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Access to Chinese Rare Books Improved

Chinese scholars will benefit from easier access to more accurate, standardized records of rare Chinese materials. The University of Chicago Library is a key participant in an international project to improve access and cataloging for Chinese rare books. Chicago has contributed records for over 500 rare Chinese editions (in more than 7,300 volumes), as well as provided leadership for the creation of international cataloging guidelines and standards for rare Chinese materials.

The University of Chicago Library is a charter member of the Research Libraries Group's (RLG) pioneering project to create an international union catalog of rare Chinese books. When the current phase of the RLG Chinese Rare Books Project ended earlier this year, nearly 7,500 entries for rare materials had been created in RLIN, RLG's electronic bibliographic database. These records were contributed by thirteen North American libraries, five Chinese libraries, and two libraries in Europe, and make accessible bibliographic data and location information for rare materials that were previously only cataloged locally. Project participants have thus helped to provide for the first time standardized, uniform access to information about dispersed copies of rare Chinese books and bound manuscripts held by major collections in North American and Canada.

Since the Project's beginnings in 1988, the University of Chicago Library has contributed 276 electronic records to RLIN, representing about 30% of the Library's Chinese rare book holdings. With about 1,000 titles, Chicago's Chinese rare book collection ranks among the top five in North America. It is especially rich in Confucian classics, generally regarded as the best outside of China, and contains a few extremely rare if not unique copies. Although the majority of the rare titles already appeared in the East Asian Collection's 8-volume printed catalog (1973), our participation in the Chinese Rare Books Project highlights Chicago's collection to a much broader public, and gives the Library the chance to reexamine these rare items as well. Approximately 500 rare Chinese editions published between 1645 and 1796 were moved from the general stacks to the East Asian Rare Books Collection in late 1994.

Another major component of the Project has been the creation of cataloging guidelines for Chinese rare materials, which established a North American standard for bibliographic description of and access to these materials. The Library is pleased that Tai-loi Ma, Curator of the East Asian Collection, has played a crucial role in the formation of these guidelines, which reconcile rules that have general applicability to rare Western materials with Chinese cataloging standards. The Project engaged an International Advisory Committee to draft the guidelines, a group which included Mr. Ma, T.H. Tsien (Professor Emeritus, Dept. of East Asian Language and Civilization and Graduate Library School; and Curator Emeritus, East Asian Library), and faculty and librarians from institutions such as the National Palace Museum in Taipei, the Shanghai Library, Peking University, Indiana University, Columbia University, Princeton University, and the Library of Congress. A bilingual edition of the "Cataloging Guidelines for Creating Chinese Rare Book Records in Machine-Readable Form" will be published shortly, and will serve as an important tool for the East Asian Library community and strong foundation for subsequent phases of the project. The Library will resumed participation in the Project when it began a new phase in early 1997.

For more information, contact Tai-loi Ma, Curator, East Asian Collection, at 702-8436 or">