Technology in East Asian Libraries

While general American research libraries were seriously exploring in the 1960s and the 1970s the use of technology to improve operations, East Asian libraries were still occupied with the more mundane problems of cataloging standards and how to build or strengthen collections. Automation was far from everyone's mind and not on East Asian libraries' agenda. A 1975 statement CEAL was invited to submit to the Ford Foundation on the “Priorities for the Development and Funding of Library Programs in Support of East Asian Studies” made no reference to the role that emerging technology could play in East Asian library development. This was not East Asian libraries' fault. No serious work was being done on East Asian character codes in the United States at that time, and computers could not handle any of the East Asian languages. But the various needs outlined in the 1975 CEAL statement to the Ford Foundation were both urgent and persuasive, and in the same year the Ford Foundation urged the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) to appoint a Steering Committee for a Study of the Problems of East Asian Libraries. The Steering Committee was composed of the following persons:

George Bechman, Professor of Asian Studies and Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Washington (Chairman)

Albert Feuerwerker, Professor of History and Director, Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan

Herman H. Fussler, Martin A. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor, Graduate Library School, University of Chicago

Hanna H. Gray, Provost, Yale University

Warren J. Haas, Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian, Columbia University

William F. Miller, Provost and Vice President, Stanford University Warren Tsuneishi, Chief, Orientalia Division, Library of Congress Eugene Wu, Librarian, Harvard-Yenching Library, Harvard University

As a guide to its work, the Steering Committee commissioned a series of papers, a number of them written by CEAL members, including Karl Lo (University of Washington), T. H. Tsien (University of Chicago), Weiying Wan (University of Michigan), Raymond Tang (University of California—Berkeley), Thomas Kuo (University of Pittsburg), Thomas Lee (University of Wisconsin), Richard Howard (Library of Congress), Warren Tsuneishi (Library of Congress), and Eugene Wu (Harvard University). The Steering Committee made its report in 1977 under the title: “East Asian Libraries: Problems and Prospects” with recommendations for bibliographical control, collection development and access, and technical and personnel matters.[1] The report attracted significant national attention, and in the following year ACLS, joined by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), cosponsored a Joint Advisory Committee to the East Asian Library Program in order to continue the work begun by the Steering Committee. The following persons were appointed to the Joint Advisory Committee:

Patricia Battin, Vice President and University Librarian, Columbia University Charles Churchill, Dean of Library Services, Washington University (for 1980–1981) Hideo Kaneko, Curator, East Asian Collection, Yale University Library

W. Mote, Professor of East Asian Studies, Princeton University

Robert E. Ward, Director, Center for International Studies, Stanford University

Eugene Wu, Librarian, Harvard-Yenching Library, Harvard University

John W. Haeger (ex-officio), Director, ACLS-SSRC-ARL East Asian Library


It was the work of this committee that eventually led to online cataloging in East Asian libraries. In its report on “Automation, Cooperation, and Scholarship: East Asian Libraries in the 1980s,”[2] the Joint Advisory Committee stated that “after a decade of unprecedented growth along a course linked primarily to foreign area studies programs rather than to the development of research libraries in general…. East Asian libraries were at a crossroad,” and with the lessening of federal and foundation funding, they ought to embark upon a new course of sharing work, materials, and access, and of relying “on automation as a principal planning and management tool.” The keystone to this, according to the report, “is the capability to input, manage, store, transmit, display and output bibliographic records containing East Asian vernacular characters in exactly the same automated systems already created to perform similar functions for Western language materials and general research libraries.” This basic reorientation of the course of development of East Asian libraries in North America, as advocated in the report, would fundamentally change the way East Asian libraries operated, but it was welcomed by all concerned.

The immediate result of the Joint Advisory Committee's recommendation was the decision by the Research Libraries Group (RLG) to introduce in 1983, with Ford Foundation support, the CJK enhancements to the Research Libraries Information Network (RLIN), RLG's operating arm. This move made possible for the first time the creation of cataloging records at one library which could then be copied by other libraries and also viewed by researchers everywhere. In 1986 the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) also established a similar CJK bibliographic utility. The rest, of course, is history.

  • [1] East Asian Libraries: Problems and Prospects, A Report and Recommendations, prepared by the Steering Committee for a Study of the Problems of East Asian Libraries (Washington, D.C.: The American Council of Learned Societies, 1977)
  • [2] Automation, Cooperation and Scholarship: East Asian Libraries in the 1980's, Final Report of the Joint Advisory Committee to the East Asian Library Program (Washington, D.C.: The American Council of Learned Societies, 1981)
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