The Southeast Asia Collection

Singapore Infopedia

by Wong, Heng, Thulaja, Naidu Ratnala


The Southeast Asia (SEA) Collection is a significant collection of the National Library. It includes the Ya Yin Kwan Collection, the Rost Collection, the Gibson-Hill Collection and a wide range of early-19th-century literature.1 Its most valuable titles come from the personal collection of James Richardson Logan,2 founder and editor of the Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia.3

When Stamford Raffles founded the Singapore Institution in 1823, the core of today’s SEA Collection was formed. It was then known as the Q Collection. Many valuable and rare items were acquired from private collections. In 1879, the Logan Collection of 1,250 volumes was added. The Logan Collection comprised almost all works on languages in Malaya and Melanesia.4 The Rost Collection was added to the Q Collection in 1897. Its 970 volumes comprised mainly philological works.5

In 1923, the Library of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society was transferred on permanent loan to and integrated with the Raffles Library’s collection.6 Subsequently, the National Library continued to receive more donations of valuable additions to the Q Collection.7

In 1928, 87 books from the collection of the late G. P. Owen were added. The SEA Collection was further augmented in 1965 with the generous donation of the Gibson-Hill Collection of 1,000 volumes by Mrs Loke Yew in memory of her son Loke Wan Tho, the first chairman of the Board of the National Library.8

The collection policy was enlarged to include materials on Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines.9 Books on Singapore, purchased or deposited under the Printers and Publishers’ Ordinance were also added to the Collection.10 During the war years, the Library continued to function under the protection of a Japanese professor.11 The Q Collection survived the war with minimal loss.12 When the National Library moved to its new building at 91 Stamford Road in November 1960, the collection was maintained by the Reference Division on the second floor.13

The South East Asia Room
In July 1964, the Southeast Asian Collection was enriched by the donation of a valuable private collection of 10,000 volumes of books and periodicals on the history of the Chinese in Southeast Asia.14 Tan Yeok Seong, a merchant, agreed to donate his private collection, the Ya Yin Kwan Collection, to the National Library under the condition that a South East Asia Room (SEA Room) be set up to house this collection for public reading, with staff to look after it.15

The SEA Room was opened on 28 August 1964 with an area of 138.5 sq m.16 Located on the third floor of the National Library, it was declared open by S. Rajaratnam, then Minister for Culture.17 The English titles were interfiled with the other books in the SEA Collection. By November 1971, the room was enlarged to 550.2 sq m to accommodate more shelving and meet readers’ needs.18 These books were accessible to researchers only.

The Singapore Resource Centre
From 1 May 1997 to 5 January 1998, the National Library on Stamford Road was upgraded and renovated at a cost of S$2.6 million.19 Part of the SEA collection was re-categorised as the Singapore Collection, while more valuable tomes of the SEA Room were placed in the Heritage Room within the closed stacks.20

As part of the renovation, the partitioning walls of the SEA Room were demolished and the area was converted into an open-access area for public use, and it became  the Singapore Resource Centre.21 Housing the world’s largest collection of materials on Singapore with 200,000 books and periodicals relating to Singapore and the region, it was a one-stop resource centre for information on Singapore.22 Infrequently consulted items were transferred to the Library Support Services Centre warehouse.23

In 2005, when the new National Library Building at Victoria Street opened, the Singapore Resource Centre’s Singapore and Southeast Asian collections were moved to level 11, and became known as the Singapore and Southeast Asian Collection of the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library.24

Heng Wong & Thulaja Naidu

1. “SE-Asia Room of Library Opens Today,” Straits Times, 28 August 1964, 5; Bett L/ Khoo, “A Jealous guard on Singapore’s Earliest Books,” New Nation, 8 September 1972, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 1 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 551. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
3. Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 467. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
4. R. Quah, “The Southeast Asia Collection of the National Library, Singapore – An Appraisal,” Singapore Libraries 3 (1973), 32–37. (Call no. RSING 020.5 SL)
5. “The Rost Collection,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 10 November 1897, 303. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Royal Asiatic Society,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 27 February 1924, 134. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Quah, “Southeast Asia Collection,” 32–37.
8. “Leaving a Legacy,” Straits Times, 12 November 2005, 23. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “SE-Asia Room of Library Opens Today.”
10. Quah, “Southeast Asia Collection,” 32–37.
11. “Syonan to Be Centre of Scientific Research in Malayan Archipelago,” Syonan Shimbun, 27 June 1942, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
12. K. K. Seet, A Place for the People (Singapore: Times Books International, 1983), 75. (Call no. RSING 027.55957 SEE-[LIB])
13. Quah, “Southeast Asia Collection,” 32–37.
14. National Library Board, Singapore, Yē yīn guǎncáng shū 椰阴馆藏书 [Ya Yin Kwan Collection]
15. “SE-Asia Room of Library Opens Today.”
16. Quah, “Southeast Asia Collection,” 32–37.
17. “SE-Asia Room of Library Opens Today”; Seet, Place for the People, 34.
18. Quah, “Southeast Asia Collection,” 32–37.
19. “Why National Library Was Upgraded,” New Paper, 1 April 1999, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
20. K. K. Seet, Knowledge, Imagination, Possibility: Singapore's Transformative Library (Singapore: SNP International Publishing Pte Ltd, 2005), 33. (Call no. RSING q027.5597 SEE-[LIB])
21. Seet, Knowledge, Imagination, Possibility, 97.
22. “Have a Cuppa with Your Book at the Library,” Straits Times, 17 January 1998, 57. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Seet, Knowledge, Imagination, Possibility, 97.
24. Seet, Knowledge, Imagination, Possibility, 33.

The information in this article is valid as at March 2020 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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