“Discovering Modern China” is an international collaborative project between the libraries at the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia.  It is the first of only two international collaborative projects that CLIR (Council on Library and Information Resources) has funded.  Beyond the partnership between our U.S. and Canadian institutions, another important aspect of the international collaboration comes in the form of expert consultation and personnel exchange from academic libraries in Asia.  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.

Collaboration specifics and benefits

UW and UBC enjoy a close working relationship and share many primary users, due in part to their geographic proximity. The UW-UBC collaboration thus benefits both the libraries and their users.

UW and UBC recognize that the future of our libraries will be determined in large part by how we collectively respond to the networked world and “anytime, anyplace” expectations. Universities like ours will be measured by how well they manage and disseminate knowledge. Universities will need to find new ways to share intellectual effort in order to advance discovery and enable new scholarship. The UW-UBC collaborative CLIR project provided a unique opportunity to work across borders to reveal complementary hidden collections that, once found and shared, will have compelling value for research.

UW and UBC hidden collections are similar but with different foci: UBC is stronger in pre-modern books and UW in 20th-century publications.  The complementary nature of the collections has facilitated the collaborative process.

We established a clear scope of work and workflow through close communication. The two teams have taken day trips to visit each other in and their libraries to inspect the collection conditions and work space setup. We took advantage of communication technologies—conducting regular video meetings via Skype meetings, sharing working documents, images, etc. via e-mail and a shared Google Drive.  While each following our own library’s cataloging local policies, we engaged in vivid discussions and debates to both learn about and shape best practices.  The collaborative experience has helped us develop shared expertise and enhanced quality of our work in general.

The CLIR project has provided us an invaluable learning opportunity about international collaboration. As libraries and information services become increasingly globalized, there will be more need for international collaborations. We hope the lessons learned and experiences gained from our CLIR international collaborative project will benefit future CLIR applications and projects internationally.

Collaboration beyond North America

One of the primary components of this project was the involvement of an expert in Chinese rare books to evaluate and advise on the key elements of the pre-modern items for catalog description.

Toward that end, the project employed international expertise, which was shared by both institutions. Professor Boyue Yao, a Chinese rare-book librarian at Peking University Library in China, joined the CLIR project.  He served as Project Librarian (working on both authentication and cataloging) at the UW East Asia Library starting January 6th for a 13-month appointment. He also served as a Chinese Rare-book Consultant at the UBC Library for the two months of April and May 2015. Mr. Ya Min Wu, former assistant director of Liaoning Provincial Library, was appointed CLIR Rare Book Cataloger at UBC for twelve months starting December 2014. Both librarians are well-known Chinese rare-book experts in China. Their participation brings in-depth knowledge and expertise to our CLIR project.

Thanks to Prof. Yao, the UW-UBC CLIR project was able to join the CALIS Rare-books Union Catalog, making UW and UBC libraries the first members outside China. This CALIS system has twenty-five top Chinese academic libraries as its members. Many records in the system are not available in OCLC WorldCat; valuable bibliographical information can be easily derived from a similar edition in the CALIS union catalog for our original cataloging. Its customized interface for rare book-specific information is user-friendly. Joining CALIS Union Catalog promotes our newly unveiled hidden treasures to scholars in China. At the same time, UW and UBC professors and students now have better access to the Chinese rare-book collections held by twenty-five best academic libraries in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau through the half million online rare-book records and over 270,000 images in the CALIS catalog. The CLIR project hopes to scan one to three images from each rare book that we catalog to provide crucial information for edition authentication for Chinese rare books. The images will be linked to the online cataloging records, which will enhance the research potential of these materials and benefit scholars and researchers worldwide.

More on UW/UBC participation in CALIS >>


The benefit of our international collaboration through the CLIR project is profound and long-lasting; however, international collaboration also can be very challenging. We have run into obstacles working with different policies, laws, and regulations of different countries and communicate within different administrative and organizational structures and reporting systems.

For example, Professor Yao’s application for a Canadian visa was more complex and took longer than expected, delaying his arrival in Seattle, and therefore the second phase of the project.

Another challenge was dealing with certain fundamental differences in rules, standards, and approaches between cataloging in North America and in China.  Much discussion and review was necessary to determine the best workable practices and ensure cataloging standards were met.