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SUL joins international partnership to digitize and make available Chinese rare books

Stanford Libraries is embarking on an exciting collaboration with the National Central Library of Taiwan (NCL) to digitize a selection of Chinese rare books in the holdings of the East Asia Library and the Bowes Art & Architecture Library. The scanned titles will be added to the NCL’s Rare Books and Special Collections online database, a significant research resource open to the world for the study of Chinese history and culture.

The digitized books will be accessible locally via SearchWorks as well, and preserved in the Stanford Digital Repository (SDR). All scanning is taking place on site at Green Library by the Digital Production Group and will be completed by the end of November 2021. Below is a sample of one scanned volume available through the SDR’s embeddable image viewer.

About the materials 

A total of 29 titles of Chinese rare books have been selected by NCL for the project. Each title contains multiple volumes, and all told, 210 volumes and over 30,000 pages will be scanned. According to the International Union Catalog of Chinese Rare Book Project Cataloging Guidelines published by the Council on East Asia Libraries (CEAL) in 2000, rare books are defined as Chinese-language printed books and bound manuscripts produced before 1796. The selection of the books covers a wide array of disciplines and subjects in Chinese classics, linguistics, history, poetry, drama, literature, art history, medicine, local gazetteers, Daoism, etc. The majority are the editions in the late Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty.  These traditional woodblock printed books are unique and valuable pre-modern Chinese resources. 

This selection represents only a portion of SUL’s holdings of Chinese rare books collections materials, with about 150 titles in total. The NCL-funded project in 2021 is the first of several phases to digitize and share online all of Stanford’s early Chinese text holdings.

snapshot of bound Chinese manuscript

While most of the books to be digitized are printed, two are manuscripts.

Chinese rare books with threaded binding 

The volumes are thread-bound using a traditional 4-stab binding technique. 


Other contributors to NCL’s database

The database started as a collaboration between NCL and the Asian Division of the Library of Congress in 2005. Since then, other institutions around the world have partnered with NCL to contribute scanned books from their collections, including: University of Washington; University of California, Berkeley; Princeton University; Bibliothèque Nationale de France; University of Toronto; Berlin State Library (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin); and the National Library of Korea. Over 11,500 titles are now available through its online search interface. This collaborative project brings together many Chinese rare books scattered worldwide to the public in a high quality and systematic way for Chinese studies. 

This post was co-authored by Zhaohui Xue and Hannah Frost.


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