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The Power of Original
- Japanese & Chinese Classics Online

A New Experiment in the Transmission of Scholarly Information by Waseda University Library

Hideyuki Fujiwara

Japanese & Chinese Classics Online - Top Page

In recent years, many libraries and museums have experimented with digitizing images of their valuable collections and making them available online. A good example would be Digital Library from the Meiji Era created by the National Diet Library, which has collected over 100,000 titles last summer. Undertaking such a project is no simple task. The cost of photographing a large collection is great, and bibliographical information must be appended to the images. For this reason quite a few institutions cannot help but continue to use their existing images (such as microfiche) and limit their digitalization to specific fields. Waseda University Library's KOTENSEKI SOGO DATABASE(Japanese & Chinese Classics Online, KOTENSEKI DB) project (http://www.wul.waseda.ac.jp/kotenseki/) is a ground-breaking experiment in digitizing the entirety of the library's valuable collection.

300,000 high-quality images available online

Owari-no-kuni Gunji Hyakusei-ra Gebumi(The petition of Owari Province in 988)(Important Cultural Property)

For this five-year project that started in April 2005, detailed photos are being taken of all 300,000 or so Japanese and Chinese classics (a wide range of materials including ancient texts, paintings and calligraphy) in the possession of Waseda University Library, and are being made available online along with (bibliographical) information prepared for each piece.

Waseda University Library possesses a number of valuable materials that regularly appear in junior high and high school textbooks such as Owari-no-kuni Gunji Hyakusei-ra Gebumi(The petition of Owari Province in 988), Sugita Genpaku Shouzou(A Portait of Sugita Genpaku), both are Important Cultural Properties. Until now such materials have been searchable only through the library's card catalog or in the specifically edited collection catalogs, leaving little opportunity for them to be known. They have been partially published as microfiche, as facsimile editions and reprints. However, this has been limited to only a part of the library's collection, making it difficult to grasp just how large the collection in the library's possession is. In addition, regarding the collection itself, even university researchers typically have little opportunity to see original pieces except in exhibits, or otherwise hardly coming into notice. This cannot be helped for cultural properties that must be preserved, and limiting viewing and public availability of these items is unavoidable. Institutions have a duty to preserve their collections. However, making them completely unavailable to the public is the same as if they did not exist, and is just hoarding away culture. In order to carefully preserve its collection and offer it to future library visitors just as it is now, the library has come to have two conflicting tasks of preservation and public availability. Thus the KOTENSEKI DB has been constructed as a means of accomplishing these two tasks, so even the aforementioned important cultural properties can be viewed in high-quality images through the database.

Portal Site, 2007 Launch "Japanese History through Library Collection"

With no restriction in principle on access to the image, the information in these materials is equally available from anywhere in the world, and many people already using the database have expressed surprise and joy at the wealth of information and the quality of the images. The wonder and lively feeling of capturing information that usually could not be confirmed without seeing the actual item-such as postscripts, prefaces and other handwritten notes and stamps, all of which reveal the history of individual items, together with their damage. At Library Fair & Forum held in Yokohama in November last year, Waseda University Library set up its own booth, where although just one theme of its promotions was the KOTENSEKI DB, many attendees asked questions about the database's content and how it was made, and offered us their thoughts on it. We have heard from a number of people surprised about being able to see anytime the high-quality images. We as supplier of the information could hardly be more pleased than with such feedbacks.

The Turning Point for the Digitalization of Valuable Texts

Considerable progress has been made in digitizing the collection in the four years since the project began. Of the roughly 300,000 works initially targeted, bibliographical information for 200,000 (over 60,000 titles) has already been made, with half of those fully available with their images, making Waseda University Library's valuable materials available for viewing from anywhere in the world. The works can be directly accessed online through the library's KOTENSEKI DB, or through a search engine such as Google. The same high-quality images and bibliographical information can be seen via either method.

However, we may now be facing a turning point as for the way of presenting the database. No matter how much content is accumulated, lack of use would virtually come down to its nonexistence. It only changes from hoarding the materials in an archive to doing so in a database. It is no different from before when a card catalog or text catalog was used.

Keio University, for example, has begun offering materials for which the copyright protection period has expired at Google Book Search. Although limited to certain fields, this is a valuable experiment in effectively and actively providing information from their collections. It may be necessary for our library to also move away from the present data accumulation method for the KOTENSEKI DB, and adopt a new model that combines accumulation and promotes usage in order to further contribute education and research. No specifics have been announced yet, but consideration is being given to encouraging usage by adding various kinds of information related to the materials in addition to the images and bibliographical data, as well as to adding features for announcing research results. We hope people will notice the further development of the KOTENSEKI DB.

The Power of Original

Shirandou Shingenkaizu(Picture of a New Year's Party at Shirando) (Important Cultural Property)

Waseda University Library has items dating as far back as over 1,000 years ago. When researching such materials, if inspection of the original is possible it is the best. In addition, at exhibitions even the most elaborate reproductions cannot match the intensity of an original copy. You could say that nothing beats the "Power of Original." However, these materials cannot be shown to just anyone at anytime if they are to be passed on to posterity in good condition. Could there be a more effective means than the present one to achieve the contradictory goal of providing current and future users equal access to the collection through the KOTENSEKI DB?

Waseda University's first Library Director, Ichishima Shunjo(Kenkichi), who built the basis of the modern Japanese library, used to say "Fukakuzoushite Munashikigagotoshi," which usually means "to hide something away so that it cannot be seen." While he vigorously gathered materials, if we talk about Director Ichijima's dislike of hoarding away the collection and his policy of making it as open to the public as possible, we can infer the meaning to be "To hide something away is the same as if it did not exist. Making it available to the public gives it meaning." This is exactly the way we are thinking now.

We hope to make announcements on research results as well as attract more people to use the KOTENSEKI DB. In addition, we would be happy to receive your comments and thoughts on the database itself and on us, the people who created it.

Hideyuki Fujiwara
Manager, Special Collections & Waseda Project for Japanese & Chinese Classics Online(Waseda University Library)

Born in 1963. Completed a master's course at Waseda University's Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Specialty in Japanese history (ancient history and research of historical records). "Essays of Shunjo Ichishima" (Ichishima Shunjou Zuihitsushyuu) commentary and explanatory notes (Kress), "A Study about "Kakushi", a Way of Signature of Illiterate Person (Kakushi no Kenkyuu) ("Shikan" 142), "On'Ino-zu' collected by the Waseda Universitiy Library" (Waseda Daigaku Toshokan Shozou Inouzu [Oozu]) ("Bulletin of Waseda University Library" [Waseda Daigaku Toshokan Kiyou] 54), etc.