Collection development, Libraries, East Asian libraries, United States


Much has been written in library literature of late about access and ownership and how libraries should respond organizationally to the new role libraries are developing to meet the dual challenges of pervasive information technology and reduced budgets. There are repeated calls for libraries to give customized service, be intimately aware of users' needs and deliver documents at the point of use. In an article on the efficacy of branch libraries entitled "Organization Misfits," it is posited that departmental (or "branch") libraries, due to their size and flexibility, can provide models for this type of service with little change to their structure or organizational relationships.1 This sort of service and "client-centered" approach, to use the term coined by Charles Martell2 , seems to describe exactly how East Asian branch libraries work in the United States today. They are thus ahead of their time and should be eminently capable of dealing with the age of electronic materials which has just begun to dawn in East Asian collections. American librarians have been debating the benefits of the branch library since Keyes Metcalf introduced the topic in 1950 in his discussion about libraries at Harvard University. He listed the arguments in favor of "decentralizing" (i.e., creating branch or departmental libraries) as: 1. It places the books in convenient locations for those who make the greatest use of them. 2. It broadens the basis of support of the university library system. 3. It gives the various departments a direct interest in their libraries. 4. By breaking down the collections into units by subjects, special library methods can be introduced which give better service at no greater cost. The arguments against decentralization are: 1. Decentralization often results in unnecessary duplication; the various libraries in the biological sciences at Harvard are a good example. 8 2. The policies in departmental libraries may get out of line with those for the university library as a whole, in respect to staff organization, salaries, and book acquisition. 3. Departmental libraries offer a ready opportunity for overdevelopment through the interest and promotional ability of a particular librarian or head of a graduate school. Costs then get out of bounds, and subsequent reduction of expenses is difficult because of the bulk of materials already at hand.3 Although Metcalf expressed his concerns over forty years ago, and well before the first Committee on East Asian Libraries (CEAL) Newsletter began its life as the organ for East Asian library issues, his concerns and many of his arguments are so fresh and pertinent today that the present piece might adapt his title to be called T h e Place of the East Asian Library in a University," a slight alteration from the original title, "The Place of the Library in a University."