Developing National Cataloging Standards for East Asian Materials

The Far Eastern Materials Committee was chaired by G. Raymond Nunn, then Head of the Asia Library, University of Michigan. (He was succeeded as chair by Charles E. Hamilton of the East Asiatic Library of the University of California in Berkeley.) Its members were mostly heads of large East Asian libraries with cataloging experience. This committee occupies a very special place in the history of the development of East Asian libraries in North America, as it was under its and LC's leadership a set of national standards for cataloging East Asian materials was established for the first time. It was the result of four years of intensive collaborative work, from 1954 to 1958, by this committee and LC's Oriental Processing Committee (OPC). These two bodies, in the most meticulous fashion, worked through the twin American standards for cataloging—ALA Cataloging Rules for Author and Title Entries and Rules for Descriptive Cataloging in the Library of Congress—and amended every rule that had implications for cataloging East Asian materials. The result was a major series of amendments to the two sets of rules, which were then approved by both ALA and LC and adopted as national standards. They remain so today, with modifications as incorporated in the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules II (AACRII).[1] This was a significant milestone in the history of East Asian libraries in North America, for in those days not only were there no computers, there were even no national standards for cataloging Chinese, Japanese, or Korean materials. Every library was on its own, using its own format and following its own rules, although many opted for the Harvard-Yenching Classification Scheme. No library used subject headings (a few maintained a classified catalog) and there was little or no authority work. There was even disagreement as to whether the main entry should be by author or title. So, what the two committees accomplished under those circumstances was indeed epoch-making. There is a Chinese saying: “People before us planted trees, we can now enjoy the shade.” We will always be indebted to these two committees for their lasting contributions to our profession. In this connection we should remember in particular the leadership provided to the work of the two committees by G. Raymond Nunn, Lucile Morsch, C. Sumner Spalding, and Charles H. Hamilton. Ray Nunn was an indefatigable workhorse, and he guided the work of the Special Committee with that spirit. Lucile Morsch and C. Sumner Spalding, who were successive chairs of the OPC in their capacity as chief of LC's Descriptive Cataloging Division, were incisive and always willing to meet us halfway. Charles Hamilton, chief cataloger at the East Asiatic Library of UC-Berkeley, who had the rare ability to discern linkages among seemingly disparate rules and their potential impact on cataloging East Asian materials, and his arguments often revealed our ignorance of the subtlety in the intent of some of the rules. It can be safely said that without his participation, the work of amending the rules would have been much more difficult.

The adoption of the amended rules as national standards did not mean, however, the end of East Asian libraries' cataloging problems. The new challenge was implementation, and there was great hope that everyone's dream of shared cataloging might come true at last. Toward that end LC established in 1958 a Far Eastern Section in the Processing Department under the direction of Warren Tsuneishi, who would later become Chief of the Orientalia Division and the first director of the Area Studies Department at LC. The purpose of the new section was to introduce a cooperative cataloging program for East Asian publications, patterned after what LC had been doing for decades for publications in other languages. Unfortunately, this program did not work as expected, and it was soon terminated mainly because of insufficient manpower at LC to do the editing that was required to bring cataloging copies from the participating libraries up to the very strict LC standard. The demise of this short-lived program notwithstanding, the drive toward some sort of shared cataloging did not lose its momentum altogether. It survived in part and in a different form when LC established a Japan office under its National Program of Acquisitions and Cataloging (NPAC). The purpose of NPAC was to insure both adequate coverage of current publications LC was acquiring from around the world and the speedy availability of bibliographical records for them for general use. The NPAC Japan office, under the direction of Andrew Kuroda, Head of the Japanese Section of LC's Orientalia Division, did just that for Japanese publications for a number of years. It was a very useful program. Unfortunately, it had to be dismantled for budgetary reasons. At the time the NPAC Japan office was established, discussion began on establishing a similar program for Chinese-language materials, perhaps in Hong Kong, both within and without the Library of Congress. (This was in the early 1970s, and there were no diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing. It was impossible even to think of setting up a NPAC center on the China mainland at that time.) However, the discussion never went very far. Since libraries in those days all looked to LC to get things done, East Asian libraries thought it best to wait for LC to come up with a solution to deal with the Chinese acquisitions and cataloging problems for everyone, and they made a point of engaging LC in the discussion they were having among themselves. The Harvard-Yenching Library took the lead and invited twelve large East Asian libraries and the Library of Congress to a series of meetings on Chinese cooperative cataloging, the first in New York in 1972, followed by a second in Chicago in 1973, and a third in Boston in 1974. An Ad Hoc Committee on Chinese Cooperative Cataloging was set up at the first meeting to investigate the feasibility of establishing such a program. The subsequent deliberations centered on several related issues: the slowness in LC's distribution of its printed Chinese catalog cards; the exclusion from the National Union Catalog published by LC of records in any East Asian language, resulting in the costly duplication of cataloging efforts among East Asian libraries. In response, LC proposed the compilation of a new publication to be called Chinese Cooperative Catalog which would include all cards submitted by participating libraries. There were some misgivings about the LC proposal, the main concern being the likelihood that once the Chinese Cooperative Catalog was published, cataloging cards for East Asian publications may be permanently excluded from the National Union Catalog. This whole matter was turned over to the Committee on East Asian Libraries (CEAL), which at that time had appointed a Subcommittee on the National Union Catalog, and the Ad Hoc Committee was dissolved. The CEAL Subcommittee continued the discussion on the LC proposal, but there was insufficient support for it among the East Asian libraries, and the matter was dropped. East Asian libraries had to wait for a decade until the mid-1980s before a truly national and international shared cataloging program was in place, thanks to technology that brought us online cataloging and the services of the Research Libraries Group (RLG) and the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC).

  • [1] Edwin G. Beal, Jr. “Discussion of Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien's paper. “East Asian Collections in America,” in Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien and Howard Winger, ed., Area Studies and the Library, The Thirtieth Annual Conference of the Graduate Library School, May 20–22, 1965 (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1965), pp. 75–76
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