianship and teaching, we should pause to recognise those on whose life and witness we stand – to ‘honour our ancestors’ in faith and culture. …. And here too we will find some clues about the path along which we and others have come.

A national Maori leader in Aotearoa New Zealand has said “The human story of which we are a part has no ending. We make our contribution and in the process we are enriched by what has come to us from the past. The recorded story can shed light on what is happening to us now.” (These are the words of the Most Reverend Sir Paul Reeves, Archbishop and Bishop of Auckland, in the Preface to Parish Archives Handbook put out for the Anglican Church in New Zealand.)

Such records may be found in many places: parish registers of births, marriages and deaths, on grave stones, census records, academic listings, shipping lists or logs of voyages, weekly records of pay and conditions for men and women who served in armed forces long ago, yearbooks, in structures for worship or living in days gone by, historical writings etched on steles, land records (perhaps written on skins and rolled up), minutes of meetings, letters, diaries, reports, memos, maps, film, paintings, sketches, cassettes, pamphlets, newsletters, brochures, old photographs, and most importantly in talking with people who remember other times. All these can reveal the past in our present.

It is not only the facts of a past life, the listings and statistics, but also the thoughts and beliefs of those who have gone before that have shaped where we are today – those things that have enriched us, what we have found to be important in our lives of faith and hope and love, what we hope to hand on to those who follow us. We are not only honouring ancestors but acknowledging, and becoming a part of, the communion of saints. We are a part of that story, part of that communion of saints, the company of all people striving for peace, justice, togetherness, communion. With those who have gone before we are building a significant cultural understanding and feeding today’s theology / faith story. We are finding ourselves within the particular story or our people, and history is coming alive in and through us.

ii) History coming Alive
Many of our colleagues, even in our colleges and libraries, have only a vague sense of history yet without this we become merely the “playthings of history and are apt to become its victim”. We can see many clear examples of this in today’s events - in West Asia for instance! – and without a growing knowledge of the faith tradition within which we stand, we are playthings of random and destructive forces.

History is the context of all life. It is a people’s story. It is the past in the present and leads us to the future. History is both the source of our bondage and the source of our liberation. History both as the essential context and as the focus for reflection plays a central role in all creative theology. Theology itself takes part in the "particularity of history", for it is grounded in the historical life-death-and-life-again of Jesus-with-others, which itself is grounded initially in the history of Israel and West Asia, and later in the histories of all Asian and Pacific countries, as in Europe and North America. And the One Living God of all life is bringing history to its purposed end, the One Commonwealth of God. (And this we can believe in whatever religious tradition we belong to, as there is only the One Living God.)

Historical knowledge, understanding where we have come from and what points us to the future, therefore has at least three main aspects:

a) It is the source of ideas and experience wherein we meet and wrestle with the great thinkers, actors, and significant events of the past.
b) It constantly shapes our life today, the past in the present becomes our future.
c) As persons and faith communities we embody the past. We cannot be understood apart from it. It is the context in which we live and from which we draw much that we call 'ourselves'.

The result of critical historical knowledge is a clearer, more accurate perspective of ourselves, our heritage, and the heritage of others. It is indispensable in the exploration of our deepest faith concerns. History is necessary so that those concerns be rooted in human life, where God is always coming to meet us. It is necessary, too, in order that those concerns spring from mature reflection. This rootedness in all aspects of Asian, or Pacific, life is our priority.

iii) Here then lies the vital importance of archives (and of course of our libraries).
Archives are a means of self-discovery and of finding our identity. Every person of faith, every congregation and denomination should have access to the story of Christianity and other religions within their/its own culture, along with access to the story of the universal and historical church and of human religious development. Every seminary and theological training institution needs to be able to provide such information to resource its churches. Informed decision-making can only happen following adequate historical research; and living the faith today is endlessly enriched through the knowledge of what has gone before. Because we know the journey behind us we can begin to see ahead new paths in our pilgrimage.

Yet because we have not taken archives and local resources seriously, we find that people say, and unfortunately believe, that neither Asia nor the Pacific have a long or rich Christian history, nor long and creative theological traditions. Here is a challenge to all within each church and community, and particularly for theological librarians. We affirm the importance of history for theology and for living the faith, but we must also put that affirmation into practice by cultivating a deep historical sense, and by digging deeply in the records and memory of our people. Church history in all its forms, especially in our own countries – and therefore the resources for this – requires of us a much greater commitment both of resources and personnel than we have yet given.

The primary need then is for much fuller historical resources, records, and also research on these, which librarians and archivists must promote and build.

Within each situation from which you come such records, stories and fragments can be found - often unexpected, and too often disregarded. Yet in them lie many sources of our peoples’ selfhood and outgoing faith. In this search a great variety of forms, literary, artefact and oral, over lengthy time scales, must be restored, searched for information, and secured for future generations. For we have here the foundations, the pioneers and inspiration that most often make the latest promotion from the west unnecessary!

3. Orientation
First a story - Andrew Walls, in addressing the Rome consultation, 2002, “Rescuing the Memories of our Peoples” spoke of two graduate students who had recently completed their doctoral dissertations. Both dealt with Christian missions in southern Ethiopia, but one drew primarily on missionary archives now held in Canada, while the other utilized oral history interviews with the region’s Gala peoples. Walls said that you could be forgiven for thinking that these theses were about two different places. Christian missionaries had arrived in this part of Ethiopia in the early 1930s, and were expelled shortly afterwards, when Italy invaded. When they returned after World War II they found a thriving church. Letters home from the returned missionaries talked of a miracle, but through oral history interviews it had became clear that an indigenous Gala prophet in the 1930s had attacked the village-based tribal cults urging the people to pray instead to a universal god. Hence the message the returning missionaries brought fell upon fertile soil, far more so than they had expected since they were ignorant of local religious history. Two different stories emerged about the same place and piece of history since the topic was approached from two different standpoints. The missionary archives told one story; the local interviews told a different one.

I have often posed the question to librarians in our region “Where are your feet?” And the answer to this question points the way to the orientation of all our work. What is the orientation of your library? Your college? The archival collection you will develop? What priority do you, will you, establish for the work you will do in all your resource collection and development work? What is most important to your people / place? Where are your feet?

Of necessity, all libraries / archives require careful policies for collection or promotion. Our archives cannot be indiscriminate or include literally everything. Therefore the orientation of the collection, and the aims behind it, are all-important.

i) Who are archives for?
Dr Herbert Swanson of the Office of History, Church of Christ in Thailand, worked for many years to develop an archival centre for the Church of Christ in Thailand. This is now the nucleus of the Payap University Archives. Swanson comments: “That the archives could serve the academic world was not at all a ‘bad thing,’ but that role did not fulfil its central purpose as church archives, which was to collect, preserve, and provide access to historical materials to the substantial benefit of the work and life of the church.” So, in 1988, the Church of Christ in Thailand founded the Office of History. It sought to move beyond the custodial model of information management – then the classic model for church archives – to a new model that intended to make local churches the chief beneficiaries of the Church of Christ in Thailand’s information processes.

We will look at what solution was devised in a later lecture. However, as you will see from this example from Thailand, the question of “Who for?” is an important local question – are archives gathered principally for the academic paper or thesis or are they for the life and work of the church? … Or some other purpose? … To support a local project? …

You may know the saying: "Until the lion learns to write, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter." Is it sufficient that your story and your people’s story, your country’s story, be heard only through the study and the voice of those from outside your situation? Is it important for your people’s story to be known and heard through the voice of your own people? Then we must be aware that much of the true historical record of our people is not written down. The other story of those who are illiterate must be recorded as well. We cannot be solely reliant on missionary archives or western interpretation important as these may be. There is another story which comes directly from the heart and soul of our own people, the life story lived out in a particular culture in everyday ways and understanding. Oral history therefore assumes special importance in our archives (along with local records or reports) – and later examples will show how this can be done.

ii) Thus we have a bias.
Not only will you take care of the archival records you are given for your archive, but you can search for materials and build up your archival holdings. Regardless of the use made of an archival repository, it is important that records be preserved impartially. Archivists are the guardians of the evidence on which the truth can be established. Within our region however we do have a bias - towards our own Christian history, our own theological development, and our own society from which theological endeavour arises and within which our Christian witness is carried out. It is directed from where we stand, our people’s journey, Christian (or Buddhist or other faith tradition) identity, our own Asia-Pacific saga, our own vision, our own autonomous traditions. We have unique records and a unique witness of life where we are and these form the basic roots for all our work in our library, our college, our church, our community - and in our work with archives. These records for which we will care are basic not only for our religious heritage but also for our community as a whole. For example, if governments, non-government organizations, or even United Nations or other international agencies want to understand education or public health in a given area, the church archives are often the best, and in some cases the only, resource available.

iii) Our tribal communities are a particularly rich source of tradition and oral history, much of this is essential for their present endeavours, and for the participation of our churches in such struggles. But such resources of authentic identity and witness are also essential to the larger archives of our national churches.

In my own country, New Zealand, the indigenous Maori peoples are finding again their own tribal roots. During much of last century many had left for the cities to find work and lost touch with their tribal lands and traditions. Now, because of a cultural resurgence and because government is trying to right the wrongs of earlier land seizures and oppressions, it is vitally important for Maori to know to what tribal group or iwi they belong, and for this to be more widely acknowledged.

In most of our countries the indigenous and tribal groups have their own particular records and in many parts of the region these become extremely important as people seek to protect their land and their culture against economic exploitation both from within their own country and from overseas. It is also vital to the recovery of their own identity as faith communities – and remember that many of our most flourishing and individual churches are found amongst tribal communities.

4. Practical implications
Practical work in archives management will be covered in later sessions of this course, but here let me suggest a few major “first practical questions”, or implications, of what we have been saying.

i) We need to be clear about our priorities. We cannot make our collections exhaustive. Each archive is unique with its own priorities, goals and problems. A religious archive, a government archive, a hospital archive, a non-governmental society or club archive, an oral history project, will all have specific differences in the way they are set up, remembering for whom they exist. Decide what your priorities ought to be in setting up the archives for which you are responsible, what you are able to do in relation to time, budget, ability and facilities available – what is best for you and your constituency in your situation.

ii) This means that you develop a collection strategy. To do this it will be necessary to work with other institutions to ensure a full coverage of all archival materials. Find out what other centres hold and decide on collection strategies together, develop your own specialty that is related to your institution, your church, your history or bias. Focus your collection. This is more valuable than an indiscriminate collection of materials. But ensure that somewhere all areas are covered. Do not throw out anything because it does not fit with your particular focus or speciality. It must be saved somewhere. Work out a pattern with other repositories of historical materials. As an example a national repository may say that all materials held must be by or about national people or concerns. Will you limit your college’s archives only to those materials which are about your college or parent church body? – or will you also include materials which place that story in its context, both historical and social?

This is equally a question that relates to the holdings in your library as a whole. The people who use your library or archives are preparing themselves for work within a particular community, which is found within a particular region, and must reflect this. It may mean that you will need to identify key gaps in both library holdings and archival collections, that you will need to develop a programme for reconstructing the focus of the materials held and set about a policy of aggressive re-acquisition. You may need to work through Christian publishers to encourage the publication of materials with local focus, or set up exchanges through which you can have access to some materials.

In advising a research centre which was to focus on Asian and Pacific materials I made the following summary of what materials should be actively sought. Such a pattern could be adapted to develop your own priorities and collection strategy, with both archives centre and library. See also pages 46-50 in Ministering Asian Faith and Wisdom for a fuller listing.

The materials to be covered would eventually include:
A. Writings by Asian/Pacific Christian theologians, church historians and lay people, beginning with 'standard'/'representative' works.

B. Writings which take seriously the context in which Asian/Pacific Christians live and work:
i) as complete a collection of Christian writings, particularly theological materials in whatever form, as possible;
ii) basic and representative works on the religions of the area, including indigenous religious movements and new religious movements;
iii) basic and representative works on the social/political conditions including contemporary social issues and secular history;
iv) art and literature which seeks to express the life and beliefs of women and men in relation to a Christian understanding of God.

C. Materials from national/international ecumenical agencies in the region, for example Christian Conference of Asia, Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, Associations of Theological Schools in Asia and the Pacific, Programme for Theology & Cultures in Asia, World Student Christian Federation Asia/Pacific, Young Men's Christian Association Asia/Pacific, Asian Christian Art Association, Asian Institute for Liturgy and Music, Asian Women's Resource Centre for Culture and Theology, ecumenical and theological associations which publish in the Pacific, and so on.

You should work out your own pattern of what should be collected in your area and who will hold which sections.

iii) Remember - You are not starting from the beginning
It may sometimes feel that there is a limitless ocean of work ahead of you – an uncharted sea. But others have gone before. Many archival collections held overseas have something to offer you. Your history is often well documented in these repositories. For the sake of research in your place however, you should request the return of these or at least copies of them. There are agencies that have already microfilmed many of the materials which would make a good foundation for your work. One of these is IDC (Inter Documentation Company bv). Get copies of these records – or, because these are expensive, ask the missionary agencies covered by these records to send them to you. They are your story! Get copies, or at least listings, of what is already held elsewhere.

You can request a complete catalogue of holdings of your history from repositories overseas which will give some idea of what is already available somewhere. But even more important, get in touch with archival repositories within your own country to both learn of what they hold which is relevant to your work and also to build a relationship of mutual support between such archival centres and your own. They will have already found ways appropriate to your country, climate and availability of preservation methods which you can use to advantage.

5. Commitment
i) In the confusion of sorting out the materials you hold, and to care for them adequately, you will need perseverance! When an archivist was asked how he was able to continue with his work despite many set-backs he replied “What keeps me going? – A sense of history and a sense of purpose. Everything that lives is holy and has a purpose. … We are here to contribute our vision of our peoples’ faith story – which may even mean that we have to fight for what we feel to be important. … What we do is not for today, not for this week, but for the 21st century and beyond.” A sense of history and a sense of purpose ….

ii) But for us we have another source for our continuing commitment. We are professional people who have a ministry to perform within the Asian and Pacific Christian community. Our work is both a response and an offering – to the One Living God whom we all serve. We stand at the beginning of a new journey. Through this training course new skills, new understanding will be yours.

The task in which we are engaged is that of equipping the people of God for their work and mission, not only in the church but also within our society. Librarians and archivists are indeed priests and ministers - they are mediators of truth and wisdom and grace in the sacraments of the work they offer, and in the communion of saints which is known and experienced through our libraries and archives. And what we have to offer is, like the Eucharist itself, food for the road – the past in the present leading toward an informed future.

In the development of this work, you will continue to study, to explore, to adventure. Be sure that your calling is one of continuing joys, excitements and challenges. Above all be sure that as you embark upon this most significant ministry within the Asian and Pacific Churches you are not alone for the God of all peoples is with you, and you walk in a fellowship of theological librarians and archivists in every country of our regions, along with their forebears over many centuries.

Fr Sebastian Karotemprel prepared a prayer for the planning group of the 2002 Rome Conference “Rescuing the Memory of our Peoples”. I have adapted some of this as we commit ourselves to this great task.

O God our Father and Creator,
You have left your image on every creature.
Your footsteps are on all the pathways of the universe.
Your fingerprints adorn and embellish every being.

May we gather up the scattered fragments
Of the history of heroism and holiness,
Of love for all the peoples of the world,
And the history of service to all peoples.
May we cherish and preserve them.
May we learn form previous experience.
May we be inspired by the zeal of those who have gone before.
May your blessings accompany our enterprise.


Contact Persons *

Mrs. Elizabeth T. Pulanco, Convenor, email:
Mr. Yesan Sellan, Secretary,,

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