December 16, 2005 - Representatives from the Harvard College Library (HCL) traveled to Guangzhou, China in mid-November to dedicate an unprecedented donation of about 140,000 books given earlier this year to Sun Yat-sen University.
The books, which cover a range of subjects and were originally part of Radcliffe’s library, are all duplicates of other HCL holdings that became available when Hilles Library was downsized and converted into the Quad Library earlier this year, according to Heather E. Cole, Librarian of Lamont Library.
Harvard sent Cole, Librarian of the Harvard-Yenching Library James K. M. Cheng, and Associate Librarian of Harvard College for Research and Instruction Lynda Leahy to China for the dedication.
The donated collection is held on the fifth floor of a new library built on Sun Yat-sen’s East Campus. The floor’s lobby features panels that explain Hilles’ history and depict Hilles, the Quad, and Cambridge "in a very charming and eloquent way," said Cole.
Cheng said the new building is "gorgeous."
"They have done a very good job arranging the Hilles collection in the new library building," said Cheng.
The dedication ceremony was an "opportunity for each of the Harvard visitors and representatives of the host institution just to offer personal observations...of the gift," said Cole.
"They know perfectly well what a wonderful donation has been made...They deeply appreciate the act of giving," she said.
Harvard librarians travled to China for a dedication ceremony celebrating the donation of 140,000 books to Sun Yat-sen's library. Pictured are: James Cheng, Librarian of the Harvard-Yenching Library; Heather Cole, Librarian of the Lamont Library; Lynda Leahy, Associate Librarian of Harvard College for Research and Instruction; Ru Zhu Chen, Vice President, Sun Yat-sen University; and Professor Huan-wen Cheng, Director of Sun Yat-sen University Library.
While HCL typically gives deaccessioned books to a nonprofit organization that redistributes them to organizations and institutions, HCL librarians realized that the value of this collection came not from the individual books, but from the collection as a whole, according to Beth S. Brainard, HCL’s director of communications.
Cheng was aware of the need for such a collection in Chinese institutions, according to Brainard, and the decision to donate the books to a university in China "just seemed like a very straightforward development along the lines of the ties of friendship that we’ve had for generations," Cole said.
"In the light of Harvard’s commitment to engage more broadly in international scholarship, to increase the opportunities for our students to study abroad, and to better understand other societies and cultures, the gift of this collection from Harvard to [Sun Yat-sen] has created an important bridge," Cline wrote in an e-mail response forwarded to The Crimson by Brainard.
According to Cheng, Sun Yat-sen University was chosen because it was the academic institution in China that could make best use of the material in the Hilles collection.
The donation "will help them tremendously improve their teaching and research programs to the faculty and students in that university," Cheng said.
"You could send the books to Beijing or another prominent university, but they would be likely to have the books already," Cole said.
Though HCL staff has worked to rebuild libraries across the world such as in Bosnia and Iraq, Cole said that, to her knowledge, HCL has not made a donation like this before.
University President Lawrence H. Summers and Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby approved a recommendation to make the gift in early summer 2004, Cole said.
She added that the final agreement was signed in November 2004, and the books were shipped over this summer. Sun Yat-sen paid for packing and shipping of the material from Boston to China, Cheng said.