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How Does the Echols Collection Acquire Material?


by Jeffrey Petersen, Southeast Asia Librarian, and Gregory Green, Curator 

Early efforts by individuals in the Cornell SEAP community to bring back materials from Southeast Asia helped create the national treasure of resources from the region that we have here today in the John M. Echols Collection of Kroch Library at Cornell. The genesis of this began with Professor John Echols himself, who devoted much personal effort to acquiring books here and there when he could find them and inspiring others to do so. Recently, when his daughter visited Kroch Library for the first time, she was overcome with emotion as the doors to the stacks opened and she saw the sheer amount of material and the fruit of her father’s labors. 

Professor Echols’s dedication inspired others, such as the late SEAP Professor Benedict Anderson (19362015), who once related the following to me: “You don't need to thank me for books and documents I have given to Echols over the years. John Echols was my beloved teacher, a prince of a man, who gave everything he had to building up our collection. So I have tried to follow his example where I could. The single most important reason why I stayed at Cornell over thirty-five years of teaching was the Collection.”1

specific example of this collecting effort involves a book by one of Ben Anderson’s favorite Indonesian authors: Indonesia dalam Api dan Bara by Tjamboek Berdoeri. Years ago, Ben donated this book to the collection only to eventually learn that he could no longer locate a copy of the book in Indonesia. My own searches revealed that there was only one other library that held a copy, and this was in Australia, where interlibrary loan is not possible. Similarly, thanks to early Echols Collection efforts, much material in Cambodia that would have been lost forever when the Khmer Rouge destroyed the nation’s libraries was kept safe here at Cornell. 

A large amount of materials in the Echols Collection is acquired through a program involving the Library of Congress (LOC) called the Cooperative Acquisitions Program for Southeast Asia (CAPSEA). As the LOC gathers materials from around the region for its archives, they also purchase books and serial publications for CAPSEA participants. Of course, the LOC does not acquire everything, and we must work to fill in the gaps. For example, they do not regularly supply materials for the Philippines. Even in Indonesia, where the Library of Congress Southeast Asia office is based, there are gaps in the resources we receive. 

The Echols Collection works with other vendors, usually small booksellers or academics in the region, to help supplement what we get through the LOC program. We also conduct wide systematic searches on Worldcat (a worldwide library catalog) to see what has been missed. This is done by running a search on different topics related to Southeast Asia for books that are held elsewhere but not at Cornell.2 We will also take acquisition trips to Southeast Asia to purchase materials in person. These trips mainly entail working with our vendors in person to ensure what they collect for us meets our needs. They also involve time searching through bookstores and, increasingly, working on digitization projects to collect archival material in electronic format while leaving the originals in place. In addition, we are enormously grateful for the many gifts that come in through donors, students, and professors. 

While we seek to be comprehensive, the library cannot get everything, and difficult decisions must be made, particularly in light of the flat budget we have experienced recently. We have to balance the need to see that what is relevant for our patrons and vital to the current academic discussion on hand, but we must also think of possible use in the future. We will sometimes end up with the only copy of a book in the Western Hemisphere. Indeed, occasionally we will have the only copy of something known to be in existence. We have a responsibility to see that these materials are preserved for the use of the nation and beyond.  



[1] Ben Andersen, e-mail correspondence to Jeff Petersen, September 29, 2006.

[2] For those interested in how to do this, in the command line in Expert search in Worldcat, simply append “NOT li: COO” (COO is the code for Cornell) to any search string.