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What is the “Asian Research Library”?

(Professor at the Institute of Social Science,
head of the sub-working group for the Asian Research Library, the University of Tokyo New Library Project)

As part of the ongoing construction of an underground automated storage and retrieval system at the Hongo campus, plans for the construction of a new library are also progressing. This new library will not only collect, order, preserve, and make available print publications, but also provide new library services corresponding to the current trends of digitalization and the spread of the information society. The Asian Research Library forms one pillar of this overall project.

Representative libraries in Japan known for their collections of Asia related materials include the Kansai-kan of the National Diet Library (Seika-cho, Soraku-gun, Kyoto), Toyo Bunko (the Oriental Library, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo), the IDE Library (the library of the JETRO Institute of Developing Economies, Mihama-ku, Chiba City), as well as the libraries of the Institute for Research in Humanities and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies Library at Kyoto University (Sakyo-ku, Kyoto City). Turning one’s eyes to other countries, overseas institutions renowned for their Asia-related collections include the Harvard-Yenching Library, Cornell University Library, the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, as well as the library of the Australian National University (ANU).

The Hongo campus of the University of Tokyo has extensive holdings of materials in classical and contemporary Chinese, North and South Korean materials, as well as publications from former Japanese colonies (publications and documents from the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan and Northeast China) numbering several hundred thousand items. However, these materials are dispersed over a wide range of libraries and institutes within the university, including the General Library, the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, the Faculty of Letters, the Faculty of Economics, the Faculty of Law, the Faculty of Agriculture, the Faculty of Education, the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies, and the Institute of Social Science. A representative example of this state of affairs are China-related materials, which are spread over a large number of institutes and libraries. An environment that allows for the effective use of these materials by students and researchers has thus so far been lacking.

The Asian Research Library will collect the Asia-related books, yearbooks, statistical volumes, and journals in three locations: on the fourth floor (open stacks system) and in the underground automated storage and retrieval system (closed stacks system) of the General Library as well as at a branch library dedicated to materials in classical Chinese at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia. The library thus aims to provide a comprehensive and effective service to library users. Further, we are planning to create an “Endowed Research Division” attached to the library whose task will be to collect and organize the materials as well as conduct research based on them (see the page of U-PARL division for more information ). We are also contemplating training specialized subject librarians versed in library science and the field of Asian studies (including familiarity with national and local languages such as Vietnamese, Thai, and Persian).

From July to August 2013, we conducted a preliminary survey among the relevant faculties and research divisions. As the result of this survey, it was found out that there was great approval for the proposed Asian Research Library and that altogether 740,000 books and journals could be incorporated into the new library. The detailed breakdown of these materials is as follows. Books including reference works, statistical materials, and yearbooks: 364,000 (Japanese language materials: 78,000, Western language materials: 110,000, Chinese language materials: 133,000, Korean language materials: 18,000, Arabic language materials: 9,500); journals: 8,900 titles numbering 124,000 issues (alongside Japanese and Western journals, the collection includes 36,400 journal issues in Chinese and 11,500 journal issues in Korean); materials in classical Chinese: 250,000 (130,000 rare works, 120,000 general books).

Alongside the centralized management of holdings belonging to the various division libraries, we also seek to obtain donations and other financial resources for the purchase of Asia-related rare books and expensive collections. Further, we are planning to incorporate the private collections of faculty members who are retired or are about to retire into the underground automated storage and retrieval system as donated books and make them available for use by researchers.

There are many issues to be addressed in order to guarantee the smooth creation and operation of the Asian Research Library. Based on what criteria will books be selected for inclusion in the open stacks on the fourth floor of the General Library? How will the journals and private collections to be included in the underground automated storage and retrieval system be handled and made available for prompt viewing? Who will be responsible for ordering materials in the various local languages and how will this be done? How will the subject librarians be trained? As we are setting our aims high, the multitude of tasks to be accomplished seems quite daunting. However, if these issues can be overcome and the establishment of the Asian Research Library realized in the near future, then this will undoubtedly signify the birth of a specialized Asian studies library that can stand representing Japan next to others of its kind in the world. Further, I believe that if it were possible to link up the services provided by the Asian Research Library at the University of Tokyo with the other aforementioned libraries in Japan, this would mark a further step for Asian studies in Japan.

We intend to use the website of the University of Tokyo New Library Project and that of U-PARL division, to provide up-to-date information related to the project and ongoing activities. We are looking forward to receiving your support in our endeavor and welcome frank opinions regarding the Asian Research Library. (December 25, 2013)