Book Reviews

Beyond the Book: Unique and Rare Primary Sources for East Asian Studies Collected in North America. Jidong Yang, ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2022. 368 pp. Hardcover, $60, (ISBN 9780924304989).

Book cover for Beyond the Book

If information specialists are looking for a book about the unique collections of significant East Asian Libraries in North America, I heartily recommend Beyond the Book.

A compilation of presentations from a 2015 conference at Stanford University organized by Dr. Jidong Yang, each updated chapter begins with a brief history of the contributor’s East Asian library and introduces some of their signature collections that go “beyond the book”: letters, maps, pictures, films, sound recordings, etc. All of the contributing librarians and scholars are native or near-native language speakers in their respective fields, and they justifiably celebrate their worthy achievements. They have worked diligently to provide and improve access to their communities in response to donors’ requests for each collection. Presented as a whole, readers can easily compare each individual effort and understand the complexities associated with specialized collections that must be made accessible to the public. These efforts have continued while the authors carefully balance several conflicting duties simultaneously, including day-to-day operations as well as deadlines for long-time goals.

What will impress readers of this book are the varied contents in long, rich histories in the regions, the diversity of viewpoints represented in each collection, and the complex digitization efforts to make them more broadly accessible.

The periods these collections cover represent the richness of East Asian cultures and histories. One of the earliest studies dates back to the papers on oracle bones from the eleventh century BCE in the Shang dynasty in China at Columbia’s C.V. Starr East Asian Library. Some collections focus on premodern literature in Japan, including one of uncataloged Japanese manuscripts at the University of California, Berkeley. The majority of the chapters deal with collections from the colonial period in the late nineteenth century to the end of WWII and the Cold War era, including materials related to the Cold War in East Asia in the Hoover Archives.

None of the collection items are free from the bias of their culture and period of origin. Yet, the varied perspectives found throughout these collections make them an intriguing treasure for any researcher. Some are collections donated by American missionary families and the extensive collections of pictures taken by American sociologists. Considerable portions of the modern history of China and the East Asian regions after the nineteenth century are told from the perspectives of military personnel. The Gaihōzu maps created for military purposes were confiscated by US army and then distributed to academic institutions around the US. The Library of Congress holds enormous related collections for any researchers.

Many Japanese lived in North America when the Pacific War broke out. Some collections reveal their life stories in unique ways through distinctive perspectives, including a prominent US-based scholar and a repatriate to Japan who never returned to the US. Outside of academia, Japanese Canadian activists fought for their rights as citizens for many years after the war, a story documented at the University of Toronto Libraries.

Different perspectives on Korea are available in the collections described in this book, along with the viewpoint of American military officers in the Korean War, a high-profile family correspondence from the late Joseon dynasty, and an impressive collaboration between a pioneering female anthropologist in the US and three Korean officers who tried to reform their country. In addition, some contributors intentionally shed light on hard-to-discover portions of their collections. For example, thanks to a discussion of Korean materials in the William Elliot Griffis Collection at Rutgers University, I learned about this small but distinctive portion of the collection regarding the late Joseon dynasty in Korea, which was of immediate interest to a researcher I work with.

Once the cataloging and preservation process is complete and the collections are accessible for patrons onsite, contributors demonstrate how their institutions consider possible digitization of their collections for wider access. To solve such issues, some of them seek external grants and others require further collaboration efforts with external parties. For example, when Korean films from the early twentieth century were processed for preservation, one library hired a film student to examine the status of film reels and provide an inventory report. Then, in cooperation with the Korea Film Archive, the library selected the prioritized works for digitization and completed the process.

Many chapters also show how institutions have pursued and collaborated with the Library of Congress and other national libraries in their digitization efforts. The National Library of Korea conducted a reproduction project, including the collection of Korean manuscripts in Canada mentioned earlier. Japan’s National Diet Library shared and digitized some portions of the same source with a US institution. Some of the contents in these collections are not suitable for online access due to copyright, political, and other sensitive issues of specific content. Nevertheless, each decision makes for an invaluable learning case for any libraries facing the same constraints.

These essays provide reliable guidance for librarians and information specialists to initiate the processing of their rare collections, including the cases at my institution. Furthermore, this book publicize East Asian Libraries in North America, which have been conscientiously serving significant stakeholders on institutional, regional, national, and international levels.

Finally, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude and respect to all the contributors and Dr. Yang, who stated that “the potential for digging out new East Asian studies resources is still endless.” I hope this book encourages current library school students and aspiring scholars in the next generation to apply for East Asian Librarianship in North America. — Mitsu Nakamura, Washington University in St. Louis

Copyright Mitsu Nakamura

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