A review of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (བོད་ཀྱི་དཔེ་མཛོད་ཁང་།) (Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India).
The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA) in Dharamshala, India, was recognized in 1996 by the Tibetan Parliament in Exile as a national library, museum, and archive. Located in the same compound as the Central Tibetan Administration (formerly known as the Tibetan Government in Exile), the area is more commonly known among locals as the “library”. LTWA is open from 9 am to 5 pm, with a one-hour lunch break from 1 to 2 pm. It is closed on Sundays, on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, and on Indian and Tibetan holidays. There are several dining options near LTWA during lunch-break, including LTWA’s own vegetarian cafe, Nechung cafe, and homemade Indian and Tibetan food at Adha’s house, right above the Gangkyi basketball court. LTWA has surprisingly cheap rooms for researchers, at only one hundred rupees per day.
LTWA was founded in 1970 by the 14th Dalai Lama to preserve various Tibetan artifacts, manuscripts, printed texts, and records in exile. It has since become one of the key institutions solely dedicated to the study of Tibetan culture and civilization. In addition to LTWA’s rich foreign and Tibetan language library resources, it also houses an Audio-Visual Archive, an Oral History Department, a Photo Archive, and a Museum.
The Audio-Visual Archive was once a branch of the Oral History Department, and includes recordings of Buddhist teachings as well as interviews with Tibetans from all walks of life. Most of these recordings were originally done on analogue, but have been digitized over the years by archivists. Researchers can use a keyword search to browse all the audio-visual entries in the database, find an item that interests them, and present it to the archivist—who will transfer the file to a computer that is accessible to the patrons. Any of the files that were used in the publication of the Oral History Series (OHS), currently in its twenty-sixth edition, may be duplicated; those that are not yet published under OHS (a twenty-seventh edition is being prepared) require permission from the Head of the Oral History Department, Wangdu Tsering. There is no set limit as to how many files you can request at one time.
The Oral History Department (OHD) is perhaps the blind spot of LTWA, as very few people make use of its resources. It contains a wealth of information pertaining to Tibetan culture in general, and in particular to modern Tibet. As you enter the room, you will see files locked up in wooden shelves with file numbers and Tibetan titles glued onto the file spine. OHD has an index of their collection (available on LTWA’s website) showing an exhaustive list of 358 files dealing with a wide range of topics—from Tibetan folk culture and national, local, family and individual histories, to the challenges Tibetan refugees faced during the initial period of resettlement. Since the staff at OHD primarily focus on publishing OHS, there is no digitization work being done at the moment. In order to access the files, you have to seek permission from Wangdu Tsering.
The Photo Archive remained in a dormant state until 2009, when LTWA appointed a photo archivist to rebuild and revive this section. It hosts a collection of pictures from pre-1959 Tibet as well as black-and-white photographs depicting the early life of Tibetans in exile. One key highlight of this archive is their special collection on Tibetan architecture, which was once a part of LTWA’s Tibetan Architecture Documentation Center. A digital catalogue/index is only available for photos taken before the year 1959. This catalogue shows the title of the album, the total number of images it contains, and different search categories (such as Tibetan aristocrats, animals, and so forth). For loans and usages, researchers must write down the serial number of the pictures and request them to be copied onto CDs. Some of the digitized images have poor pixelation, but archivists are able to rescan the original picture. Since LTWA does not hold the copyright on all these photos, those that belong to other individuals or institutions are not allowed for duplication and are therefore marked copyright. Due to limited funding, the digitization process has been slow, and many of the slides and films have not yet been digitized.
The Museum at LTWA is also home to 600 different statues, 50 Tibetan scroll paintings, and 20 unique bronze and silver stupas. In addition to Buddhist stationary objects, there are number of other artifacts that were once used in everyday life in old Tibet—such as ink pots, pens, slate, cups, and a matchlock rifle. Nearly the entire collection at the museum was donated to the Private Office of the Dalai Lama by individual Tibetans who brought these objects from Tibet. A catalogue (made available to the public in 2007) of all the objects in the collection is available in the multimedia room, located opposite to the museum. This catalogue contains an image of the object along with a short description, including the material(s) in which it was made, the name of the person who donated it, and the region from which it originated. The Museum at LTWA also has a special collection of historical documents, including letters and edicts written on paper, cloth, and leather. Many of them were digitized at Bonn University in Germany, and are available online.
Besides LTWA, the Amnye Machen Institute in McLeod Ganj, as well as many small and big monasteries (and some private individuals) in and around Dharamshala also have their own collections–including the Khampagar Monastery in Tashijong, the Sherabling Monastery, the Nechung Monastery, and the Gyuto Monastery. Most important of all are the collections at the Private Office of the Dalai Lama, although its state and access remains unexplored.
Central Eurasian Studies
Indiana University Bloomington
Image: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamshala. Photo by Sonam Tsering.
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