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Vernacular South Asian Newspapers from the Asian Division

(The following post is by Iris Yellum, Junior Fellow, Asian Division, Summer 2019)

A small sample of the more than 10,000 reels that comprise the collection of South Asian newspapers on microfilm. Photo by Jonathan Loar. 

At the Library of Congress, the collection of South Asian newspapers on microfilm includes titles from eight countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Fiji, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) in Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, Urdu and 20 additional South Asian languages. This linguistic diversity is a particular strength of the collection, which also includes titles in less widely spoken languages like Assamese, Divehi, and Kashmiri. The format of this collection is microfilm, in which printed newspapers are scanned and reduced to approximately 1/14th of the original size and placed on negative and positive reels. In this particular collection, it enables as many as twelve years of daily papers to fit into one small box. Microfilm not only minimizes the storage space needed for newspapers, but is also expected to preserve the contents for approximately 500 years.

The Asian Division’s South Asian collection contains materials in South Asian languages from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Map of South Asia. Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency, 1993. Geography and Map Division. 

These newspapers are excellent resources for researchers seeking information on the history, politics, culture, and economics of South Asia. There is a treasure trove of information both nationally and especially at the regional, state, and city level. The sheer breadth of these newspapers, from dailies to weeklies, along with the collection’s great linguistic variety, means that no single researcher could possibly read more than a fraction of them. There are rich holdings dating back to the 1940s for “Deepika,” a Carmelite newspaper in Malayalam published from Kottayam in the state of Kerala in southern India, and there is a comprehensive run of the Urdu newspaper “Madinah,” which started in the central Indian city of Bijnor in 1912. In addition to newspapers, this collection includes a number of literary magazines and publications from political parties, such as communist publications from south India. In all, this collection covers more than 150 years, with the earliest from the mid-nineteenth century—the Gujarati literary periodical “Gujarat School Paper”—up to several dozen currently received newspapers.

Inside page of the May 24, 1944 issue of the Malayalam newspaper “Deepika” from Kottayam. Dīpika, Asian Division.

During this 10-week project during the summer of 2019, my job as a Junior Fellow was to inventory this collection of microfilmed titles and update the holdings information for each title in the Library’s cataloging database. Accurate holdings information shows a title’s location and range of years of issues available in the Asian Reading Room, which allows researchers to consider what materials to consult before even visiting the Library. Working with South Asian reference librarian Jonathan Loar, I encountered a handful of microfilmed newspaper titles in need of cataloging, a workflow that required us to coordinate with the Library’s New Delhi office, where acquisition and cataloging take place. Scans of the first and last issues on film were emailed to the office’s expert catalogers, who created the necessary records to make these titles, such as the Hindi periodical “Dharmayuga” and the Marathi newspaper “Sobata,” discoverable in the online catalog. As a result, decades of South Asian newspapers at the Library of Congress are now more readily accessible and searchable for users and South Asian Studies researchers.

Front page of the September 11, 1946 issue of the Hindi newspaper “Hindustan” from New Delhi with a headline that reads: “Three Years in Jail for Kashmir Leader.” The leader is Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, President of the Kashmir National Conference, who had been arrested earlier in 1946 for leading the “Quit Kashmir” movement of civil disobedience against the state government. Hindustāna, Asian Division.

One challenge was to disambiguate newspapers from India with the same title but in two different languages. An example is the newspaper “Mathrubhumi” published in Malayalam from Kozhikode (then Calicut) in Kerala and the Oriya-language “Mathrubhumi” from Cuttack in Odisha. While they had been stored next to one another without distinction between the two, this project clarified through physical inventory and examining the content of the microfilm reels that these were two different papers, each with its own catalog record. Separating and clearly marking these boxes of microfilm was one way to help librarians to locate holdings on the shelf, even if they are unfamiliar with the respective languages.

You can view all of the catalog records for these microfilmed newspapers in the Library’s online catalog. Note that the titles of publications in South Asian languages will appear in the online catalog in Roman script, and transliterated according to the ALA-LC Romanization Tables. This means you will see titles rendered, for example, as Dīpika (also known as Deepika), Dainika Lokamata (aka Daily Lokmat), and Gorakhāpatra (aka Gorkhapatra). Unfortunately, this means that users cannot search in Devanagari or other Indic scripts. Some languages such as Urdu or Sindhi used in South Asia may be available in the catalog through searching in Perso-Arabic script.

Advertisement from the October 12, 1942 issue of Hindi newspaper “Shubh Chintak” from Jabalpur encouraging the public to buy defense savings certificates to support the Allies during the Second World War. Śubhacintaka, Asian Division.

And keep in mind that the Library of Congress has many English newspapers from South Asia! These are available in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room, including a number of titles from India during the 17th and 18th century.

Junior Fellows show off their projects during the annual display day, July 24, 2019. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

Newspapers in South Asian vernacular languages can be viewed on microfilm readers in the Asian Reading Room. They can also be used in the Library’s Microform and Electronic Resources Center (by prior appointment with South Asian reference staff only) on Saturdays and other times during which the Asian Reading Room is closed. Make sure to bring your USB drive to crop and save pdf scans! For questions about a particular title or help navigating these resources, contact South Asian reference staff through the Asian Division’s Ask-a-Librarian inquiry form.

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