Introduction to the 

Online Burma/Myanmar Library 

 

The Online Burma/Myanmar Library is a database which functions as an annotated, classified and hyperlinked index to full texts of individual Burma documents on the Internet. It also houses a growing collection of articles, conference papers, theses, books, reports, archives and directories on-site (e.g. the 17MB archive of the Burma Press Summary). The Librarian requests help from specialists to refine the structure and add content.

Need for the Library
The Internet currently holds more than 100,000 Burma-related documents, from short news items to complete books, scattered over more than 500 websites (not all of which have internal search functions) run by the UN system, governments, academic institutions, media sites, listserv archives, human rights and other NGOs, activist groups and individuals. The volume is growing rapidly as more and more organisations choose to publish on the Internet. Even using modern search engines it is difficult and time-consuming to research this widely-scattered material. There is clearly need for a central index. 

Structure
This is what the Online Burma/Myanmar Library seeks to provide. Launched in October 2001, it is organised on a database (using MySQL software, in combination with PHP) into 60 top-level categories based on traditional library classifications, with a hierarchy of some 850 sub-categories. These hold approximately 4000 links (mostly annotated, with keywords and descriptions) to individual documents, and about 400 links to websites which in turn give access to another 100,000 or so documents. The database allows rapid searching in all or specific fields description/keyword, date, language (we are building up our collection of non-English texts), title, author, source/publisher etc. It can also be browsed through the subject hierarchies. A third way of finding material is provided by a simple alphabetical list of the 900 categories and sub-categories. We are using the Greenstone digital library software to build the collection of documents housed on-site. This software allows full-text searching, though at present only the Burma Press Summary uses this feature fully (we would like to hear from people with experience of this software).  

Building the Library
The Library's starting point historically was the Burma Peace Foundation's documentation of the human rights situation in Burma , and with the UN Burma material, this area still comprises about half the total number of items. This ratio is falling as the other sections -- Bibliographies/research, Economy, Geography, Health, History, Military, Politics and Government, Society and Culture, etc. -- are built up. We warmly invite specialists to provide various levels of input in their areas, from commenting on the structure, sending web addresses (URLs) of online items that should be added, emailing documents to be placed directly on the site, to editing whole sections or sub-sections. Editing can be done online from any computer with web access. Several scholars have already agreed to work on particular sections. We trust that more will offer their assistance and that these will include people from Burma so that the Library can develop sections in the different languages of Burma .

We are particularly keen to build up the section of bibliographies of individual Burma scholars. So far, we have only four, at http://www.burmalibrary.org/show.php?cat=1327&lo=d&sl=0  Please send more.

With regard to Burma-related documents in electronic form which are not on the Internet, the Library encourages owners (individuals, organisations, or academic institutions) to place them on their own websites and send the URLs to the Librarian, or send them to be placed directly on the Library site. Important documents which do not exist in electronic form, and which are not listed for digitisation by any library, will eventually be scanned and housed on the Library.

We would like to hear from librarians who are digitising collections which contain texts relating to Burma , especially if these will be on open access. Please tell us not only which documents have been digitised, with URLs, but also which are in line for digitising. If there is a need, the Library could maintain a page listing these, as a means of reducing duplication, and suggestions for prioritization. We urge digital librarians and the producers of online periodicals with mixed content to give each document an individual URL wherever possible, for direct access -- a public resource is enhanced if users can link directly to individual documents without having to go through the process of searching or browsing.

Enthusiastic welcome
Since its launch in 2001, the Online Burma/Myanmar Library has received an enthusiastic welcome from a wide range of users, from senior
Burma experts to student activists. The Asian Studies WWW Monitor gave the Library its highest rating (5 stars and "Scholarly usefulness: Essential"). The Librarian hopes that those involved in Burma research will welcome and use this new resource and help to develop its structure and content.


Dedication and acknowledgements

The Online Burma Library is dedicated to the people of Burma, who have been the last to know what has been written about their country.

Thanks are due to the Burma Project of the Open Society Institute for financial support, to the people at ibiblio (a collaboration of the Center for the Public Domain and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) for hosting the site and doing all the technical work and to the innumerable members of the Burma support community and others, who have given guidance on the content and structure of the Library, and who, I hope, will continue their input.


The Librarian (David Arnott)

May 2003.

Email darnott@iprolink.ch