Skip to Main Content
Research Guides

Japanese Multi-Volume Sets Discoverability Improvement Project: History

Information about our digitization project where we successfully digitized indices for 156 multi-volume sets to increase access to Japanese language materials.

Project Team

Project Lead:  Azusa Tanaka, University of Washington Libraries

Collaborators:  Hiroyuki Good, University of Pittsburgh & Dr. Daniel McKee, Cornell University

Additional collaborator:  Kazuyo Good, University of Pittsburgh

Original Award from CEAL Mellon Grant:  $50,500 (January 2017 – December 2017)

Supplemental Award from CEAL Mellon Grant:  $2,000 (January – April 2018)

Project History

About this project

Japanese academic resources, particularly multi-volume sets, tend to be prohibitively expensive in comparison to other East Asian publications. After graduating from renowned well-funded universities, young scholars who start their careers at smaller sized institutions without a comparable level of funding immediately face difficulties in accessing necessary resources. To support these researchers, the Japan-United States Friendship Commission in 1992 created the Japanese Multi-Volume Sets (MVS) Grant, which aimed to develop a national collection of Japanese research materials in cooperation between academic libraries of various sizes who would then facilitate the circulation of these materials to all American institutions via inter-library loan. These competitive annual grants were managed by the North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources (NCC), the umbrella organization for Japanese collections in American academic libraries. The MVS grant, which ended after 25 years in 2017, funded more than 45,000 items held in 41 public and private institutions within the United States. Access to these materials were ensured through inter-library loan agreements being a mandatory condition of the grant. However, despite the wealth of materials made available in the United States by the grant, it was difficult for researchers to know the nature of the contents of these MVS, and to specify, for inter-library loan purposes, which volume or reel of a large set might be necessary for their research.

On March 21st, 2013 in San Diego, during the Council on East Asian Libraries (CEAL) committee meeting at the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) annual conference, Japanese studies librarians came together to voice their concerns.  Azusa Tanaka, then Japanese Studies Librarian at the Washington University in St. Louis, organized the meeting for librarians, and also invited Japanese academic publishers and Japanese academic resource distributors. She was pleased to receive positive responses from them and the thirty professionals from Japan who joined the meeting. She divided participants into three groups and urged them to express opinions freely regarding the usability of the MVS collection. There had never been such a group meeting prior, and the meeting notes from the three groups were filled with major challenges and dilemmas. Azusa, and fellow Japanese studies librarians, believed that the best solution for increasing access to MVS collections would be to digitize indexes and tables of contents for these materials as that would allow researchers to specify what volume or reed was needed when making inter-library loan requests. Fortunately, the publishers and distributors also supported the idea. Although there was no significant resolution and no action was taken immediately, Azusa kept in touch with the meeting group members to discuss further plans.

In January 2015, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded $288,000 to CEAL, a Association for Asian Studies committee, to establish a grant program titled “The Mellon Foundation - Council on East Asian Libraries Innovation Grants for East Asian Librarians.” This program enables East Asian studies librarians to undertake projects addressing current and long-term challenges in collection development with the goal of strengthening the foundation for scholarly research in East Asian studies in the United States. Azusa and others recognized this as an opportunity to achieve the digitization goal that would allow the Japanese MVS collection to become accessible worldwide. Hiroyuki Good of University of Pittsburgh, who was also an active participant at the San Diego meeting, rushed to prepare a proposal which he then submitted.  Keiko Suzuki, then Chief Cataloger at Yale University Library, and Daniel Mckee, Japanese Studies Librarian at Cornell University Library and the chair for the NCC-MVS Collection Grants committee at the time, were his collaborators.  His proposal went to the final round, but unfortunately he had to withdraw due to the absence of a university librarian at his institution, which had been planned to be the host of the project.  Later, Ellen Hammond, then CEAL Chair and grant committee chair, asked Daniel Mckee if the group would consider re-submitting the proposal for the second round of grant funding.

Consulting with University of Washington Libraries’ administrators, Azusa, now Japanese studies librarian at the University of Washington, was accepted to be the principal investigator and re-submitted the proposal.  Daniel J. Mckee, Hiroyuki Good and Kazuyo Good, a former ILL specialist at University of Pittsburgh and the co-chair for the NCC-ILL committee at the time, also joined.  Just before the winter break in December 2016, Azusa received the good news that the proposal was met with approval and awarded $52,500.

Japanese Multi-Volume Sets Discoverability Improvement Project:  

The goal of this project was to create an open-access, full-text searchable, online collection of finding aids (indices, user guides, etc.) for Japanese multi-volume sets held in academic libraries in the United States.  Multi-volume sets are ubiquitous in Japan, seen as a standard way to publish academic content.  This format is most frequently used for collected works, but may also be used for reprint editions of scholarly journals, popular periodicals, and etcetera.  These sets represent a vast hidden collection for researchers, since metadata for the content has only been available prior to this project in individual proprietary finding aids and indices created by each publisher. 

The project involved the creation of a compendium of finding aids for 156 multi-volume sets held in academic libraries in the United States. The finding aids were scanned, made searchable using optical character recognition (OCR), and then ingested into University of Washington’s institutional repository, ResearchWorks. Each finding aid was also linked to the OCLC record for the multi-volume set title. As a result, detailed information about each MVS is now discoverable in three ways:  online through the OCLC Worldcat record, in the finding aid collection accessible on the University of Washington’s ResearchWorks site, and by keyword search through any web search engine. 

Project Significance:

This project will greatly enhance the discoverability of the otherwise hidden scholarly content in these sets for users worldwide, but especially in Japan, where all academic libraries own such works, and the United States, where multi-volume set acquisition has been heavily subsidized through a buying program administered by the North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources.  Japanese publishers have been reluctant to allow open access to any intellectual property, so the perseverance of the project team members in obtaining permission to scan and make the content publicly available is noteworthy.  Scholars in Japan, the United States, and other countries where such holdings exist now have the ability to discover the contents of the sets, and will be able to obtain copies in local libraries or through interlibrary loan. The best part of this project was that it was approached with digital humanities in mind. The contents are all searchable due to OCR being applied to all documents.  This means the contents are machine readable, and the users may copy a part, or the entire contents, and use them for creating their own databases, drafting their own data visualizations, and  performing text analyze and mining. All documents are provided under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).


© 2018 Japanese Multi-Volume Sets Discoverability Improvement Project