Please go to the library and stay there

by Annie Heckman

Earlier this semester, Lauran Hartley, Tibetan Studies Librarian at Columbia University, visited the University of Toronto to share news from her recent acquisition trip in China and the TAR. Lauran is part of a collaboration between Columbia University and the University of Toronto launched in 2013, where she provides acquisitions and reference services to students at both institutions. This fall we were able to meet her during one of her site visits, with a presentation including photographs from her trips, newly acquired Tibetan texts for the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, and a special research meeting with students accessing Tibetan materials, including a tour of the Tibetan Reading Room in the East Asian Studies library.

rig 'dzin rgod ldem dang btsan gnyis gling pa'i gter ma dpe tshan bdunrig ‘dzin rgod ldem dang btsan gnyis gling pa’i gter ma dpe tshan bdun, Seven books from the treasures of gter ston Rigzin Geothkyi Demtru (1337-1409) and Tennyi Lingpa (1480-1535) on meditative and ritual practices. 46 x 10 cm. Red and black ink, 20th century.

Thinking of the distribution of interests in our class, I’d like to devote some space to the issues of acquiring and distributing those texts, to the question of how and where they should be housed, and also to the specific resources that Lauran shared with us.

But first.

I love books so much that most of my debts, broken relationships, and embarrassing moments are related to books in one way or another. The way movies depict drug use or a lust for cash and power, those modes of being are my way of working with books. I don’t know if it’s reading them or looking at them, or saying I’ve read them, but whatever it is, my faults come out through books. I’ve been a book hoarder for most of my life, and when I moved to Canada, I wasn’t able to hoard books anymore, so I became a person who loads up double bags of books from the library and pouts at the circulation desk, waiting for special loans. But listening to Lauran’s talk made me appreciate books even more, because we saw the huge treks she makes in order to acquire them, looking for whatever texts might make our work more rich and powerful. She coordinates multiple vendors, locates the best bookshops and sources, knows how to compare the various shipping and logistical issues, and keeps track of which texts are likely to make it into our library’s collections through one program or another, which are available online and which ones need to be tracked down. She has asked us to send her any special requests and questions we have in our research.

I’m finding it worthwhile to pause, with whatever library book is closest, and consider all the causes and conditions necessary for that book to travel from its place(s) of origin and into my grubby hands. I started to look more closely at the printing locations and the numbers of editions when I entered information in my bibliographies. It made me appreciate our context at the university more, like we live near a gold mine and just have to walk in and work with the gold to make our scholarship.

Now for some tools:

Lauran’s information is online here (scroll down to Tibet Collection Library Staff):

And this is University of Toronto’s Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library’s page for Tibetan Studies Resources:

A subset from that link, a list of databases and search resources for Tibetan Studies:

And here is the information for the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library (If the book is particularly delicate or rare, it will be here. There are lockers for your materials so you can go in and handle materials with assistance.):

Columbia University’s Tibetan Studies page, including an Online Research Guide, is here:

The key thing I learned from Lauran’s visit is that we should use the Tibetan Resource Room at the library and call on Lauran as a resource, early and often. I think this is especially important even if Tibetan studies is on the edge of your work; since so much work is left to be translated, if we even make the effort to include Tibetan materials more in studies that touch on the region and relevant topics, Lauran serves as a wonderful bridge for this work. This may be a leap, but I’d like to consider incorporating Tibetan language materials as though those materials were already translated, at least for reference, to note that they exist as we’re working. Are there any projects where you might use a Tibetan source for comparison, where it might be helpful to find out what else is available that’s not showing up in a basic search? It would make sense to contact Lauran about this. I’m writing this for myself, because I tend to shuffle my feet and freak out when I’m not sure what range of materials are available, but in this transitional time, it seems especially fruitful to take that step and ask about what else might be available, so that we start to make more of these connections.

Right now the Tibetan Reading Room is a quiet room set aside in the vast stacks of the 8th floor at Robarts. It’s there for us to use. At the end of our day together, Professor Garrett suggested that we go there and stay in the room to work, really spending more time around the books, which will influence us even if we have only beginning exposure to them. It can be tempting to keep working through online access to texts without going to seek them out physically, but we learned through this visit how much a range of approaches, and physically spending time with the books, can inform our practice as curious researchers.