Items find their way to the preservation lab in a lot of different ways. Sometimes new items are sent to us the moment they arrive and other times items circulate dozens of times before coming to us for a face-lift. Collection managers and librarians contact us when they have a special project planned, but occasionally someone just finds an old, beat-up book sitting on a shelf and sends it over. We have a lot of allies in the libraries looking out for us, but sometimes the only way to really know the physical status of a collection is to go and look over the whole thing ourselves. We call this a Collection Improvement Project, and our current collection of choice is the East Asian Collection in Herman B. Wells Library.
The East Asian Collection at Indiana University was begun in 1950 by Professor Ssu-Yu Teng, Professor Emeritus of History at IU. Dr. Teng came to the U.S. from China in 1937 and immediately began work at the Library of Congress as Assistant Compiler of Orientalia. His love of books and libraries would continue for the rest of his life, and provided the foundation and impetus for the formation of the collection at IU. One of his colleagues once remarked that he was a “walking bibliography” when it came to East Asian sources.
Dr. Teng received his Ph.D from Harvard in 1942, and went on to teach history at the University of Chicago, Harvard, and finally, IU. He was one of the few people teaching Chinese history in the U.S. at the time and is considered one of the founding members of Chinese studies in America. Dr. Teng began the East Asian collection out of need for materials to use in his own classes, but worked tirelessly his whole life to expand it. The collection now contains about 320,000 items pertaining to China, Japan, and Korea, and supports one of the top-ranking East Asian Studies departments in the U.S. Dr. Teng passed away in 1988.
The main purpose of the collection is to support research and scholarship. As Dr. Teng himself once wrote, “Just as lively fish without water would die, so a research scholar without access to books could perish.” However, this is not the only reason why these items are so important. About 59% of international students enrolled at IU in the Fall 2017 semester were from East Asia (China, Taiwan, Japan, or South Korea). For these users and their families, the collection represents a source of leisure and enjoyment, in addition to a research option. The collection also provides materials through interlibrary loan to universities all over the U.S., but especially to smaller Indiana universities without access to large collections.
When making our decisions about how to conserve these items, we must first consider how they are used. Our first step was to meet with the Librarian for East Asian Studies, Wen-ling Liu, who gave us insight into what users value most about the collection and where problems may be found. We learned that the collection is browsed heavily, so it is important to have spine labeling clear and visible. We will also avoid putting the items in an enclosure unless absolutely necessary, as it can hinder browsing. These items are also less likely to be available in electronic format and are often not replaceable. Some represent new challenges for us, such as new formats and unfamiliar languages. We plan to carry out the survey by going through the collection methodically, shelf by shelf, pulling items that need preservation. At the same time, we have taken note of particular areas of need and will pay special attention to those. It can take a long time to go through such a large collection, but by the end of it, we will rest easy knowing that this important piece of IU’s library collection will persist for many more years to come.
Indiana University Bloomington, Libraries. “About the East Asian Collection.”
IU Office of International Statistics
IU Department of Honors and Awards
John K. Fairbank, “Obituary: S.Y. Teng (1906-1988),” Journal of Asian Studies 47 , no. 3 (August 1988): 723-724.