Although we spent time at the Fujian Provincial Library (FPL) when we first arrived in Fuzhou over two weeks ago, this week we are getting in-depth visits with several departments at the library. On Monday, we spent the morning with Special Collections and the afternoon with Technical Services. Both departments were very interesting; highlights are below.
The Special Collections Department holds over 300,000 items, including manuscripts and local history materials. Most are in traditional Chinese string-bound volumes, although there are some hardbound as well. They have also actively collected an assortment of ephemera that reflect local history, including tea wrappers, wedding certificates, and advertisements. The department has published high quality photographs of many of these items in book form.
One of the best parts of the Special Collections tour was watching conservators doing the painstaking work of repairing holes in worm-damaged pages. With a brush dipped in water, they would moisten rice paper, paste it over the damage, then trim the paper very carefully. We were told that not many people are trained in this type of repair work and they were happy to have several conservators in their employ.
The other interesting sight was a room filled with shelves of wooden boards used for printing. Each board, centuries old, was carved with Chinese characters in columns, with one board for each page of a book. Many of the boards were carved on both sides. Most exciting of all, a staff member selected one such board, inked it, then laid a sheet of paper over it. She then began brushing over the paper with a stiff whisk broom. The paper was gently lifted and – voila! – a page was printed.
I loved visiting Technical Services, undoubtedly because that’s my area of expertise. I quickly realized I was once again with My People. We spoke the same language – well, sort of – and talked of RDA (which they have not yet adopted, though other libraries in Beijing and Shanghai have), MARC/Bibframe, authority records, and the like. We Oregonians spoke about how and why we use OCLC, something which they had recently considered joining, but decided against, saying that it was not yet cost effective for them. They were curious to know which discussion lists we subscribed to and what the status of librarians was in the United States. We also asked them questions. I had the feeling that both sides of the table were asking: Are you like me? And how are we different? I have found these kinds of interactions to be the most exciting, the best part of this exchange.
I talked a bit about the Program for Cooperative Cataloging, an organization that is very different from anything that they have in China. Although they have made a commitment to following standards, there are few mechanisms for sharing records or contributing to standards. FPL staff informed us that in 2004, the National Library of China sold a set of authority records to them. In order to have local authors in the set, FPL created authority records and added them to their instance of the authority record database. There was no mechanism to add these to the national authority file. When the National Library found out about these local authority records, they expressed surprise (or maybe even dismay) that FPL had done this to the set of purchased records. Recently, however, the National Library has changed its attitude and is encouraging other libraries to contribute records to their national authority file.
Since it was Halloween, they had set out plates of candies for us. They were very interested in how we celebrated the holiday. I don’t know if we were very convincing informing them about Halloween as we ate very few candies. They must have understood, though, as in the true spirit of the holiday, we were given all of the uneaten sweets to take home with us! — Richard