Arts & Culture

Rare opportunity

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Harvard, National Library of China embark on digitization project

One of the most extensive collections of rare Chinese books outside China will be digitized and made freely available to scholars worldwide as part of a six-year cooperative project between the Harvard College Library (HCL) and the National Library of China.

Nancy Cline, the Roy E. Larsen Librarian of Harvard College, and Furui Zhan, director of the National Library, signed an agreement detailing the project today (Oct. 9).

“We are pleased to engage in this important collaboration with our colleagues from the National Library of China,” said Cline. “Dr. Zhan’s commitment to ensuring that these rare materials become an important part of the digital future will have a significant impact on scholarship.”

Among the largest cooperative projects of its kind ever between China and U.S. libraries, the project will digitize Harvard-Yenching Library’s entire 51,500-volume Chinese rare-book collection. Harvard-Yenching is the largest university library for East Asian research in the Western world. When completed, the project will have a transformative effect on scholarship involving rare Chinese texts, Harvard-Yenching Librarian James Cheng predicted.

“Scholars come from all over the world to use our rare book collection because many of these titles are not available anywhere else,” he said. “I think this project will be a huge contribution to scholarship by making these materials available to a much broader audience.  We need to change the mindset that rare materials must be kept behind closed doors. A library is not a museum.”

Following completion of a project to catalog the Harvard-Yenching collection in 2003, the rare materials became discoverable through Harvard’s online library catalog, leading to a nearly ten-fold increase in their use by scholars and researchers.

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