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Indonesia should learn from India

Indonesia, as the “owner” of a vast manuscript wealth, should learn from other countries of how to pay attention for those of the cultural heritage. I am not talking about the Netherlands or other countries that have a long experience in doing preservation and conservation of the rare documents such as manuscripts; I am talking about India instead.

The Ministry of Tourism and Culture of India, on behalf of the Government has launched in 2003 what they called as “The National Mission for Manuscripts”. This Mission could be regarded as a National ‘umbrella’ to do preservation of the Indian cultural heritages.

As Nita reviewed in her blog, this attractive effort is “…some great news for researchers, students and well just about anyone who is interested in rare manuscripts…”, for one of the objectives of their Mission is to promote access to manuscripts by digitizing the rarest and most endangered of them.

The Government of India really realizes that they own a vast number of manuscripts: the Website said, it reaches almost five million manuscripts found in this country! and perhaps this is the largest collection of manuscripts in the world.

The condition of the Indian manuscripts is quite similar with those of the Indonesian one: found to have been neglected for decades and in very poor physical state—insect ridden, fungus infected or brittle, fading and fragile, and habitually written in languages and scripts many of which can no longer be read. That's why the Mission highlights a program of proposing the conservation of their manuscripts; they even provide open accessed standard guidelines of how to do conservation and digitalization of the manuscripts.

The Mission has proposed some agendas regarding the preservation of manuscripts, among them are making a national database of the existence of those manuscripts through a national level Survey and Post-Survey, facilitating public's engagement with manuscripts through lectures, seminars, publications and other outreach programs, proposing the methods of conservation, promoting access to manuscripts by digitizing them, and so on.

Actually, Indonesia also has the National Library (Perpustakaan Nasional) and the National Archive (Arsip Nasional). As far as I understand, however, both of the Institutions do not propose yet national wide-range efforts regarding the preservation of the Indonesian manuscripts and not making yet manuscripts online. Even I often failed to access the website of Perpusnas, I am afraid that the problem is not in my connection...

The efforts of the digitalization of the Indonesian manuscripts, mostly carried out separately by those who personally have interests in this field. Bang Yusuf, and his team at the Faculty of Arts, Unand Padang, is a good example of this matter, I have written about his most recent published catalogue of Minangkabau manuscripts, here. I know Muhammad Solihin in East Java as well, who has involved in digitalizing the Islamic manuscripts located mainly in pesantren.

I believe that those efforts could result more wide impacts if the Indonesian Government, through Perpusnas or Arsip Nasional for example, officially pay great attention and organize them in one umbrella, as the Indian Government has initiated through the National Mission of Manuscripts.

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