Contact Us

Building a Collection: Giok Po Oey and the John M. Echols Collection

Growing the Collection and the Position

By the early 1960’s Giok Po realized the need to increase the status of his position so that he could properly grow the collection to meet the Southeast Asia Program’s expanding research and teaching needs. Against some significant push-back from library administration, Giok Po began to lobby for greater status for the collection and his own position. Organized originally as an appendage of the Charles Wason East Asia Collection, with Giok Po working under the Wason Curator’s supervision, the collection grew rapidly, but could not achieve greatness without more independence.

Throughout the 1960’s and 70’s, as Giok Po gained experience, he also took on more of the collection development duties. The growth in responsibility resulted in title changes, from Southeast Asia Specialist, to Southeast Asia Bibliographer-Cataloger (1961), to Southeast Asia Librarian (1968), and ultimately to Curator of the John M. Echols Collection on Southeast Asia on October 12, 1978. The faculty of the Southeast Asia Program fully supported Giok Po’s efforts, inviting him to become a member of the Program early on in his career, and asking him to serve on the Program’s Executive Committee in 1970, an honor and recognition by the Program’s faculty of the important role he played in the growth of not only the library collection, but also of the Program as a whole.

In 1977, the collection officially split from the Wason Collection to become the John M. Echols Collection on Southeast Asia, named after the close friend and colleague who had spent a career building the collection alongside Giok Po. With the collection and position fully established and ready to build on into the future, Giok Po spent the next ten years strengthening the collection before rounding out thirty years of dedicated service by retiring in 1986.

During that time, the collection grew rapidly and gained a reputation as the best of its kind in the world. A pamphlet describing the collection in 1982 noted that it contained, “more than 200,000 items. Of the 150,000 books in the collection, approximately 37,000 are written in Indonesian, 26,000 in Thai, 14,700 in Vietnamese, 3,800 in Burmese, 2,700 in Malay, 1,400 in the languages of the Philippines, and more than 800 each in Lao and Cambodian. The more than 60,000 remaining volumes are in Western and other languages" (The John M. Echols Collection on Southeast Asia: Cornell Assembles a National Treasure. Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Library, 1982. p. 10).