Book in Focus
The Theory and Practice of the East Asian Library"/>
  • "[Second Thoughts on Capitalism and the State is a] profoundly reflective book shows a pathway forward for academics and activists alike who are stymied by the disconnect between deep critical scholarship and emancipatory social change, yet who will still not give up the good fight."

    - Professor Diane E. Davis, Harvard University

22nd February 2023

Book in Focus
The Theory and Practice of the East Asian Library

A Marginal Science

By Hong Cheng


East Asia is increasingly a hot spot in the world! Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, people have always paid much attention to East Asia. At the eye of a typhoon, it affects the rest of the world even if the region itself remains calm on the surface. A better and more accurate understanding of East Asia is not only essential to its people but also to the rest of the world. Obviously, this understanding needs to be built on solid and unbiased research within East Asian studies. In supporting such research, East Asian libraries make for comprehensive research resources on the region, and this potential influence on East Asian studies should not be underestimated. Therefore, my research is not just focused on the field of the East Asian library, it also extends to East Asian studies and to anyone who cares about the future of the region and the entire world.

The East Asian library is a category of academic library specializing in East Asian resources but is located outside of the area. As part of the academic library system in higher education, the East Asian library has three distinguishing features: a focus on a geographic region rather than specific disciplines, the possession of a collection of resources in East Asian language scripts rather than Latin scripts, and being operating as a relatively independent unit rather than a departmentalized function. The primary purpose of my research is to systematically unveil the theory and practice of the East Asian library for the first time.

In presenting a comprehensive coverage from its theoretical models to practical operations, the structure of this research includes twelve interactive chapters. In addition to the first chapter, which introduces the definition and features of the East Asian library as the research object, and the last chapter, which concludes the research findings and explores its prospects, the other ten chapters can be categorized into three parts.

1) Overview of the Theory

This part, namely Chapters 2-4, covers aspects of the East Asian library that are unprecedented in research. Stepping into this area of theoretical study, it is a challenge to establish a convincing theoretical model that supplements the field.

Chapter 2 reviews historical and current theoretical models in East Asian and library studies, further summarizing the theoretical models of the East Asian library. It argues that these models are related to and influenced by the academic field of East Asian studies and the professional field of library services, but its particular characteristics make this model distinctive.

Chapter 3 examines the geographic domains and academic disciplines that the East Asian library serves and are based on historical contexts rather than any political or nationalist consideration. This approach may be controversial to some, but any criticism or correction aimed at the historical truths it purports is welcome.

Chapter 4 explores the historical transformation of the East Asian library stage by stage. This transformation reflects the changes of global society and the academic world, as well as the fundamental external and internal factors in shaping the East Asian library.

2) Anatomy of the Practice

Chapters 5-9 analyze the practice and operation of the East Asian library, systematically anatomizing each section or function of it. This part simplifies what other scholars and colleagues have concluded, focusing on some areas that are untouched or otherwise too sensitive to discuss. This part of the research includes two sub-sections with different perspectives, with Chapters 5-7 also including an emphasis on library functions and Chapters 8-9 a focus on human factors.

Chapter 5 touches on the core of the East Asian library, examining its collections and resources, whilst discussing some sensitive issues involving collection policy, intellectual property rights, censorship, and more. Some opinions, such as involution, could lead to a debate in the field.

Chapter 6 focuses on metadata and standard issues, with an emphasis on the connection between the East Asian library and the general library system. As a marginal field, it is a challenging for it to find an acceptable position within pre-existing library standards.

Chapter 7 discusses the relationship between library services and technology in the East Asian library, focusing on the influence of artificial intelligence (AI) and exploring the future direction of public service.

Chapter 8 emphasizes the importance of human factors. The chapter details some common issues for library professionals, including pertinent contemporary issues such as equity, diversity and inclusion.

Chapter 9 deals with the key issue of leadership and management. The chapter further analyzes the position of management in academic and/or professional fields, especially within the East Asian library, and how this is influenced by East Asian culture.

3) Network of the Profession

Chapters 10-11 extend the research to important areas outside of the East Asian library.

Chapter 10 introduces the associations and foundations related to the field, which have huge influence on the East Asian library’s research projects and collections. This chapter also raises some critical issues that have prompted organizations to rethink their approaches.

Chapter 11 further extends observation to education and communication related to the East Asian library. These areas are not necessarily under the remit of specific organizations, but they can always benefit the East Asian library by making it operate smoothly and effectively. No matter whether it is formal or informal, education and communication should not be overlooked.

As a conclusion to the book, Chapter 12 deals with the uncertainty related to the East Asian library. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world greatly, and a number of East Asian libraries have fallen into financial or organizational instability. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, uncertainty has increased. As a substantial danger lies in misinterpreting and misunderstanding East Asia, which itself could derail and even destroy the world, this research wishes to remind everyone, from world leaders to ordinary peace-loving people, of the extraordinary importance and high sensitivity of East Asia and East Asian studies, for which the East Asian library provides an authentic and authoritative research foundation.

Glocalism is a theoretical model summarized from research on the East Asian library, which is a compromise between Globalism and Deglobalism. Its emergence signals the turning point from Globalism to Deglobalism, but it could be an alternative to both. The Glocalism of the East Asian library empowers local development with a general global vision. As Deglobalism is raised on the world stage, the Glocalist model of the East Asian library shows flexibility and adjustability. Deglobalism is certainly on the opposite site of Globalism, but Glocalism might be able to work with both. However, this research does not intend to predict the future of the East Asian library, rather it is merely to emphasize the certainty of uncertainty. Uncertainty is a challenge, a crisis, and an opportunity, but it is mixed with disappointment and hope: to the world, to East Asia, to East Asian studies, and certainly to the East Asian library.

This research won the 2022 PRRLA Karl Lo Award selected by the Pacific Rim Research Libraries Alliance (PRRLA). PRRLA is an international organization of the academic libraries surrounding the Pacific, including the academic libraries in Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States.


Hong Cheng received his PhD and MA in History and his MLIS in Library and Information Science from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in addition to an MA and BA in History from Fudan University, China. He has been the Chinese Studies Librarian at UCLA since 2005, having previously served as the Library Director of the Art Institute of California at Los Angeles. He is currently the President of the Council on East Asian Libraries in North America and the President of the Southern California Chapter of the Chinese American Librarians Association. With research interests in historical philosophy, modern and contemporary Chinese socio-economic and cultural history, and the theory of library science, he is the author and co-compiler of a number of academic monographs and research papers, including some award-winning and peer-reviewed publications.


The Theory and Practice of the East Asian Library: A Marginal Science is available now at a 25% discount. Enter code PROMO25 to redeem.

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