UW News

March 4, 2010

UW Libraries collaborates with Taiwan library to digitize rare Chinese classic books

UW Libraries’ East Asia Library and the National Central Library of Taiwan will begin a project this summer to digitize Chinese rare books held at the East Asia Library and Special Collections at UW Libraries.

In the 19th and 20th century, China suffered through many wars and political upheavals. Many of China’s cultural relics and books were taken out of the country, so many historical documents and rare books exist only in libraries in Europe, Japan, the United States and other countries. With the development of information technology in the past two decades, there have been international efforts and collaborations like this one to make these materials accessible to all scholars.

The East Asia Library rare book collection includes approximately 600 titles of Chinese rare books, including:

  • The rare books of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
  • Editions of the Joseph F. Rock collection, including many rare local gazetteers of Southwest China
  • The Qian Qianyi (a late Ming Dynasty poet- historian, 1582-1664) collection
  • The Hellmut Wilhelm collection (books from Professor Wilhelm, a former UW faculty member and renowned sinologist)

The East Asia Library is one of the oldest such libraries in North America. Its collections can be traced back 100 years, when the UW began teaching about Asia. In the early years, without a library, faculty’s private collections were often on loan to the department for faculty and students. In 1937, the library received its first official book budget from a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Over time, the private collections that belonged to faculty members made their way into the library, becoming its core collection.

The National Central Library of Taiwan will contribute approximately $91,000 and two to three staff members, as well as equipment, for the digitizing project. With a target of 80,000 digital images and associated descriptions by December 2012, priority will be given to scanning the titles that are not duplicated by the Taiwan library collection, then to scanning duplicate titles but different editions, and finally, scanning missing volumes or missing pages of each partner library’s collections. The digitization work will take place in the East Asia Library, with the UW staff working with staff from Taiwan. In addition, the Taiwan library will provide the metadata cataloging for the digitized materials.

Once digitized, the collection will be part of the National Central Library Chinese rare book bibliographic database. Only four US institutions — the Library of Congress, Princeton, UC Berkeley, and the University of Chicago — are currently part of this database, along with more than 30 libraries and institutions around the world..

The idea for the partnership began with an informal conversation during the visit to Taiwan by Dean of University Libraries, Lizabeth (Betsy) Wilson and East Asia Library Director Zhijia Shen in December 2008. A proposal was presented to the National Central Library in 2009. After further exchange of ideas and negotiations, an agreement was signed in this January.

International digital collaboration is the goal of the National Central Library of Taiwan. By preserving the valuable rare book collections at the East Asia Library, these rare materials will be available online to the UW academic community, faculty and students in sinological studies, and to scholars all over the world.