University Libraries

Early History

There is a Chinese saying that when there is a horse and cart, there are three things: a horse, a cart, and a horse-cart. This observation represents an awareness of the dynamic relatedness which emerges and develops when data, needs, aspects, or functions are combined. Introducing the East Asian Library of the University of Minnesota Libraries to its users should not only center on the library itself, but also provide relevant information on the East Asian Studies Program as well as the University Library system.

The East Asian area including China, Japan, and Korea, is the setting for the longest continuous civilization in world history. The study of East Asian presents one of the great intellectual challenges of the twentieth century. Whether carried out as preparation for understanding the problems of the present or the institutions of the past, such studies must be based upon a sound balance of language and scholarly disciplines.

The University of Minnesota has developed a number of departmental programs in East Asian Studies, constituting a “cluster” of faculty expertise in the fields of East Asian Languages, Linguistics, History, Geography, Political Science, Art History, and Music. At the graduate level, doctoral programs allow specialization in depth as well as comparative breadth. All graduate programs presume use of materials in Chinese, Japanese, or Korean in the East Asian Library, a brief description of which follows:

The East Asian Library was formally established in 1965 to contain and control the University of Minnesota Libraries' materials in the languages of East Asia. At that time, the collection contained about 18,000 volumes, mostly in Chinese and Japanese, with a few in Korean and other Asian Languages, and represented a gradual accumulation, since 1954,under the guidance of faculty members of the departments of East Asian Languages and History. In that year, with Dr. Alfred Kai-ming Ch'iu, emeritus Librarian, the Harvard University, in residence as Consultant, the collection began a steady growth which has brought it among the twenty largest East Asian collections in America.

The library was basically formed out of two prominent private collections of Oriental studies in Europe, which belonged to Diether von den Steinen of Berlin and Etienne Balazs of the Sorbonne, and important works from the Berkeley Harvard, Michigan, and Yale duplicate possessions. The Chinese collection includes publications on the classics, philology, history, literature, art, philosophy and religion, and other traditional subjects, with relatively less representation for modern and social science materials. In fact, the oldest printed book in the University Libraries, a block-print edition of the Neo-Confucian compendium, Hsing Li Ta Ch'uan, dated 1415, is found in this collection. The Japanese holdings also emphasize classical studies of Japanese culture with intensive interest in literature and history. Of special distinction is a collection of texts and critical studies on the Man'yoshu, the earliest collection of Japanese poetry. During recent years, however, as the teaching and research programs have developed, the library's acquisition policy has become balanced in the social sciences as well as in the humanities, covering classical to contemporary aspects.

In the case of a newly developed library, it is realized that building a working reference collection should have high priority. The users lean more heavily upon the reference tools than upon the breadth and depth of the other resources. The East Asian Library has developed a first-rate collection of reference works, including encyclopedias, dictionaries, bibliographies, library catalogs, indexes, and concordances in such fields as the fine arts, economics, geography, education, history, literature, linguistics, music, philosophy, political science, religion, sociology, natural science and technology.

A special type of publication, the Ts'ung-shu, or collectanea, which contains the primary and essential sources and records of a history and culture, is also fundamental for a research library. Under a specially funded acquisitions program, the East Asian Library maintains a fairly complete assemblage of collectanea in the Chinese and Japanese languages. Most of the titles in this collection have been obtained through standing orders with reprint dealers in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Taiwan, However, many early and rare editions have been specially purchased.

To provide material on current events, the library receives currently more than three hundred periodicals and newspapers from the East Asian countries; some microfilm sets of major magazines and documentary repositories replace the backfliles. In addition, thousands of booklets, catalogs, pamphlets, and other vertical file materials are also available for topical studies and special research.

The chief function of the library is to serve the instructional and research needs of the East Asian departmental studies program described above. Beyond the facilities it affords the University community, the library, as the only East Asian collection between Chicago and Seattle, also provides services to the users from the Twin Cities area as well as from the Northwest region. Participants in the University-sponsored institutes and seminars on Asian studies from other parts of the world, native born students of East Asian Library provides not only research materials but also leisure reading, such as native language newspapers and magazines.

With its own staff, space, and facilities, the East Asian Library functions as a highly organized, separate unit, but more importantly, it is simultaneously an integral part of the University of Minnesota Libraries. The University Library system, holding more than three million volumes, ranks tenth in size among those of American universities. Many of its special collections are distinguished and have achieved national prominence. Books old and new are printed to be read; libraries large and small take years of time and millions of dollars to build. No book is dead; no library is duplicated. The materials in the East Asian Library complement and supplement the special as well as the regular collections within the University library system, providing services and promoting study and research.