Wilbert W. W. Wong (Australian National University)

Za’ba Memorial Library, University of Malaya

Located across the road from the University of Malaya Central Library, the Za’ba Memorial Library (or Perpustakaan Peringatan Za’ba) holds in its collections materials that relate to Zainal Abidin bin Ahmad (or Za’ba) [1895–1973], the prominent Malay intellectual and father of the modern Malay language. His private papers include correspondences with a number of prominent figures such as the scholar-administrator Sir Richard Olaf Winstedt (1878–1966). They also have material related to his family and university administrative documents relating to his time as head of the University of Malaya’s Department of Malay Studies. The library states that its collection on Za’ba includes 3175 titles comprising works in Romanised and Jawi scripts on “Malay culture, Arabic language and Islamic studies.” [1] As Za’ba is known to have written on matters concerning the socio-economic wellbeing of the Malays, these collections are important for studying economic life in the region. [2] The collections at the Za’ba Memorial Library go beyond Za’aba’s papers. Among its holdings are the collections of the prominent Malaysian scholar, economist and former Vice Chancellor of the University of Malaya, Ungku Aziz. Apart from private papers, the holdings have also grown to include “government publication[s], local journals” and a “Dutch and Pindato Collection.” [3] These materials should shed further light on the economic life of Malaysia and its surrounding regions – especially Indonesia.

When I last visited in January 2018, the library was undergoing a renovation that was expected to complete by now.  For scholars not from the University of Malaya, a letter or some form of documentation from their home institution is needed to access the library’s collection. In addition, approval by one of the library’s officers is required to access materials that are held at the library’s archives. Permission is also needed for photography. To avoid unnecessary delays and other issues, it is advisable to write in advance to the library to obtain permission to access and photograph items. Alternatively, a phone request or an appointment can be made with one of the library’s senior officers for approval.

The library is known to be quite guarded with respect to allowing access to some of Za’ba’s private papers. I was, however, fortunate to have been given permission to access and transcribe his personal letters, although I was not allowed to photograph or make photocopies. Depending on what information is being sought, time may need to be allowed for staff at the library to manually search the archive for the items requested, as not all the sources in the library’s archive are digitally catalogued.

1. “Library News and Updates,” University of Malaya Library: The Nucleus of Knowledge 1 (January 2019),

2. Haji Asmah Omar, Za’ba: Ahli Fikir Dan Ahli Bahasa (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 2014), xiv; Abdullah Hussain and Khalid Hussain, Pendita Za’ba Dalam Kenangan (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1974), 4-10; Ungku A. Aziz, Jejak-jejak di Pantai Zaman (Kuala Lumpur: Penerbit University Malaya, 1987), vii-ix.

3. University of Malaya Library Blog.

April 2019