South Asian Collection

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South Asian collection

The UW-Madison South Asia Collection is well-integrated into Memorial Library. While most items are easily accessible through the Library Catalog and can be found in the stacks, rarer and older texts are housed in Special Collections, Tibetan language texts in all formats are in the Tibetan Collection on the 4th floor, and some lower-use items are housed in the off-site shelving facility. Although the collection is directly geared toward the teaching and research of the faculty, students, and staff of UW-Madison, all scholars are encouraged to visit Memorial Library and use the South Asia Collection.

As one of the largest South Asian collections in the country, we provide access to works from and about all regions of South Asia. We strive to promote a global academic culture that equally values primary language research, translation of works, and secondary analysis.


Bill Kniffen, South Asian Subject Librarian (Interim)

Collection Description

The South Asian language holdings comprise approximately half of the Asian language collection at the University of Wisconsin. Among the top Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) schools in 2005, Madison has one of the largest South Asian collections, second only to the University of Chicago.

As of 2006, OCLC statistics indicate that UW’s Library has over 140,000 cataloged titles in South Asian languages in its collection. Current collecting is in the following languages: Hindi, Pali, Sanskrit, Telugu, Tibetan and Urdu. On average, we add approximately 3,500 titles annually in these languages. We also currently subscribe to over 900 periodicals from South Asia, covering a wide range of subjects from current events and governmental information to research reports and association proceedings to scholarly journals. The Library continues to maintain and develop a nationally recognized collection of visual materials related to South Asia.

The UW South Asia collection has historically been strong in the Humanities and the Social Sciences, focusing on topics such as: religion (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam), languages (Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Himalayan, and Dravidian), economy, history, social work and labor, anthropology, and the history of education. Approximately three quarters of our collection comes from India, while the other quarter is from Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Read more about our collection in the 2006 Annual Report.

In addition, we actively participate in strategic cooperative collection development programs, such as the South Asia Microform Project (SAMP) and the Center for Research Libraries (CRL).

Collection History


While the Library began collecting South Asian material in the early twentieth century, the collection was not developed in earnest until the early to mid-1960s, thanks in large part to the Public Law 480 (PL-480) buying program. This national program provided participating libraries in the United States with materials from all around the world, including South Asia, at a very nominal cost. While the funding for this program ended in the 1990s, the idea behind it helped to bring about the Library of Congress Collective Acquisitions Program (LCCAP).

We still currently get many of our books through collective purchasing programs, like the LCCAP for South Asia, called the South Asia Cooperative Acquisitions Program (SACAP) with offices in Delhi and Islamabad. These programs purchase titles in bulk, and then distribute them to many libraries, such as Madison. Although books comprise the bulk of the collection, we actively add to our growing electronic collection through electronic journals, online reference tools, full-text databases, and incresingly e-books.

Hathi Trust

While cooperative acquisition programs like these have been a large boon to the growth of our collection, they had the added side-effect of standardizing South Asian collections across the country. It is now the intention of the South Asian Bibliographer to help develop a more diverse national South Asia collection, by supplementing material purchased through cooperative agreements with more hand-selected titles that will be unique to the UW-Madison South Asia collection.

Memorial Library also participates in the Google Book Project and Hathi Trust mass digitization projects. As part of this, we continue to submit large parts to Google Books for digitization, and then subsequently archive these titles in Hathi Trust.

Collection Highlights

Amar Chitra Katha

Our collection incorporates a wide range of rare and unusual items from throughout the library. Special Collections houses pre-20th century South Asian manuscripts, both originals and copies. Classical and contemporary literature from India is an area of particular strength, and we continue to develop and nurture that collection in new ways (such as our growing collection of graphic novels from Amar Chitra Katha).

Our Tibetan language collection is particularly strong. Some are housed by Special Collections, in their Tibetan and Mongolian blockprints collection. Less fragile items reside in the fourth floor Tibetan Collection Room. These contain many reproductions of Tibetan manuscripts.

Donations are always welcome. Recent significant donations include legal and historical materials from Prof. Marc Galanter; colonial and other primary source material from Prof. Robert Frykenburg; and Manavadharmasastra manuscripts from Prof. Patrick Olivelle.

Finding Books and Serials


The South Asia Collection is discoverable through UW-Madison's Library Catalog. The Librtary Catalog is the online catalog of all books, newspapers, periodicals, and films that UW-Madison owns.

For more help finding Periodicals, Newspapers, or online sources, visit our Research Guides:

For general tips on using Library Catalog, see the libraries’ Research Tips and Tricks. You can also visit the Library and Information Literacy Instruction page for information about library workshops, classes, and resources.

Check out a helpful tutorial on using Subject Headings from the Ibero-American Studies Bibliographer. She explains why relying on keyword searching is not always very reliable, especially when searching for resources in a different language.

There are many different ways that a language can be transliterated (written in a different script). Most libraries in the United States, including UW-Madison, have agreed to use the Library of Congress’ system for transliteration. In order to “spell” a word correctly when searching our catalog, make sure to check the ALA-LC Transliteration Tables first. Each language is transliterated slightly differently.

List of Films & Documentaries

Movie still: Consecration of a Temple

UW-Madison is home to an ever-increasing collection of films and documentaries related to South Asia. All are discoverable through the Library Catalog, including those produced by the Center for South Asia Documentary Film Series.

Documentary films related to South Asia are available in multiple locations on the UW-Madison Campus, including:

Movie still: Munni

Information about all documentary films on campus that deal with South Asia has been collected in a list, available in multiple formats:

  • Documentaries on campus, including summaries
    (PDF file)
  • Documentaries on campus, including summaries
    (Excel file)
  • Documentaries on campus, condensed version
    (PDF file)

Created in the 1980s and 1990s, the South and Southeast Asia Video Archive was the first of its kind to locate, acquire and preserve feature films from Asia for Asians. Although the vast majority are still on VHS tapes, the library is working to convert these important titles to DVDs. All feature films are also discoverable through The Library Catalog.

Read Annual Reports


Many years, the South Asian Bibliographer prepares an Annual Report, detailing aspects of the collection and highlighting some of the unique work that was accomplished that year.

  • 2006: (Focus–Humanities/Languages & Literature)
  • 2007: (Focus–Social Sciences)
  • 2008: (Focus–Serials)

Research Guides


The Introductory Research on South Asia guide provides links to indexing databases, catalogs, governmental information and other resources for the researcher new to South Asia Studies.


Periodicals Cover

The South Asian Periodicals Guide lists periodicals with South Asian content to which UW subscribes. UW Libraries actively and aggressively support periodical literature from from South Asia. In 2010, we subscribed to over 900 periodicals from South Asia, covering a wide range of subjects from current events and governmental information to research reports and association proceedings to scholarly journals. Furthermore, we try to maintain representative linguistic coverage across the disciplines.


Newspaper snippits

The South Asia Newspaper Guide provides information on newspaper and news magazines published in the geographic region of South Asia. Current and historic holdings in print, electronic, and microfilm formats are divided by country of publication as follows: India; Bangladesh; Nepal and Bhutan; Pakistan; and Sri Lanka. Titles available in electronic format are displayed under the Electronic Titles tab and cross listed in appropriate country of publication page. The guide also includes information on indexes and additional resources that serve as useful tools for identifying and locating newspaper articles.

Online Resources

The Guide to Free South Asian Resources includes news sources, online books, visual resources, government information, and links to academic associations and listservs.

Newspaper snippits


To request an individual reference consultation, an instructional session, or for other questions, contact:

Bill Kniffen, South Asian Subject Librarian (Interim)

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