Celebrating Asian Heritage Month in the stacks: UBC Asian Library provides culturally-specific research support

In celebration of Asian Heritage Month, the UBC Asian Library hosted a panel on May 12 called “Celebrate Learning with Asian Library: Spotlight on Collections and Innovation.” The event was hosted by the head of the Asian Library, Shirin Eshghi Furuzawa, and moderated by Japanese studies librarian Tomoko Kitayama Yen.

Students and alumni detailed their research journeys, the scholarship that they’re involved in and highlighted the Asian Library’s role in their work.

The university’s Asian studies holdings are among the largest in Canada, with a library housing more than 700,000 volumes. Diverse resources range from children’s picture books to films and streaming media, as well as academic publications, novels, comic books and special collections.

The Asian Library’s resources are housed in the Asian Centre. They are exclusively in Asian languages, and feature multilingual librarians and support staff. The library’s goal is to broaden scholarship and knowledge, as well as to contribute to UBC’s equity, diversity, and inclusion goals.

Hanyang Jiang, a PhD candidate in theatre studies, discussed the myriad of ways the library has enabled his research. Jiang noted the importance of going through volumes in-person, comparing the library to a “treasure trove.”

While efforts towards the mass digitization of archival materials offer shortcuts to accessing data, scholars often lose the opportunity to stumble upon non-digitized volumes that have faded out of the public eye into oblivion.

“How many times have I found archives that had not been correctly logged into the library database, and could not be readily accessed by merely entering keywords and clicking search?” said Jiang. When the tech fails, the physical archives and the personal assistance of librarians becomes invaluable.

Lavanya Verma, a Master's of Arts student in Asian studies with research interests in memoirs and women’s diaries in Japan, highlighted how the technologies offered by the library enabled her research. These technologies include educational transcription systems and databases with AI-enabled deciphering functions, which helps her to study early Japanese books with complex handwriting.

Tanzoom Ahmed, an Asian studies PhD with research interests in gender, religious minorities, ethnonationalism and xenophobia in South Asia, highlighted the library’s archival systems. Cross-referencing between distinct cultural mediums, from modern South Asian films to historical letters, is a core part of her research which the library supports.

“I am especially fascinated that a lot of books that are out of print are present in the UBC library,” Ahmed said.

Stanley Leng Hon Chia, a recent master's in history graduate, further discussed how the library enabled his research in public and oral history, Southeast Asian History, Chinese diaspora and Asian-Canadian history.

Along with the library’s extensive newspaper archives, Chia made special note of the interlibrary loan program, which allowed him to borrow different books from partnering university libraries.

“My hope is that you will be inspired to explore the rich array of resources available at the Asian Library,” says Furuzawa.