Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center: Week 1

I am writing this post to mark some exciting news: Courtney and I have undertaken a brand new volunteer project! Drumroll, please… 

We will be evaluating and organizing materials found within Bloomington’s Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center library!

When I first met Courtney, she mentioned the fact that she was hoping to volunteer to help organize the library and she generously invited me to work with her. She had found out about the library when she went to TMBCC over the summer to buy tea. I was familiar with the Center because my boyfriend is a Buddhist and often goes to meditation sessions there, and I obviously jumped at the opportunity. Courtney and I will get hands-on experience dealing with the challenges of evaluating and organizing an accumulation of multilingual materials, and those using the TMBCC library will hopefully be able to access said materials in a much more effective way–wonderfully beneficial both ways!

Two weeks ago we went to meet with our contact at the TMBCC to get an overview of what we would be undertaking. After the initial meeting, I did a bit of freewriting/brainstorming about possible goals and foreseeable issues.


  • Create print listing of all TMBCC library items
  • Create booklet of policies for use of materials
  • Start a visitor sign-in sheet to determine what library materials are being accessed
  • Organize materials meaningfully, leaving an explanation so that the library can grow without becoming disorganized
  • Put germane library info. on a basic library webpage (this is a maybe)
  • We need to keep the books on the shelves during our evaluation and organizational processes–the room is used often for events, so books cannot be placed elsewhere, even temporarily.
  • How will we organize the extremely varied materials? We have to figure out a classification schema that will work for our unique library. 
  • Multilingual resources will require us to branch out and seek specialists to assist us.
  • The shelves are super tall and we are relatively short gals! We need a serious ladder.
  • During the cataloging process, we realized how unfamiliar we are with Buddhist titles like Rinpoche, Geshe, etc. How should materials by different individuals with these titles be cataloged–by last name, first name? Luckily there is a Tibetan Studies librarian at IU; I’m hoping she’ll be able to shed some light on this for us. 
  • I’ve been told that according to Buddhist tradition, people are not supposed to be physically higher than representations of the Buddha. There’s a Buddha shrine-like area in the Cultural Center that we will definitely have to be higher than in order to reach the tall shelves. (C and I definitely want to respect the space that we are in to the utmost degree, and I’m always a bit petrified that I’ll unknowingly commit a faux-pas and offend someone. Luckily, in my experience Buddhists are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met and also quite practical, which I adore!)

Other issues will come up every day we work on the collection, I’m sure, and goals beyond what are listed so far will be dependent upon how the Center wants the library to be used. As of right now it operates on an honor system; materials are not supposed to be removed from the room, but those at the Center have no way of knowing if they are. Over the next few weeks C and I are hoping to get a better idea of those at the Center want the library to be used when we are finished. 

With all of this in mind, this past Monday we went in with the intention of getting our hands dirty (figuratively, of course). I am planning to document our actions each week as we dive in, make mistakes, and start to shape this library collection in a meaningful way. Being the avid picture-taker that I am, there’s no way I could avoid the urge to document our first week.

A path between different buildings on the property.
Tibetan prayer flags illuminated by sunlight and nature’s backdrop.
I’ll admit to my ignorance of Tibetan/Mongolian culture right now and say that I’m not sure what this monument is, though it is striking against the fall foliage and blue sky.
The Cultural Center, where the library is housed.
This is a photograph of the library. The library consists of one wall of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with materials in a large, square room used for TMBCC programs and events. You may look at the above photo and think, “But I only see books on the left side of this picture.” Your eyes are not deceiving you. The large painted panel, brought by a visiting Buddhist group, is currently covering up most of the materials–but rest assured, they are there! C and I have stuck our heads back there briefly, but until it gets rolled up we have no way of knowing what materials are behind it.
Courtney and I are so happy to start work on the collection! You can just see it in our giddy smiles, can’t you?!
A close-up of a subsection of the shelves–you can see what I mean now about the organization by size. While it may appear nice, in reality books on Tibetan folklore are crammed next to a random novel, which in turn is nestled next to a book on Christian philosophy. As of right now, the only way to use the library is by browsing and hoping to locate something that strikes your fancy.
There’s even an audiovisual area. It takes me back to my childhood–I’m not used to seeing VHS tapes anymore!
This is a photo I took as I stood next to the bookshelves (forgive the blurriness!). As you can see, there are chairs placed around the room that people who want to read the materials could use. Straight ahead is the altar-like area where the likeness of the Buddha is located. 
I love being able to glance up at the wall and see the time on this rad Dalai Lama clock.
Located on the uppermost shelves of the library are what appear to be Tibetan manuscripts wrapped in cloth. We can’t be sure of what they are exactly until we get a ladder and can reach them, but Arjun Rinpoche has entrusted Courtney and I with their care. It’s a bit of a mystery at the moment what they’ll be revealed to be.
A snapshot of the spines of some magazines.
The coloration of this photo is ghastly, I know, but it shows the beginning of my creation of a comprehensive shelf list. Good old Excel.
We found as we began going through materials that there were a lot of supplements, papers stuck inside books and the like–maps, pamphlets, most of them old and gorgeous. At every turn, there are unexpected decisions to be made about how to process these items. It’s a great feeling to know that we are at the helm of this project: there’s no deadline, no real librarian supervisor, and we can’t really mess this library up. We have the ability to reach out to sources who can aid us with their expertise, but we are pretty much in it alone. It is our responsibility, and we are acting independently. This is what I wanted from library school, and I’m so glad I’ve found it.
The books I cataloged on Monday. Victory!
We’ve chosen this small side shelf as a holding place for the materials that are not straightforward to catalog, primarily the materials in other languages. We’ve come across Tibetan, Chinese, Sanskrit, German and Russian so far–and that’s only the languages we can identify!
C looking into the garden before we left.
I can’t wait to go back every Monday morning to work on this project. I think Courtney and I make an excellent team, so it’s like a librarynerdfest PLUS social time PLUS we’re being of use to the Center!