October 17, 2012

Chinese Librarians Travel to Ithaca For Internship With Cornell Library

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The Cornell Library’s Department of Preservation and Conservation will host library staff from four different Chinese academic libraries to teach them about western book binding preservation techniques.

Beginning in November, two staff members from each of four institutions — Renmin University Library, Peking University Library, Tsinghua University Library and the China Agricultural University Library — will participate in the program.

Funded by a $180,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, a New York State non-profit that provides educational grants, the eight interns will visit Cornell for six-week periods of instruction by Cornell librarians over the course of the 2012-13 academic year.

Over the course of their time at Cornell, interns will study the historical evolution of books and learn techniques for repairing bindings on western books, caring for library collections, properly displaying library exhibits, preserving collections in the event of a disaster and more.

Although the librarians are familiar with the preservation of rare Chinese books, they are generally less well-trained in the conservation of western books, which use a different type of book binding, according to Barbara Berger Eden, director of preservation for the Cornell Library.

“We’re very adept at safe exhibition practices where we do no harm to the original objects, and after conducting a needs assessment [study] in China I observed that Cornell could share its expertise in this area,” Eden said.

The internship is similar to a program the library hosted in the mid-1990s in collaboration with libraries in Southeast Asia, Eden said.

“The department has a commitment of training and education done locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Our mission is to continue this type of training,” she said.

Eden said she hopes that the Chinese libraries that send staff members to participate in Cornell’s internship program will subsequently develop comprehensive preservation programs for their collections. She added that she would also like to see the interns follow a “train the trainers” model — that participants will use what they learn at Cornell to help other libraries in China similarly improve their preservation methods.

Xin Li, associate University librarian for central library operations, added that the participants might also train librarians from other countries in collection preservation techniques.

“If we can help a few countries that have the biggest collections and train them to train [librarians in] other countries, we are having a huge impact for the well-being of [library collections in] the future,” Li said.

Li added that the recent emphasis on online resources has siphoned focus away from the preservation of physical books.

“With the digital age, more and more [physical resources] are disappearing,” she said, emphasizing the importance of continued conservation of tactile collections.

The program will continue with a second component that will take place over the 2013-14 academic year: The Cornell Library’s preexisting online preservation tutorial, written in 2000, will be brought up to date and modernized with videos and interactive options, Eden said. It will also be translated into Chinese.

Li said the program is indicative of the ways in which technology now allows libraries throughout the world to network with one another better than ever before.

“In the past, networking beyond borders was not possible. Now, education and research are really global activities,” Li said.

Li noted that establishing networks with other libraries expands access to content and assistance for Cornell students and faculty. She said she hopes that one day Asian libraries could reciprocate by teaching American library staff how to better repair and preserve the bindings on eastern-made books.

“[Exchange programs] are a way to continue building relationships by giving something to them that they need, and in return they will help us get what we need,” Li said.

Original Author: Dara Levy