A quick fascinating glimpse inside the library of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore

Inside View of ISEAS Library (Photo: Google.com)
Inside View of ISEAS Library (Photo: Google.com)

(The opinions expressed here are those of the author.)

Due to a range of reasons and complex circumstances over the past decades, my loving son first went to Japan and then to Australia to pursue further education. After obtaining two diplomas in Canberra, Capital of Australia, he came back home in Yangon in quest of a suitable and sustainable career. Despite his devoted and dedicated efforts to engage in an honest business in Yangon for a certain length of time, it was futile and pointless.
When there was no scope and space for a decent and proper livelihood back in our beloved country in those years of uncertain and unclear economic environment, he and his family migrated to Australia.
During the school holidays of our grand children, they visited us in Yangon once every two to three years.
In January 2015, my son and his family members visited Singapore on vacation. The rendezvous point was at the condominium of our loving daughter Thuzar at Taman Serasi, just across the Singapore Botanical Gardens. Thuzar is on government assignment for three years in that country.
I and my better half have had a good time and full of fun with our grand kids for two weeks in Singapore. They went back home in Sydney on 31 January 2015.
Since my arrival in Singapore on 12 January, I have written five English articles entitled (1) [Significant features of “Singapore Expo” and “John Little Mega Expo Sale” in Singapore: January 2015]; (2) [National University of Singapore: A University stands and shines top in Asia]; (3) [ICT in brief and pragmatic application of E-Governance in Singapore]; and (4) [Education in Singapore: Pre-school Playgroup to Junior College]; and (5) Education in Singapore: Universities and International Schools in the Global New Light of Myanmar in January and February 2015.
Just two days before our departure from Singapore for home in Yangon, my loving daughter Thuzar accompanied me to the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore, which is well-known throughout the region, especially for its rich depository of knowledge resources on Southeast Asia at the ISEAS Library.  Our trip to ISEAS had a two-fold interest, as one of Thuzar’s good friends and former colleague, Moe Moe, is at ISEAS as a lead researcher at the ASEAN Studies Centre, and also a member of the ISEAS Myanmar Studies Program.  I had the chance to catch up with Moe Moe, after quite some years, and see her place of work.
It was Friday afternoon on 6 February and the weather was fine with soft cool breeze.
Although our visit was an impromptu one, we had the opportunity to take a quick yet fascinating glimpse of the ISEAS Library. The library is neat, clean and in proper order as well as carefully arranged.
ISEAS Library
ISEAS Library has been functioning as a unique de facto regional library and information centre. It houses more than 600,000 items of comprehensive collections of research materials on the applied social sciences dating mostly from the nineteenth century with emphasis on Southeast Asia. The print and multimedia collections are in the region’s languages as well as in English and other Asian and European languages.
Indeed, the indispensable value of ISEAS Library as the backbone of “ISEAS research process” was recognized early in the founding of the Institute. Its setup began one year before the Act of Parliament in June 1968 was passed to establish the Institute.
Interested persons may browse the ISEAS Library’s online catalogue “SEALion” (Southeast Asian Studies Library Integrated Online) or one may take a look at the list of “e-Resources” available in the Library.
Access to the Library
The ISEAS library is open to all members of the public, who are interested in the study of the Southeast Asian region.
Registration is required for all new members to access the library collections and facilities.
The following two documents are required for registration:
(1)    Identity Card
•    NRIC (The National Registration Identity Card — abbreviation: NRIC, or colloquially IC)
•    FIN card (Singapore ID card with a FIN number)
•    Passport
•    Staff Pass
•    Student Pass
(2)    Completed Registration Form. (One may download a copy of the registration form. Alternatively, one may fill up the form at the library service counter).
Borrowing Privileges
As the ISEAS Library is primarily a reference Library, only individuals affiliated with ISEAS (such as in-house researchers and staff) are automatically entitled to borrow books from the Library. Individuals who are not affiliated with ISEAS may be granted personal loan privileges upon provision of a refundable deposit of Singapore $200. The deposit will be returned upon cessation of loans with the Library and return of all Library books in good condition.
Alternatively loans may be arranged via interlibrary loans with another Library. There is no deposit required in this case.
Library card
Users need to supply a passport size photograph (digital or print copy) for the library card and pay a one-time processing fee of Singapore $10.00.
Loan Items
There are varying periods of loans depending on the categories of users and materials.
Information Services
While the ISEAS Library is set up as a self-service research library, the following services are available:
•    Brief training on the use of online database and microfilm/fiche readers (Microfiche Scanner);
•    Retrieval of collections from open and closed stack/repository;
•    Value-added services conducted by the Reference Librarian;
•    Interlibrary Loan (ILL);
•    Document Delivery Service; and
•    Orientation/Guided Tours.
Brief training on the use of online database and microfilm/fiche readers
The Library’s collections, including new acquisitions can be looked up in the online database SEALion. Staff on duty will serve users who need assistance in using the online database and audio-visual equipment.
Retrieval of collections from open and closed stack/repository
Selected titles of new arrivals are displayed at the Circulation Desk. Researchers may reserve a title on display by filling in a Reserve Slip and returning it to the Circulation Desk. Request for closed access materials such as back issues of journals and newspapers, private papers and microforms can also be made at the counter.
Value-added services conducted by the Reference Librarian:
•    Bibliographical search at Singapore $50.00 per hour (minimum charge).
•    Identifying and locating items from the above bibliographical search at Singapore $2.00 per item.
•    Material cost (such as print outs, photocopies etc.) are charged in addition to the above.
Interlibrary Loan (ILL)
Books not available in the ISEAS Library may be borrowed on “Interlibrary Loan (ILL)” from other libraries. Affiliated researchers may request ILL service at the Circulation/Information Counter. ILL is only available for circulating materials. Interested libraries can fill in ILL Agreement Form.
Document Delivery Service
The ISEAS Library supplies documents to libraries in Singapore and overseas institutions. The “Document Delivery Service” is governed by the Singapore Copyright Act. This requires the Library to obtain a signed copyright declaration from the requesting person before obtaining a photocopy of the requested material. The copyright declaration has been incorporated in the “document delivery request form” and must be completed by the requesting person.

Entrance at the front of ISEAS Complex  (Photo: Google.com)
Entrance at the front of ISEAS Complex
(Photo: Google.com)

Prepayment procedures
For overseas requests, payment should be in the form of bank draft drawn in Singapore currency made payable to “Institute of Southeast Asian Studies”.
Orientation/Guided Tours
From time to time, the Library professional staff members are available to brief individual or group visitors on the Library’s collection and services. Interested persons may write to the Head, ISEAS Library.
Training and Attachments
Practical training and attachments of professional staff of libraries in the region and elsewhere are provided upon request. The duration may be from one day to one month at a stretch. Some are from training programs organized by the “National Library Board” (NLB) for developing countries under ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) sponsorship. Institutions and individuals may write to the Head, ISEAS Library to make a request.
The ISEAS Library has more than 600,000 items in a multilingual and multi-format collection. The collection, with emphasis on current and contemporary information resources in the applied social sciences on Southeast Asia, is closely tied to the research programs of the Institute. As a research library, it also holds a large archival collection on the region.
Collections: A Gateway to Southeast Asian Affairs
General Collection
The General Collection comprises books on Southeast Asia. Titles published after the 1950s will be available for loan.
The Reference Collection consists of various reference tools, including dictionaries, encyclopedias, directories, indexes, handbooks and guides.
Statistical works of Southeast Asian countries are major components of this collection classified according to countries.
The Documents Collection consists of pamphlet-type materials, articles and other items of less than a hundred pages. These are mainly “grey” or “fugitive” literature.
[Note: “Grey literature” is generally defined as academic literature that is not formally published. It is an expanding field in library and information science that deals with the supply and demand side of publications not controlled by commercial publishing. “Fugitive literature” is the research findings that have not been published in archival sources, dissertations, papers presented at meetings, papers either not submitted or rejected for publication and technical reports].
Current Periodicals
The Library subscribes to about 2,000 current serial titles, both in English and in the vernacular languages.
Map Collection
The Map Collection which comprises contemporary maps of Southeast Asia is located at the Reference Area. From time to time, an old or antiquarian map which has research value is acquired.
Microform Collection
The Microform Collection includes published and unpublished materials, including back issues of selected newspapers, journals, theses, rare books and retrospective newspaper clippings files.
Library Office Collection
“The Library Office” (LO) Collection consists of unpublished dissertations and other semi-restricted publications.
Rare Books
The Library’s collection of rare and antiquarian books on the region that have been acquired based on their high research value. Most have been converted into microform or digital format to facilitate user access. The Library has compiled a list of rare books ranging from 1688-1930.
Private Papers
A number of prominent individuals have deposited their private papers at the Institute. The private papers provide vital historical perspectives. Library users are welcome to refer to the papers.
Cultural Collection
“The Southeast Asian Cultural Collection” (SEACC) of multimedia mainly on documentation of the region’s ethnic, anthropological and cultural norms comprises a core collection of color slides, black and white negatives and photographs. The materials collected from time to time either through the depositions by researchers, or library acquisitions. The materials describe and document the cultural traditions of Southeast Asia. Apart from photographs, color slides, and negatives, the SEACC also has audiocassettes, video recordings, prints and posters.
The ISEAS Library subscribes to a number of electronic resources in support of the research needs of our staff and researchers.
Newspapers & Magazines
The Asahi Shimbun AJW (IP Access)
Business Times (Available at the Library)
Financial Times (Available at the Library)
The Edge Markets (Available at the Library)
Malaysiakini (Available at the Library)
Straits Times Online (Available at the Library)
South China Morning Post (Available at the Library)
Time (Available at the Library)
The Wall Street Journal (Available at the Library)
Zaobao (Available at the Library)
[Note: Some Myanmar newspapers and journals (English / Myanmar) are seen at the Library].
Free Online Resources
The ISEAS Library subscribes to a number of databases to support the research of ISEAS staff and researchers.
Access to “NewsLink”
“NewsLink” covers a wide range of archived newspapers such as : The Straits Times (Including Digital Life, Mind Your Body, Urban, Little Red Dot and IN), The Straits Times Education Program, The Sunday Times, The Business Times, The Business Times Weekend, The New Paper, The New Paper on Sunday, Tabla, Berita Harian (including Gen G/I-Cube), Berita Minggu (Malay), Lianhe Zaobao, Lianhe Zaobao Sunday, My Paper (Chinese and English), Shin Min Daily News, Lianhe Wanbao, Friday Weekly (Chinese), Thumbs Up (Chinese) & Thumbs Up Junior (Chinese).
The English archive goes back to July 1989 while the Chinese archive starts from January 1994. The archived news has a time delay in uploading of up to 3 calendar days.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: Is ISEAS Library open to the public?
A: Yes, since 2013 the Library is open to the public who are interested in the studies of Southeast Asian region. There is no special permission required to access the library except a simple registration form to be filled up for the first time user.
Borrowing/ Loan Fees
Q: Why the Library does needs to charge a refundable deposit of Singapore $200 for certain type of users?
A: For loan of books outside the Library, a refundable (subject to loan items returned without damages) security deposit of Singapore $200 might be required according to the loan policy available at
This is to cover the cost of repairing or replacing the borrowed books should the borrower lose or damage them. It also acts as a financial reminder for the borrower to take proper care when using the books.
Library Membership
Q: Is there any payable membership/annual fee?
A: No.
Q: I am from a private company, if I wish to make use of the facilities at the library, how much is the annual membership fee?
A: Effective from June 2014, corporate users no longer needs to pay an annual/monthly/weekly subscription fee to access ISEAS Library and consult its reference materials on site. Upon completing registration, the user can proceed to browse the Library collections on open shelves.
Q: How do I apply for the membership?
A: A first time user is required to fill up a simple registration form. Alternatively, a copy of the registration form can be requested at the library service counter. First time users will need to bring along one of the following items below for completion of their registration.
-Student card
-Staff Pass
Operating Hours
Q: Will the Library be closed during lunch hour?
A: No. ISEAS Library is open from 8.30am to 5.45pm on Mondays to Thursdays and from 8.30am to 5.15pm on Fridays.
Photocopying of Library Materials
Library users are allowed to photocopy published materials found in ISEAS Library in accordance with the Singapore Copyright Act. For unpublished materials, such as private papers, conference documents and academic papers/thesis, the citation and copying of such materials (including digital scanning and capturing) is subject to the respective deposit agreements.
Use of Library Facilities
Food and Drinks
There are water dispensers for users on each floor of the Library. Food and soft drinks are not permitted in the reading area of the Library as any accidental spillage could attract insects, including ants that may harm the collections.
Handling original documents/photographs in the Library
The Library seeks users’ cooperation to wear lint-free cotton or latex gloves when handling original documents (including private papers) and photographs/color slides. This is to prevent fingerprints, body oil from fingers, nail polish, residual chemicals from hand cream, sweat, etc from being transferred onto the materials while handling them with one’s bare hands. Paper-based materials are sensitive to such materials as these materials can cause physical deterioration to the fabric structure and inks on the paper.
Library Organization
The ISEAS Library is headed by Mr. Pitt Kuan Wah since 1 January 2013.  Mr. Pitt oversees the management and running of the ISEAS Library and also co-ordinates activities in collection development, acquisitions, private archives, systems development, and reference and information services.  He is assisted by a team of 5 professional staff and 10 support staff.
The ISEAS Library was reorganized in mid February 2013, along with core functions of acquisition, preservation and access.
Library Review 2014
The Library completed its year-long operational and policy review in 2013. The changes, mainly in the areas of acquisitions and collection access, have been positively endorsed by both internal researchers and external users as reflected in its “2014 Users Satisfaction Survey” which majority of the respondents rated the Library collection to have met their research needs, as illustrated by feedback such as “The library is doing a great job of expanding our access to e-journals. This needs to continue” and “Our access to e-journals has however improved so significantly in the past year and I would like to commend the library on this achievement.”
About two-third of the respondents also expressed their satisfaction in the area of borrowing privileges.
ISEAS Library Selects: a new information service
As the Library shifts towards delivering high quality services, apart from handling the standard reference enquiries, an information alert service containing links to selected news and blog articles on Southeast Asia and special topics relevant to the research agenda of ISEAS was rolled out in July 2013. Between July 2013 and March 2014, 16,500 articles were selected on a daily and weekly basis, by librarians including Head Library. These materials, after being circulated to subscribers (both ISEAS researchers and external researchers) for their research information needs, became part of our digital collection. The initial feedback on the “Info Alert” service has been encouraging: 75% of the survey respondents rated that the info-alerts were useful in meeting their research needs or have exceeded their expectations.
The Library’s first stocktaking exercise on the entire library collection was completed in July 2013 and 659 missing items were found (0.18% of the total collection). With the implementation of “RFID tags” in mid-2013, the Library foresees future stock taking exercise will be more effective and efficient to be incorporated as part of the routine operation.
[Note: Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is the wireless use of electromagnetic fields to transfer data, for the purposes of automatically identifying and tracking tags attached to objects. The tags contain electronically stored information].
The stocktaking exercise also allows the Library to adjust its shelving plans and cater to the projected collection growth for the next 10 years.
Another collection that was assessed during this stock take exercise was the oral history and audio recordings collection. The assessment reveals that the media of the recordings – “VHS, C-60/90”  cassette tapes are fast becoming inaccessible and deteriorating and need also be migrated to a more durable and open format medium.
Library Network
Visit by IFLA Delegates
On 23 August 2013, the Library played host to 36 conference delegates from the 50th International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Conference.  The Library’s collection, works of the librarians, as well as the fumigation and digitization facilities were showcased during this visit.
Challenges Ahead
Firstly, budget constraints and a shortage of manpower are the main challenges the Library continues to face. The Library plans to clear the entire backlog and provide researchers with online access to the microform and private papers collections. However, this can only be possible with a sufficient budget and manpower provisions.  The annual subscription rates to periodicals and databases are also increasing. Given the budget constraints, it is hard for the Library to continue subscribing to the existing databases and information sources with same budget.  The Library therefore has to be very selective in making acquisition decisions.
Secondly, another challenge that we face is attracting more users to use our library. The number of physical library visits has dropped slightly compared with the previous years due to the additional subscribed electronic resources available and the information outreach from different types of Information Alerts provided.  Hence, the Library has shifted its direction to measure the use of library by collecting usage statistics instead of merely counting number of visitors.
Lastly, Library is looking into ways to enhance the use of technology to improve the productivity of disseminating information to users. For example, Info Alerts are currently disseminated to subscribers via the use of third party software which requires a significant amount of effort and time for typesetting prior to sending out the information. Hence, Library is exploring other means to improve on the procedure to more effectively and productively disseminate it to subscribers.
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) is the leading international body representing the interests of library and information services and their users. It is the global voice of the library and information profession.
In one of its review, it summed up that some 190 years ago, two institutions namely the National Library of Singapore and the National University of Singapore Library were instrumental in laying the foundation for libraries in the Southeast Asian Island State.
In line with this development, the ISEAS Library has come up with new ways to manage in its collection as well as serve the needs of the users. It maintains library innovations, paying particular attention to digital products and services that include library management systems, e-resources, digital devices as well as the utilization of social media to engage users.
On the part of the author of this article, it is only a plain and simple presentation of ISEAS Library to the esteemed and valued readers of the Global New Light of Myanmar and the educators especially in the sphere of education in our country.

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