During the recent 2017 Beijing International Book Fair–the second largest book fair in the world–Dr. Li Wang, Curator of Brown’s East Asian Collection, was interviewed by China Library Weekly, the only library newspaper published in China. Dr. Wang spoke about Brown University Library as well as his professional activities and perspectives. In the special issue, dated August 25, 2017, a large picture of Brown’s John Hay Library was presented on the newspaper’s front page and a full internal page featured Wang and the interview, entitled: “Librarian Should be an Envoy of Cross-Cultural Exchange.”
Based on his recent study of the mission and vision statements that reflect the new strategies of knowledge services in North American academic research libraries, Wang briefly summarized his ideas on the relationship between libraries and teaching and research at universities. He stressed that, aligning with the educational missions and with the teaching and research goals of their home universities, libraries should further redefine themselves, assume a new role as an academic partner, and engage more actively in knowledge innovation and the research process. That is just what Brown University Library proclaims in its mission statement: “Partnering with students, faculty, staff, and members of the global scholarly community, we foster and guide the creation, acquisition, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge at Brown and beyond in a spirit of free and open inquiry.”
In terms of promoting cross-cultural exchange, Wang also shared his experience in recent years, especially through exhibitions, presentations, travel reports, and other activities in this effort. Wang says, ”The librarian should not only be a manager and educator of scholarly resources. We, as scholars of Chinese studies, should also become an envoy of cross-cultural exchange, creating a genial cultural ambience so as to facilitate cultural exchange and understanding in a global context.”
Click here to read the article in Chinese, or read the translation below (translated by Yanqing Shen ’18).
Interview | Li Wang: Librarian Should Be an Envoy of Cross-Cultural Exchange
Interviewed by Bai Yujing
Dr. Li Wang is Curator of East Asian Library and a senior research librarian at Brown University. His father, Professor Wang Zuoliang, was a renowned Chinese educator of English, expert in English language and literature, translator and writer. Wang graduated from Peking University with a B.A. in Philosophy in 1983 and took up a teaching position at PKU. Afterwards, he went to the United States to pursue his postgraduate study, earning a Master’s degree in Humanities from Western Kentucky University, a Master’s in Library and Information Science and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Iowa. He was Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Brown University and master’s thesis advisor for Brown’s Department of Art History. He was also an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and Senior Researcher at Beijing Foreign Studies University. Apart from teaching at Peking University, University of Iowa and Brown University, he was also invited to give lectures at prestigious universities like Harvard University, Tsinghua University, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Nanking University and Xiamen University. Since Wang took up the position as curator of Brown University’s East Asian Collection, the collections have grown in all aspects under his leadership, with the support of library colleagues and faculty at Brown. “The librarian should not only be a manager and educator of library resources; as scholars of Chinese studies, we should also become an envoy of cross-cultural exchange, creating a genial cultural ambience to facilitate cultural exchange and understanding in a global context,” said Wang in the interview.
Interviewer: As far as I know, the East Asian Collection has developed from donations by sinologist Charles Sidney Gardner, which constituted its initial collections. Can you tell us more about the history of East Asian Collection? What is the collection size and what are the collection highlights?
Li Wang: Brown University’s East Asian Collection came into being in 1961 and it was developed from the “Gardner Collection”. C. S. Gardner (1900-1966) was a noted sinologist and bibliographer from Harvard University. He was president of Association for Asian Studies in 1949. He loved Chinese ancient classics and culture. In the 1920s and 1930s, he visited China twice and, on his trips, gathered and purchased many classical Chinese books. In his old age, he donated more than 30,000 volumes of books to Brown University Library, the majority in Chinese. In the 1980s, Japanese and Korean holdings were added successively, thus forming the East Asian Collection.
In the past few decades, those who headed the East Asian Collection, including Mr. I-Ming Chiang, Dr. Wen-kai Kung, and Ms. Annie (Mei-Yun) Lin, all devoted great efforts to the growth and the management of the collection. In the new millennium, the collection advanced further in all aspects, developing by leaps and bounds. Overcoming difficulties such as being underfunded and understaffed, we have been constantly expanding the scholarly resources. Up to now, our collection houses approximately 190,000 print volumes in Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Among them, more than 150,000 are Chinese books, with a focus on such fields as language, literature, history, philosophy, religion, archaeology, art history and social sciences. There are also tens of thousands of Western language materials on East Asian studies. In addition, there are a large number of periodicals, maps, microforms, audio-visual materials, e-books and electronic databases. Our special collection primarily features Chinese Writers’ Signature Collection. Built up from writer Bing Ling’s book donations, it contains more than a thousand works by over a hundred writers.
The Gardner Room is located on the third floor of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library. Along its three walls stand rows of traditional Chinese-styled bookcases, each inscribed with Chinese book titles. Stored in these bookcases are 77 Chinese rare books of Confucian classics, history, philosophy and literature — a total of over 5000 volumes – dated from the Ming and the Qing dynasties. There are also 362 titles from the Four Series Collectanea published during the Chinese Republic. This room, a traditional Chinese study elegant with antique flavors, is the only one of its kind outside China. Needless to say, Brown’s East Asian Collection figures among the most distinctive mid-size East Asian libraries in North America.
Interviewer: Generally, how much funds did your East Asian Library spend on collection development every year? What are the channels of acquisition?
Li Wang: The amount of funds available for collection development varies from year to year. For instance, in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, the funding (for all formats of) scholarly resources in East Asian studies came to a total of roughly $180,000. Approximately half of the funds –- some $90,000 — went to Chinese acquisitions. The rest were divided, from high to low in amount, among the purchase of Japanese, Korean and Western language materials. In addition to the basic budget, we sometimes apply for special funds. In terms of the channels of acquisitions, we acquire Western language resources in the same way as in other academic disciplines. That is, we purchase books through approval plans from major book vendors in North America and then make supplemental acquisitions of featured materials from some other publishers. As for Chinese acquisitions, we place orders with several major book vendors in China and the U.S. Currently, the funding allocation by language seems quite reasonable, mostly in agreement with that of other East Asian libraries in North America.
Interviewer: When it comes to research materials in Chinese studies, how is the development of Chinese database going? Do you have any plan to collaborate with Chinese colleges and universities?
Li Wang: We began developing digital resources some ten years ago, when we subscribed to the full text database of Siku Quanshu (Complete Library in the Four Branches of Literature). Due to limited funds, our progress was not quite fast. So far, we possess more than a dozen of major Chinese full-text databases which, on the whole, can be adequate for the basic information needs of our users. However, when it comes to databases that are “excessively expensive,” we still lack the means of acquisition. Besides funding issues, the biggest challenge is to select products that are good value for money among a host of new products. We sometimes participate in “purchasing consortia” with other East Asian libraries in North America to cope with the shortage of funding. While we do not have the opportunity to collaborate directly with Chinese universities in this respect now, we look forward to doing so in the future.
Interviewer: What is the staff size and the staff make-up of East Asian libraries in North America? What are the professional requirements for librarians? Are there any training programs for them?
Li Wang: Libraries usually base their staffing decisions on the size of the collection and on other factors. According to CEAL statistics of staffing support (by FTE), in year 2013, there were 441 people working in 53 East Asian libraries. Among them, 179 were professional librarians, including 79 Chinese librarians (44%), 52 Japanese librarians and 34 Korean librarians. Libraries in North America have set relatively higher standards in recruiting professional librarians. Generally, librarians are required not only to have a master’s degree in Library Science and proficiency in relevant East Asian languages, but also to hold advanced degrees (master’s or doctoral) in related disciplines. For their work, besides being required to have the necessary expertise and skills, they are also expected to join committees, work on teams and attend professional conferences both domestic and international. In the past few years, the Chinese studies librarians in North America also had chances to get involved in professional exchanges in Chinese mainland and Taiwan. For example, I attended the Advanced Workshop on Authentication and Preservation of Ancient Chinese Books held at the National Library of China in 2014; and the North America Library Workshop on Chinese Film and Television in 2015, etc. They were all great learning experiences.
Interviewer: Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between libraries and teaching and research at universities?
Li Wang: The academic library, as the heart of the university, is closely related to teaching and research in higher education. At the 2017 International Conference on Integrated Development of Digital Publishing and Digital Libraries, which recently concluded in Taiyuan, I presented a paper entitled “Mission and Vision: New Strategies of Knowledge Service in North American Academic Research Libraries,” preliminarily summarizing the new ideas and new experience in the present knowledge services. Firstly, as the information resources support system, the university libraries should make every effort to align with the educational missions and with the teaching and research goals of their home universities. Secondly, libraries should further redefine themselves, assume the new role as an academic partner, and engage more actively in knowledge innovation and the research process. That is just as what Brown University Library proclaims in its mission statement: “Partnering with students, faculty, staff, and members of the global scholarly community, we foster and guide the creation, acquisition, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge at Brown and beyond in a spirit of free and open inquiry.” Lastly, each library needs to establish a focus when creating goals and guiding principles of action, taking into consideration the conditions and the resources of the library itself.
Interviewer: Does your library have any research program relating to the development of research and scholarship?
Li Wang: Among the major research projects of our library were the organization and the cataloguing of the Chinese ancient books in our collection; the provision of research consultation and literature translation for digital humanities projects in departments of History and American Studies. In terms of academic research, three years ago I fortunately discovered Trends in Chinese Literature Today, written by my late father Professor Wang Zuoliang, along with other valuable historical documents such as English-language pamphlets for Allied information services in China during WWII. I also found my father’s various early works, including his essays and poems in English, in Brown’s Special Collections in the John Hay Library. I have taken the first step to collect and explore these works. I have written articles about them and given lectures in China and the US; all were well-received. I also served on the Board of Experts for the Complete Works of Wang Zuoliang published in 2016 and attended various academic events hosted by Tsinghua University, Beijing Foreign Studies University and other Chinese institutions in commemoration of my father. In addition, we assisted in contacting and receiving the visiting delegation from Beijing Foreign Studies University led by President Peng Long.
Interviewer: In your opinion, are East Asian libraries in the US facing any common issues in their development?
Li Wang: As the current growth of digitalization and online information transforms the production and the market of scholarly resources, the East Asian librarians have to adjust the focus of their work and the way of their service in response to rapidly changing trends, in order to cater to the demands of the time. In particular, the lack of funding, library space and human resources has become an increasingly serious issue in recent years. The consequent cutting of funds, merging of library spaces, and reducing of staff numbers will become inevitable challenges. Furthermore, in an age of global information, the roles and functions of the librarians have also changed significantly: knowledge management and innovation have become an important task.
Interviewer: Do you have any plans of collaboration or exchange with Chinese partners?
Li Wang: In terms of library business, we will continue the Chinese shelf-ready project of outsourcing acquisition and cataloging with our Chinese partners. In the collation and publication of Chinese ancient books, we will further Brown’s project for the “Union Catalogue of Oversea Chinese Ancient Books.” Speaking of scholarly activities, I have several projects on hand that are yet to be finished. For example, I attended the International Symposium on the Commercial Press and the Rise of Modern Culture in China” lately (in Beijing) and will revise my conference paper. There are other collaboration projects, all of which will be arranged and carried out according to time and circumstances.
Interviewer: Did you attend the Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF) in recent years? How did you like it?
Li Wang: Initially, I did not know much about it, as I had only been to the Beijing International Book Fair in 2009. Last year, however, invited to the BIBF by the China Publishing Group Corp. and China National Publications Import and Export (Group) Corp., I had the chance to participate in a number of events. For instance, I attended the “Opening ceremony of BIBF and Awarding Ceremony of the 11th Special Book Award of China” in the Great Hall of the People, the “2017 High-end Forum with Chinese Publishing Experts and Overseas Librarians,” and other events. I also selected a good number of new books for our library in the “Special Exhibition District of Chinese Competitive Academic Books” at the book fair. I had the sense that BIBF was growing bigger in scale, more diverse in terms of its contents and more multifarious in its form. BIBF, as one move in the strategy of Chinese culture “going global,” is a vital window through which Chinese publishing soft power is demonstrated. After I came back to the US, I integrated my experiences at this spectacular event with my other observations into one talk entitled “Publishing China 2016”. Presented through pictures and videos at Brown University Library, the talk elicited warm response.
Interviewer: Can you tell us more about your professional experiences? What have you learned from it?
Li Wang: Since I began to serve as curator of East Asian Collection, the branch has grown in all aspects with the support from different parties. Overcoming such difficulties as the shortage of staff and funds, we have nearly doubled the size of our collections and introduced a considerable number of periodicals, audio-video materials and digital resources. Furthermore, we obtained a good sum of outside funding to improve our work in acquisitions and cataloging. Most importantly, with our great efforts, we managed to solve many of the tricky issues left over from the past. With emphasis, we have strengthened our resource development and improved our research consultation services; indeed, our progress is well received among our library users. Personally, I have learned a lot of new knowledge, new technology and new experience from this process.
In the past few years, I have also devoted myself to researching the Chinese publishing soft power. In August 2015, I co-hosted, with Prof. Zhang Zhiqiang of Nanking University, the “International Workshop-Forum on China’s Publishing Soft Power” at Brown University library. More than 20 representatives from relevant universities, research institutes and libraries in China and the U.S. attended the conference.
In my view, the librarian should not only be a manager and educator of scholarly resources. We, as scholars of Chinese studies, should also become an envoy of cross-cultural exchange, creating a genial cultural ambience so as to facilitate cultural exchange and understanding in a global context. At Brown, I have organized a few exhibitions of our collections, including “Cultural Essence over the Centuries: An Exhibition from East Asian Collection” (2003), ”East Asian Book Art Exhibition” (2010) and ”Culture and Art from the Divine Land: An Exhibition of Chinese Collections in the Year of Dragon” (2012); all of them were quite popular among the Brown community. I have also given a series of talks at the library, sharing what I saw, heard and experienced on my trips to China in recent years. The subjects of these talks are: “Thinking Globally: A Trip to China” (2009), “Touching the Mobile China” (2011),”Tracing Ancient Rarities and Riding Current Trends: A Curator’s Trip to China 2014”, “Visual China 2015,” and lastly, “Publishing China 2016.”