Project Description

The University of Washington (UW) & the University of British Columbia (UBC) are collaborating on a joint project to catalog rare and unique hidden Chinese materials, making them discoverable throughout the world.

The Project

In 2014, the University of Washington (UW) and the University of British Columbia (UBC) received jointly a Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) to conduct an 18-month project entitled “Discovering Modern China: University of Washington and University of British Columbia Collections”. Through this collaborative project, UW and UBC will catalog rare and unique hidden Chinese materials and make them discoverable by users and scholars worldwide. Cataloging these is a high priority as scholarly interest in China increases.

The Collections

Among the top East Asian collections in North America, UW and UBC hold a wealth of hidden Chinese collections, including pre-modern classical texts and source materials from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) through the early years of the People’s Republic of China (1949-). The pre-modern texts, which are written in a literary form of the Chinese language, are printed in traditional complex characters and bound with string. The 20th century materials include thousands of imprints from the Republican period (1912-1949). Materials cover subjects in social sciences, literature, the humanities, and traditional medicine.

UW’s titles are largely from the early 20th century, although some date from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and some are as recent as the 1970s. The collection includes several hundred wooden fish books (rare and important Cantonese song lyric books), approximately 120 scrolls of Chinese paintings, Republican-period texts, and the papers of Wu Xianzi (1881-1959), an activist in the Chinese Constitutional Movement. UBC Library holds rare Chinese materials in pre-modern and contemporary formats from a dozen world-renowned collections, including the Puban, Pang Jingtang, and Jing Yizhai collections. The hidden classical items include books, manuscripts, rubbings, maps, and letter albums of key figures from the Qing Dynasty and early Republican Period, as well as imprints of the Ming. The 20th century publications include unique or rare items, including traditional Chinese medicine, fine art, textbooks, and lineage association publications.

The UW and UBC library collections contain rare and unique materials originally owned by private families, scholars, and collectors. Many of them came to our libraries through various routes in the early 20th century. Throughout the past half century, however, access to the proposed collections has been extremely limited—materials have been kept in storage and were not organized.  On-site browsing has been the only method of access.

The Collaboration

This project is one of only two international collaborative efforts ever funded by CLIR, and the first involving a Canadian university library. The grant enables UW and UBC to collaborate in project planning and resource sharing, staff exchange and training, and sharing collections and user services about these hidden materials. The CLIR project also enables us to receive expert consultation and personnel exchange from academic libraries in Asia.

More on the Project Collaboration >>

The Results

Over the course of the project, UW and UBC libraries together created over 2,000 original bibliographic records in OCLC WorldCat and the Union Catalog of Rare Books of China Academic Library and Information System (CALIS), an Academic Library Consortium in China. These records, plus additional publicity and other work by project team, has increased the awareness of and access to these treasures, benefiting not only the scholars of the two institutions but also scholars worldwide.

Other outcomes of the project include: preservation work on damaged and at-risk materials (funding from outside the project); work to enhance cataloging standards for other Chinese rare books and special collections; strengthening professional skills of UW and UBC staff members; building capacity for future work on Chinese rare books and user services; publicity to attract support for digitization and preservation projects in the future; benefiting teaching and learning at both institutions through lectures, public presentations, exhibitions, classes, and other learning opportunities; research-supported authority work for personal authors and corporate bodies; and more.