About the Tibetan Studies Collection


The PL480 Program

The origins of the Tibetan Studies Collection can be traced to the early 1970s when the university first began receiving Tibetan books and serials through the Public Law 480 Program administered by the Library of Congress.

Lacking foreign currency to cover its wheat purchase debts, India agreed to repay the United States with multiple copies of newly published books which were distributed to designated university libraries in North America beginning in 1961. This arrangment, which lasted for more than twenty years, was authorized under and dubbed the Public Law 480 Program, or "PL480 Program" for short.

In 1968, a young University of Washington-trained Tibetologist E. Gene Smith (1936-2010) was appointed to the New Delhi office of the Library of Congress to oversee the dissemination of these books. He used the opportunity to help reprint thousands of volumes of Tibetan texts, many of which had been carried to India by Tibetan refugees in the preceding years.

Columbia University was one of the recipient libaries, and during the 1970s and early 1980s, it accumulated a collection of more than 5,000 volumes, the core resource when the University appointed Dr. Robert Thurman professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in 1989.

Tibetan Publishing Trends

The bulk of Tibetan materials received gratis through the PL480 Program comprised religious and philosophical texts reprinted or published newly in India, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan. In the early 1980s, however, Tibetan publishing in China experienced its own renaissance. Hundreds of Tibetan titles began to appear on the market, including modern-format editions of classical works, as well as reprints of influential works first drafted by senior scholars in the 1950s. Similarly, a new wave of newspapers and literary journals provided additional publishing opportunities for aspiring Tibetan writers.

The successor to the PL480 Program -- the South Asia Cooperative Acquistitions Program (SACAP) of the Library of Congress -- began to acquire and disseminate Tibetan materials published in China, in addition to the titles issuing from South Asia. Today, Columbia University continues to subscribe to the SACAP Program, but also actively acquires through vendors and on acquisition trips a range of titles not held by other institutions, including locally published monographs and serials, audio-visual materials, and larger sets unavailable through the SACAP program. Even as a growing number of Tibetan authors express themselves in online venues, Tibetan scholarship and the print-publishing industry continue to flourish in both China and South Asia.  Electronic texts are also beginning to proliferate, though these are produced primarily in Europe and North America, or in cooperation with institutions in the West.

Tibetan Studies Research at Columbia

In 1998, at the urging of the Chinese Studies Librarian, a new line for Tibetan-language materials was approved for the C.V. Starr East Asian Library, and Columbia University now holds the most extensive academic research library collection outside of China. With nearly 15,000 volumes of Tibetan-language print materials, subscription to 13,000 electronic volumes via the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC) Core Text Collections, and important archival collections, the Tibetan Studies Collection actively serves the faculty and students of Columbia University, and elsewhere. In particular, our collection seeks to support the academic offerings of the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, the initiatves of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, and the continued development of classical Tibetan religious studies centered in the Religion Department.

In 2005, research and coursework in the history of Tibet was expanded with the appointment of Dr. Gray Tuttle, the Leila Hadley Luce Associate Professor of Modern Tibet.  Accordingly, the Library has worked to enrich its collections with a vast store of local histories and genealogies, many acquired in the field.

Columbia University is arguably the only university in North America with a full-time professional librarian fully dedicated to Tibetan collection, cataloging and reference at an academic institution. The Tibetan Studies Librarian works on building the depth and breadth of Columbia's Tibetan Studies Collection, to serve as reference for faculty and students at Columbia and elsewhere, and to contribute records in WorldCat for Tibetan materials acquired outside of the SACAP program.  


The Tibetan Studies Collection at Columbia University has been growing steadily, and now comprises nearly 15,000 volumes of Tibetan-language texts.  In addition to titles received in bulk through SACAP (successor to the PL480 program), the Starr Library actively orders titles published in Tibetan regions of China, and from commercial vendors covering India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, and other areas. The Starr Library also actively collect Chinese and Western-language materials on Tibetan-related subjects.

A growing strength of the Tibetan Studies Collection at Columbia, aside from its holdings which are the most comprehensive in North America, is our effort to preserve and make accessible rare documents for the study of Tibetan history since the 17th century, as well as several important archival collections. The Library also collects material objects, such as traditional Tibetan writing and accounting implements, for the study of Tibetan cultural history. For more detail, please see Special Collections.

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Tibetan Studies Librarian
Kristina Dy-Liacco
304M Kent Hall
(212) 854-9875