This overview of the Library's Tibetan collection covers all material in the Tibetan language, regardless of country of origin. Reflected in these holdings are all aspects of Tibetan culture and literature, ancient and modern.
The collection consists of approximately 7,115 Tibetian-language volumes. Each volume may itself consist of hundreds of individual titles. The major portion of the collection, an estimated 5,000 volumes, consists of reprint editions acquired through the Library's New Delhi Field Office between 1962 and 1985. Original xylographs (books printed from wooden blocks) and manuscripts, acquired between 1900 and the present, constitute about 1,400 volumes. Current PRC imprints account for the rest. In addition, there are about 15 serial titles, and 115 reels of microfilm.
The general collections contain extensive works relating to Tibet. The Library's collection is generally considered to be one of the largest and best-organized collections in the West.
The Library's Tibetan collection is representative of the entire corpus of Tibetan literature from the 8th-century to the present: Buddhist and Bon-po philosophical texts and their commentaries, history, biography, traditional medicine, astrology, iconography, musical notations, the collected works of over 200 major Tibetan authors, bibliographies, traditional grammars and linquistic sciences, modern science, social sciences, and secular literature. In addition to works by native Tibetan authors, the Tibetan literary tradition has preserved intact the great Buddhist philosophical treasures whose Sanskrit originals, written between 500 BC - 900 AD, were faithfully translated into Tibetan in a manner so exacting as to make reconstruction of the originals possible for texts which would otherwise be lost to the world.
The collection is particularly strong in traditional Tibetan literature and culture. Recognizing the value of one of the world's most highly developed classical literatures, the Library's collection policy has been consistently comprehensive. Within the past several years exchange agreements with scholarly institutions in Tibet and China are enabling the Library to acquire currently printed xylographs, monographs, and serials which may be unavailable elsewhere for study, and to gain insights into current holdings of rare xylographs and printing blocks still available in Tibet.
Among the Library's holdings are several rare xylograph redactions of the Buddhist canonical literature, Kanjur and Tanjur, as well as possibly the only copy in the West of the Bon-po Kanjur. The Derge Kanjur was acquired for the Library by William Rockhill in 1901; the Narthang Tanjur was acquired by Berthold Laufer in 1928. The complete Coni redaction (317 volumes) which was acquired by Joseph Rock in 1928, is one of only a few known to still exist today. The entire Coni Tanjur and several volumes of the Kanjur have been preserved on microfilm. Notable holdings and special collections in canonical literature:
- Derge Kanjur
- Narthang Tanjur
- Coni Kanjur and Tanjur
- Peking Kanjur and Tanjur (photoreproduced)
- Bon-po Kanjur
Indigenous Tibetan literature: Approximately 300 original xylographs and manuscripts were acquired for the Library between 1900-1928 by William Rockhill, Berthold Laufer, and Joseph Rock. The presence of LC's New Delhi Field Office at the time of active Tibetan publishing in India, Nepal and Bhutan between 1960 and 1985 enabled the Library to build a large collection of Tibetan texts in modern reprint editions, covering all aspects of the Tibetan literary heritage. Notable holdings and special collections in Tibetan literature:
- Rockhill collection
- Rock collection
- Laufer collection
- PL-480/SFC reprint collection
Currently printed material: The Library's relationships with scholarly institutions in Tibet and China have enabled it to collect a substantial percentage of currently available books from those areas where Tibetan publishing, including revived xylography, is active today. Of special interest is a collection of 340 volumes of currently printed xylographs acquired for the Library in 1990 by Professor Matthew Kapstein of Columbia University from monastic printeries inside Tibet and about 700 current PRC imprints. This collection includes the collected works of numerous great Tibetan scholars some of which have never before been seen in the West, as well as the rare Bon-po Kanjur mentioned above.
Efforts are underway to increase these contacts and exchange information to preserve Tibetan literature and to improve coverage of current Tibetan studies. A donation from Mr. Alo Chhonzed of papers and documents acquired in Tibet and China in the 1980's, adds additional material for modern historical study.
Like other American libraries, LC lacks researchable holdings of vernacular literature and other expressions of indigenous values for the period antedating World War II. Acquisitions trips, field office efforts and projects in cooperation with other American libraries promise gradually to improve these collections. Examples of the last are the South Asia Microform Project for the preservation on film of otherwise unavailable resources related to South Asia, and the Southeast Asia Microform Project, providing similar service for Southeast Asia. A project to microfilm retrospective Indian literary publications in Indian libraries has recently been inaugurated by a team working in LC's New Delhi office.