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Eastern Starr

September 17, 2009
by Deborah Rudolph
open book Image source: Image from Impressions of the East, Courtesy of East Asian Library

Berkeley’s East Asian Library finally has a home of its own.

With the opening of the Chang-Lin Tien Center for East Asian Studies this fall, Berkeley’s massive East Asian Library collections will be reunited for the first time in decades. Numbering more than 900,000 volumes, Berkeley’s collection is one of the three largest in the country, as well as being among the oldest, dating back to the end of the 1800s. Until now, though, it has never been housed in a building designed just for it, as the C.V. Starr East Asian Library will be.

In 1872, just four years after the university’s founding, Edward Tompkins, a perspicacious San Francisco lawyer, endowed the first chair for the study of Asian languages and literature to help prepare California for a growing trade with the East. As the department grew, it accreted written works—sometimes steadily through exchanges with Asian institutions, sometimes by great leaps as private libraries were donated to the university. By the mid-1930s, Berkeley’s East Asian collection was the most extensive this side of Chicago. And in 1947, for the first time, Berkeley’s collection was consolidated officially as the East Asiatic Library (renamed East Asian Library in 1991) and given the building that had previously been Boalt Hall. As the collection continued to expand, however, it was no longer possible to house it all within a single space.

Although plans for a new, dedicated building were considered, it wasn’t until Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien’s enthusiasm provided the necessary impetus in the mid-1990s that the project moved forward. The new C.V. Starr East Asian Library (named for Cornelius Vander Starr ’52, whose Starr Foundation made the first major donation toward the library’s building) will not only reunite the East Asian collections, it will merge them with the Center for Chinese Studies Library.

To mark the occasion, Heydey Books has published Impressions of the East by Deborah Rudolph, senior editor at the East Asian Library. The book presents selections from the library’s rare book collection, highlighting each work’s unique place in the technological or cultural development of publishing in Asia.

From the November December 2007 New Media issue of California.

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