British Library to partner with National Library of Singapore to digitise Malay manuscripts

Today (19 August) at the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) 2013 meeting, Roly Keating the British Library’s Chief Executive signed an agreement with Mrs Elaine Ng the Chief Executive Officer of the National Library Board (NLB) of Singapore to put an extensive range of materials of interest to Singapore online.

The project will digitise the British Library’s collection of Malay manuscripts, together with early maps of Singapore and archival material relating to Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles – the British official responsible for the founding of the city of Singapore.

The project is possible thanks to a kind donation of £125,000 from William and Judith Bollinger which will fund the digitisation work for 5 years and is part of an on-going project between the British Library and the National Library Board of Singapore. The first stage of the project, now underway, will digitise over 100 Malay manuscripts and letters from seventeenth to nineteenth century resulting in over 16,000 high resolution images.

Collection highlights include:

  • A sumptuously illuminated manuscript of an ethical guide for rulers, ‘The Crown of Kings’, Taj al-Salatin, copied in Penang in 1824
  • The announcement of the British capture of the island of Java from the Dutch in August 1811, signed by Thomas Stamford Raffles
  • An illuminated royal Malay letter written in gold ink in Singapore in 1857 from the ruler of Johor, Temenggung Ibrahim, to Emperor Napoleon III of France
  • A manuscript of the most famous Malay historical chronicle, the ‘Malay Annals’, Sejarah Melayu, copied in Melaka in 1873

These rare materials are being digitised in the British Library and will be available on the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts online, as well as the National Library Board of Singapore BookSG website. To date these items could only be viewed by visiting the British Library’s reading rooms at St Pancras – this project will make them freely accessible online to people with an interest in Malay manuscripts across the world.

Mr Gene Tan, Director, National Library Singapore, said, “This collaboration allows the National Library to explore the wealth of information in the British Library’s Southeast Asian collection, especially materials which are of interest to Singapore. Our users will be able to easily access rarely seen documents relating to the rich history and culture of Singapore and the region. It has also been a most rewarding experience for our staff to have the opportunity to engage with the collection and work with colleagues at the British Library.”

Annabel Gallop, Lead for Curator Southeast Asian Studies at the British Library said, “Thanks to the generosity of the Bollinger family we will be able to make the British Library’s collection of Malay manuscripts available to researchers across the world. It is fantastic to be able to work with colleagues at the National Library Board of Singapore to ensure that all those with an interest in Malay cultural heritage are able to view them. We look forward to working with the NLB as the project progresses”.

Associate Professor Hadijah bte Rahmat, Deputy Head of the Asian Languages and Culture Academic Group, National Institute of Education, Singapore, lauded this initiative to make historic Malay manuscripts more accessible. She said, “The project is a huge boost to researchers, academics and anyone with a keen interest in the history, culture and literature of the Malay Archipelago. I’m excited to view the digitised materials online, and I’m sure they will encourage more research on the rich heritage of the Malay world.”