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 Dignitaries, donors, and guests gathered in front of the new C.V. Starr East Asian Library on Saturday to dedicate the $46.4 million structure that will house the campus's collection of books, maps, artwork, and other objects from East Asia. (Peg Skorpinski photo)

East Asian Library dedicated: A hub for researchers and students
'With effort, a dragon; without effort, a worm' said a key donor of the effort to construct a home for the campus's far-flung holdings

| 24 October 2007

Some 500 scholars and donors from around the world gathered with campus faculty and staff on Saturday, Oct. 20, for private ceremonies to dedicate the C.V. Starr East Asian Library/Chang-Lin Tien Center for East Asian Studies. The Starr Library is the first freestanding library in the United States constructed exclusively for an East Asian collection. Scheduled to formally open its doors in early 2008, the facility occupies a prominent, central-campus location next to Memorial Glade and Doe Library, reflecting Berkeley's role as a worldwide Pacific Rim hub for students and researchers of East Asian studies.

Cloudy skies cleared in time for the spectacular dedication, which was highlighted by lion dancers, Asian music, self-guided tours of the new library ... and, of course, remarks from dignitaries.

As one of the few such facilities in the world, said Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, the new library "will elevate Berkeley's preeminence in research and scholarly exchanges with friends and colleagues throughout the Pacific Rim." Three chancellors, in fact, along with "a tireless development staff and two wonderful architects," deserve credit for their contributions to the funding and construction of the Starr Library, said Florence Davis, president of the Starr Foundation, which made an $8 million cornerstone gift to the library.

The library is named for the late Cornelius Vander Starr, an early-20th-century Berkeley undergraduate and an insurance pioneer with a deep interest in Asia.


Large bronze screens, cast in China, adorn three sides of the East Asian Library. (Jonathan Reo photo)
 

In the 1980s, Berkeley faculty working in fields relating to East Asia initiated the push for a new East Asian library, as campus facilities had inadequate space and conditions for the collections, says David Johnson, a history professor who specializes in Chinese popular culture. Johnson praised the new library as a symbol of Berkeley's stepped-up commitment to East Asian studies.

"We've had one of the world's greatest collections on China, Japan, and Korea in buildings sadly inadequate for its ongoing storage and care," Johnson says. "Now we'll have crucial pieces of our collection all together in one place."

The new library's treasures - among them more than 900,000 volumes of primarily Chinese, Japanese, and Korean materials including woodblock prints, rare maps and scrolls, contemporary political posters, and Buddhist scriptures - will begin an elaborate move into their state-of-the-art, four-story, granite and concrete home in the weeks following the dedication. These objects have long been scattered across campus, often stored in less than ideal conditions.

The 68,000-gross-square-foot library was designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, whose creativity was noted by many speakers, including University Librarian Tom Leonard, who praised them for meeting the campus challenge "to build a home suitable for everything from the inscribed oracle bones that 3,000 years ago gave birth to Chinese writing to the latest digital version of Godzilla."

The Starr Foundation's lead gift was pivotal in the project's fundraising success, with significant support coming as well from a group of donors who collectively contributed in excess of $6 million to honor former Berkeley Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien, a distinguished engineer and scholar who in 1990 became the first Asian American chancellor of a major U.S. research university. He died in 2002.

The library's stunning design includes large bronze screens, cast in China, that adorn three sides of the building's exterior. Inside, a ceiling skylight distributes soft light throughout the structure and down a hanging staircase that stretches from the top to bottom floors. A stunning and airy reading room overlooks Observatory Hill, while a large window on the second floor offers a view of a small pool of round river stones on an outside rooftop.

Where East and West converge

When it's opened to the campus community next year, the new library will offer more than just a new home for books and documents. The facility will be a "knowledge hub to support scholastic research, exchanges of ideas, and discoveries of new insights," says Coleman Fung, who donated $5 million for the new library's Coleman Fung Media Center, which will have links to public and private databases in Japan, Korea, and China that relate to the humanities and social sciences. "It will become a key conduit where the East and the West converge, where cultural gaps can be turned into educational opportunities and bridged accordingly."

Patricia Berger, chair of the Department of Art History, says faculty members are excited about the new art-history seminar room, with its state-of-the-art projection capabilities and easy access to large-size books in the collection. The East Asian Library's art-history collection has been housed in recent years in the basement of California Hall, which is inaccessible in the evenings and on weekends, she adds.

The library is expected to meet the research and teaching needs of the more than 70 Berkeley scholars who teach more than 200 courses concerning East Asia to some 5,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The campus's programs in East Asian studies have been ranked first in the nation by the U.S. Department of Education, and Berkeley awards the most doctorates nationwide to students specializing in the region. Nearly 700 visiting Asian faculty and scholars are hosted on campus at any given time, while Berkeley has international-exchange agreements with a dozen institutions in Asia.

Pauline Yu, a scholar of classical Chinese poetry who has used Berkeley's East Asian collection for her research, participated in last week's lineup of dedication events. Yu, president of the American Council of Learned Societies, says the library will attract scholars from around the world and be a model for other universities.

"Berkeley has provided a stirring example of how the sustained effort of a university's leadership, librarians, and faculty can engage philanthropists, foundations, and corporations to create a resource of global significance," she said.