Get the latest articles and downloads sent to your inbox in a monthly newsletter.

Get the latest articles and downloads sent to your inbox in a monthly newsletter.

Inside East Asian librarianship: managing information and cultural collections

By Patrick Lo, University of Tsukuba, Japan | Aug 29, 2019


Cultural institutions, such as galleries, librarians, archives and museums (known collectively as GLAMs) began mainly as collecting organizations with a mandate to both preserve valuable primary and secondary sources and make them accessible to researchers, scholars, students and the general public.


In the past few decades, the nature of East Asian librarianship has undergone drastic change on both social and professional levels. According to Asato (2009)1, East Asian studies librarians are usually solo librarians who oversee small but expensive collections of East Asian materials in small- to medium-size academic or research institutions.  In a typical East Asian studies library, the librarian or curator has a background in East Asian studies; Chinese, Japanese and Korean (CJK) languages; history; or a similar field. “Twenty years ago, East Asian Studies librarians were often sequestered in branch libraries and their methods of acquisitions, cataloguing and user services (reference and instruction) were not those of their mainstream colleagues” (Troost, 2009)2.  Today, training and cooperation have become key professional elements for many East Asian librarians. 


The current generation of East Asian librarians not only organize and teach highly specialized knowledge in different areas of East Asian Studies, but also see a growing emphasis on developing other knowledge and skills, including information literacy, creation of digital resources, awareness of digital humanities, new forms of document delivery and exchange services, grant writing, and fundraising.  An open attitude toward international collaboration is also highly desirable.


In archives, galleries and museums, the librarians manage preservation and access of history and culture; meanwhile, the missions and goals of their cultural institutions continue to converge.  In the past decades, museums and art galleries have seized the opportunity to take on new roles and responsibilities, including stimulating a new knowledge- and cultural-based economy, raising civic pride, and positioning cities as tourist destinations. This has created new challenges for communities to engage in cross-cultural and cross-issue communication in a variety of formats.





[1] Asato, N. (2009). LIS education and the changing face of East Asian librarianship. Asia-Pacific Conference on Library & Information Education & Practice, 2009, pp. 38-44.


[2] Troost, K. (2009). The state of the field of East Asian librarianship. Journal of East Asian Librarianship, No. 149, pp. 1-4.





The author's new book, Inside the World’s Major East Asian Collectionsexplores new professional, sociocultural and educational issues within GLAMs focused on East Asian Studies. It includes a foreword by Jean-Louis Bruguès, director of the Vatican Apostolic Library, and interviews with 38 leading GLAM practitioners from around the world who specialise in East Asian collections. This book is a celebration of how GLAM professionals contribute to their communities as well as to society on an international level.



Library Connect is pleased to offer our readers a series of downloadable PDFs of chapters from the book: