An Interview with James Cheng, former Director of the Harvard-Yenching Library

December 16, 2020

Ruohong
Thank you so much, Director Cheng, for sitting down with me. First of all, congratulations to you on all of the great accomplishments you have achieved during your two-decade tenure as Director of the Harvard-Yenching library.

Looking back at your directorship at the library for 22 years, could you share with us a few changes and developments that took place at the Library? And, could you also kindly share with us your career path as well?

James
Well, first of all, let’s talk about the changes in the last 20 years. The biggest change during that period is the advance of technology. Email, and then the electronic resources and then everything being automated etc., those are the major developments that took place among the libraries.

Regarding my career path, I am a librarian and was trained as an East Asian Studies Librarian, and have been a librarian for my entire life. I graduated from a joint program in East Asian Studies and librarianship at the University of Chicago, and ever since then, I have worked for only three academic libraries all my life. I began my career at the University of Chicago. After graduating from the joint program, I was fortunate to succeed my professor, Professor Qian Cunxun (銭存訓, 1910-2015), and became the director of the East Asian Library at University of Chicago, and then worked there for 12 years. I came to the field of East Asian librarianship at a fairly early age. I became the curator of the East Asian Library of the University of Chicago when I was 27. My peers at that time included Richard Howard at Cornell University and later at the Library of Congress, my predecessor at the Harvard-Yenching Library, Eugene Wu (吴文津), Wei-ying Wan (萬惟英)  of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and Karl Lo (盧國邦) at the University of Washington and then University of California at San Diego. Most of them have either passed away or have become quite old now.

After the University of Chicago, I went to University of California in Los Angles, and I spent twelve years at its Richard C. Rudolph East Asian Studies Library. In 1998, I came to the Harvard-Yenching Library and I have stayed on here for 22 years. This is my very straightforward career path.

Ruohong
Could you share with us a couple of your most memorable moments at the Yenching Library?

James
Yes, I do have quite a few memorable moments at the Yenching Library, but those are not my moments. I always say that I am very fortunate in my life because in every place where I worked, the three places where I worked, I had wonderful colleagues, so from that experience, I always say that everything I do has come out of team effort. We have done — I would not be modest — we have done quite a bit at HYL, and I credit all this to the work of my colleagues. I am fortunate to be part of the team.

Ruohong
You are very modest. You have indeed accomplished a whole lot in the library as we all who use library regularly can see. Thank you very much.

I am going to ask the next question on behalf of our large community of the Harvard-Yenching Institute’s visiting scholars and fellows, together with my colleagues here at the Institute. We all owe you a huge thank you, James, for your care, dedication and special support to our Institute’s visiting scholars and fellows from Asia.

Every year, in our exit survey from our visiting scholars/ fellows, they unanimously express that doing research at Harvard Libraries, especially the Harvard-Yenching library, is the most valuable and beneficial experience during their research stay at the Institute and the University. And HYI affiliates will continue using the library resources for their teaching and research. Now, as you are stepping down from the directorship of the Library, what message would you like to share with our affiliates, former as well as current scholars and fellows whom you have worked with all those years?

James
During all these years, every year we usually organize three meetings with the visiting scholars and fellows of the Institute. The first one is held in September when they have just arrived at Harvard. And then, after almost a semester, we have another meeting in January to seek their feedback and suggestions. And then the last one is in May before they head home. So, as a matter of fact, this evening, we will have another follow-up meeting with the current visiting scholars and fellows to see how they are doing with the Library’s collections and services. This year, they could not come to the US because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since they are all based in Asia as remote scholars, we have to meet with HYI scholars and fellows in the evening (Eastern Standard Time in the US) due to the time difference.

The last meeting with the HYI affiliates towards the end of their research stay is an opportunity for us to seek suggestions on enhancing the Library’s collections and improving its services. We also ask them about any support we can continue to provide after they return home. It is gratifying for me to learn that HYI scholars and fellows almost unanimously said that they will miss Harvard Library and miss the Library’s collection most. At the final feedback meeting, I always tell HYI affiliates: now we have got to know each other — you have got to know us and we have got to know you — and after a one-year stay, you have now known what the HY library has in terms of journals, and books, and all sorts of research materials. So, even after you have gone back to your home institution, if you need anything from the library, please feel free to let us know and we will honor as many of your requests as possible. And if you have questions about research materials, now that you know our Yenching Library bibliographers and our Librarians, feel free to contact us, and we will try to continue to serve you. I always make this announcement, and I will do the same this evening and tell the affiliates that, as a Chinese saying tells us: we need each other once and we are friends forever.

Ruohong
Thank you very much, James. Our scholars and fellows would really appreciate this. And I’m sure they will continue turning to you and your colleagues for help, and we all here at the Harvard-Yenching Institute are also deeply appreciative of your continued support.

As you know, the Library faculty advisory committee will start looking for your successor in a few months, so help us look at the future of the Harvard-Yenching Library. Looking ahead, could you help us envision the Yenching Library in the next 10 years? What would you really like to see happen to the library in the next decade?

James
The library will change quite a bit during this transitional period. The Harvard-Yenching Library is a good East Asian library with solid collections. We always think that there are two things that define a good and great library: collections and services.

For a library, first of all, we need to have a solid foundation in East Asian Studies materials, and then we’ll try as hard as possible to offer first-rate personalized service to scholars, researchers, to faculty as well as students. So, I think what we need to do in the next 10 years lies in technology. Technology is growing so fast while the East Asian Libraries basically remain print-oriented and still consist of print based collections, thus we must change with the times and introduce more electronic resources, database sets, and eBooks and digitized materials to the Harvard-Yenching Library. That’s the number one priority. Number two is concerning services, which is not something that we need to make a change to, but something that we need to continue to enhance. Because of the changes of technology, the method of delivering these services should change accordingly. In brief, we need to keep in mind these two things that will affect the Harvard-Yenching Library in the next 10 years.

Ruohong
Yes, these are really important. One thing I have often thought about is how to strike a balance between the rare books collection which is preserved and conserved in a traditional way and digital materials that are also expanding rapidly nowadays. Could you share your thoughts about how you would balance the importance of digital scholarship and the rare books which are a very important part of the library’s collections?

James
Indeed, we should not just say that we need to spend money and resources and our efforts on technology. Technology is, of course, important, but what is also important is the nature of East Asian Studies, still basically a print-based discipline. We will continue to strengthen our print materials collection and then make the balance between print and electronic, both of which are equally important. East Asian Library cannot be entirely electronic and digital, but, again it should not continue to be purely print based materials like before either, so the key is to keep a balance between these two.

About the rare books collection, it is a very special case for the Harvard-Yenching Library. Our library has the very best, largest Chinese, Japanese, and Korean rare books collection outside of Asia. Yes, they are rare books, and they are indeed important, but if we don’t digitize them and make them available in the digital and electronic format to scholars worldwide, what’s so good about having these special collections? We have been raising money from outside and using present technology to make those rare, specialized and unique materials available, make them known and accessible to scholars, not only to faculty, students and researchers at Harvard, but to scholars around the world.

Ruohong
Yes, as Bill Comstock, Head of Image Services at Widener Library, mentioned at your virtual farewell party, he really enjoyed working with you all these years to make those voluminous Rare Books available digitally for scholars around the world. And a couple years ago, the announcement of the accomplishment of the 10-year digitization project for the Yenching Library’s rare books was widely circulated among Chinese scholars and brought sensation to the scholarly community. Everybody was overjoyed to see that the Yenching Library’s rare books are now available digitally to scholars no matter where they are. That’s wonderful!

James
We are very happy and truly proud that we were able to accomplish that project. We finished digitizing 4,200 titles in 60,000 volumes of Chinese rare books. It took us almost 10 years to finish it, and now we are just beginning to move on to digitize Japanese and Korean rare books.

The Harvard-Yenching Library is also very fortunate to have the largest Japanese and Korean rare book collections. Since most of them are written in Chinese characters, it is not a problem for our staff to handle them as we have accumulated more than 10 years of experiences from undertaking digitization projects. And for our colleagues in the digital imaging services of Widener Library, Bill Comstock is outfit to handle them already. We are now in a three-year plan that was approved by the Harvard-Yenching Institute and the Library’s faculty advisory committee, because these materials still belong to the Harvard-Yenching Institute. And we are now in Year Two of this three-year project to digitize Japanese and Korean rare books, but due to the pandemic, we cannot work in the library in person, and all these operations have stopped since March 2020. We hope that we could get back to the Library and resume our normal operation soon. It has been a great pleasure for the Yenching Library staff and me myself to work with the colleagues at digital imaging services, and we are also very fortunate that Harvard Library in this area has the largest staff and the most up-to-date technology in the world; the university has abundant resources available, including cutting-edge equipment and facilities, and staff expertise in digitization. The Digital Imaging Service has the most advanced equipment, facilities and staff to digitize our rare collections, photographs, manuscripts and scrolls and things like that.

Ruohong
Yes, indeed, they are simply the best in the world.

James
Let’s go back to say again that this is all teamwork.

Ruohong
The library is now in the middle of digitizing Chinese local Gazetteers (中国珍稀旧方志), right?

James
Again, we are very fortunate that we’re so strong in our collection of Chinese local gazetteers. We have one of the four largest Chinese local gazetteers collections in the United States, the others being at the Library of Congress, the University of Chicago and Columbia University. As for which one is the largest among these four, there are many versions of the account, but I never wanted to waste my time and energy to argue about which library is number two, so on and so forth. However, we do have one of the largest Chinese local gazetteer collections in the West. The Chinese local gazetteers are the basic research materials for scholars, no matter whether they are in literature, or history, or sociology, the local gazetteers are the major records for original research. So, we decided to digitize all the rare Chinese local gazetteers in cooperation with Zhejiang University (Hangzhou, China) and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Beijing, China).

We have many, many good editions of the regular local gazetteers that were published before 1949. We are now in the process of digitizing them. Our goal is to digitize most of the major titles and make them available for scholars around the world to use. Just a couple of days ago, I received a proposal from Professor Xu Yongming, from Zhejiang University, to request to use some of our digital images on Chinese literature from our Chinese rare books collection so that he could enhance it with OCR (Optical character recognition) technology, and then develop a tool to benefit scholars worldwide.

As librarians, what we are doing is to raise funding to digitize our materials and then to make the digital images available to scholars. To achieve this, we need to rely upon the latest technology, OCR technology. The technology is becoming better and better every year, and new tools are constantly being developed.

Ruohong
Yes, Professor Xu Yongming is one of our visiting scholars from Zhejiang University. I think currently he’s leading a major database project at Zhejiang University. When will the Chinese local gazetteers digitization project be completed – in the next two or three years, perhaps?

James
No, our collection is so big that the whole project will probably need to take about 10 to 15 years!

Ruohong
Wow, I see. So, it’s a long-term project.

James
A long-term project indeed. Whoever comes to Yenching Library to succeed me, I earnestly hope that the new director will continue this kind of project.

Ruohong
That’s great to know. Do you know if the Library of Congress and the University of Chicago are also doing digitization projects for their Chinese local Gazetteers collection?

James
I think that each of the major East Asian libraries is doing some, but not on the scale as we are doing here at the Yenching library. The Library of Congress always claims they have the best collection, and they are Number One. Really, I never in my whole life waste any time to fight to decide who is number one. People will know.

Ruohong
Now, let me move on to the next question, which is about the changes that have been made to the Harvard-Yenching library under your leadership. 22 years ago, in 1998, when you arrived at Harvard, we just started to use email and the Internet, and the Yenching Library still used paper slips to record book circulation information. And I remember vividly, as a graduate student, every time I went to the library to check out books, I needed to fill out the duplicate yellow slip and white slip, one by one by hand. And back then, there was no such thing as online request and delivery service. Reflecting on these years, when did it dawn on you that we really needed to make a fundamental change to that old, messy and outdated library system? And how did the crucial moment arrive for the Yenching Library to make the change at the turn of the 21st century?

James
Email and internet came naturally to the library, and we adopted those technologies accordingly. What you mentioned about the yellow and white slips and filling out these cards is a thing of the past. We have discarded our entire physical card catalog, because we have automated all our collections — Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tibetan, Manchu, Mongolian and everything — which involve about 800,000 bibliographic records. The catalog system for this huge collection has been automated. By OCLC and HOLLIS, everything has been available online, and everybody from around the world has already known for quite a while about the Harvard-Yenching Library’s Collections. Ever since the OCLC and HOLLIS system started, the usage of the library collections is becoming bigger and bigger because we not only serve faculty, students and scholars at Harvard, but also serve researchers from around the world, and indeed, the Harvard-Yenching Library has the third largest collection among the 72 libraries in Harvard, right after Widener Library and Harvard Law School Library.

This year, due to the pandemic, the Harvard Libraries have been closed since March, so a large number of books have been returned. Now the figures of returned books have come out, and we learned that the Harvard-Yenching Library has the third largest circulation of the books among all university libraries.

However, in today’s automated environment, numbers are not as important any more. In fact, the most important are what we have in the collections and how to try our best to make them known and accessible to scholars, so again, here come my two guiding principles for a good library: collections and services.

Ruohong
What I’m also interested to learn is some details about the fundamental changes that took place at the Library, the change from the old traditional way of card cataloging and the slow checking out system to the online digitalized services that took place under your leadership. When did you realize that we had to make fundamental changes to modernize the library for the 21st century?

James
Before I came to the Harvard-Yenching Library 22 years ago, I already knew that we needed to modernize the old library system and that we needed to adopt new technology. But changes were not easy because of the people. When you are dealing with a generation of older people — I’m not implying age discrimination or what not, but it’s the fact — who were not used to these changes. And they were not trained for new technology. As a manager of a library, I need to be sensitive about these attitudes and these shortcomings. And then, whenever opportunities arise, I’ll bring in new blood, new people, and they come naturally with a good attitude, more receptive to changes and new technology. As you may remember, Eugene Wang said at my farewell gathering yesterday that if my health is still good, he suggested that I should change my mind and stay on.

Ruohong
Right, he tried to persuade you to stay on.

James
But I am getting old. After having been working at the Harvard-Yenching Library for 22 years, I should step aside and make room for new blood to come in. That is how the library continues to thrive. That is my philosophy.

Ruohong
As I understand, the changes taking place in the library in the early years of your directorship didn’t happen overnight. Did it take a couple of years to change the traditional card cataloging system to the digital format in the HOLLIS?

James
It took me exactly seven years to clear up the backlog at the Yenching Library. After I came, clearing the backlog became my top priority. And when the backlog was cleared, we started to know exactly what we had in the collections, and in which areas we should continue to develop, and in which areas we should make efforts to improve. And, also after the backlog was cleared, I began to make efforts to re-organize the rare books collection.

Speaking of the re-organization of the Rare Books collection, we did require a special set of expertise and knowledge, but, unfortunately, our staff at the Yenching Library did not have that kind of expertise or knowledge. I reviewed this and then decided to bring up the Visiting Librarian program to help the Library take care of the Rare Books Collection.

Ruohong
This is indeed a wonderful program and a great initiative you came up with at the right moment!

James
I went to the major university libraries in China — Beida, Tsinghua, Fudan, Nanda, Zhongshan, Zhejiang, Wuhan, Xiamen — and rated their rare books collection. I invited their rare books cataloguers to come to help us catalog the Rare Book Collection. Along with that, I also gave the visiting Librarians opportunities to work on some research projects of their own so that they can have some of their own publications as a result of participating in this program. This program leads us to undertake digitization projects. So, the digitization projects and the visiting Librarians program are closely intertwined.

Ruohong
That is wonderful to know. I didn’t realize that these two programs are actually connected. Can you share some background information on how the visiting librarian project led you to start up the digitization projects at the Yenching Library?

James
From 1973 to 1975, I worked for the Association of Research Libraries in Washington, D.C.  We were located quite close to the Chinese Embassy. In evenings or on weekends, I often saw small groups of young men and women coming from the Embassy visiting the grocery stores looking at what was being sold there and comparing their prices. I was quite impressed by this experience. Returning to continue my East Asian Librarianship program at the University of Chicago, I often thought that we as librarians can model upon this Chinese experience to train young librarians from China. I started the visiting librarian program at Chicago with librarians from Japan. The main reason was financial: only Japanese libraries at that time could send their young librarians out to the United States; China was too poor to do the same at that time. When I moved to UCLA in 1986, I started the visiting librarian program there by inviting colleagues in Chinese academic libraries to come to UCLA to help us process and catalog a large number of catalogs to make these materials known and accessible to library users. I gained quite a bit of experience from this program.

When I came to the Harvard-Yenching Library in 1998, I was again faced with a very large cataloging backlog; we did not know what we really had in the library. Again, I started the visiting librarian program by inviting the young and promising librarians from the major academic libraries in China to come to help us. At that time, academic libraries in China were developing very fast following the opening of China in the late 1970s. As we mentioned, we at the Harvard-Yenching Library did not have the staff who had the subject knowledge or skills of processing and cataloging our Chinese rare books. Thus the first phase of our program was focused on Chinese rare books and special materials such as personal letters, photos, archives, and personal collections. When these processing and cataloging projects were done, we had moved into our ambitious digitization projects. Again, librarians with special qualifications were invited to Harvard-Yenching to participate in these projects. At the same time, some visiting scholars of the Harvard-Yenching Institute also participated in our digitization and publishing projects because after digitization we also worked with some of the major publishers in China (such as the Guangxi Normal University Press (广西师范大学出版社), the Zhonghua Book Company (中华书局), the National Library of China Press (国家图书馆出版社) to publish print copies of our rare and unique materials to make them widely available to scholars in both the digitized and print formats. Scholars affiliated with the Harvard-Yenching Institute, such as Professor Chen Hongmin (陈红民), Professor Wu Songdi (吴松弟), and Professor Xu Yongming (徐永明), all participated in our projects. With regard to the visiting librarians, depending upon their background and interest, they were assigned to certain subjects of library materials to participate in our digitization projects and the books that they finished were published in their own names. Thus, the visiting librarians program is indeed a mutually beneficial project; it is good for the Harvard-Yenching Library and for Harvard, and it is also good for the visiting librarians and their home institutions.

I find it very satisfying as a manager when I see so many young librarians coming from Chinese academic libraries having the opportunities to learn and grow. Many of them have become leaders at their respective libraries after they returned home. During my tenure at Harvard-Yenching, I witnessed the tremendous developments and growth of the academic libraries in China. These days, Chinese libraries have come very close to the libraries in the West, in terms of infrastructure, library buildings, hardware and software developments. Many of the library buildings constructed in China in the last 15-20 years are superior to those at Harvard. What academic libraries need in China these days is to improve their management styles and skills. And this depends on the quality of the younger generation. This fits quite well with the philosophy of the Visiting Librarian Program of the Harvard-Yenching Library. I am glad to have the opportunity of playing a small part in this program.

Ruohong
Thanks so much, James. Broadly speaking, could you also share with us how technology changed your approach to manage the library as a whole, in terms of not only services and collections, but also your style of management as Director of the Library?

James
Well, I don’t think technology will change your basic management style. Yes, I am the head of the Harvard-Yenching Library, but I am also a staff member of the Harvard-Yenching library. That is my philosophy, so, I always treasure the teamwork approach. And as a manager, you first need to share everything with your team members, and then give them credit for whatever they have achieved. I always think that a good manager does not necessarily have every skill that is needed for the library. For instance, I’m neither a rare book expert, nor a cataloger, nor a preservationist. All I do as a manager is to rely on people who are good at those that I am not good at, and then to create an environment where the staff can learn and grow. In my 50-year career, nothing has pleased me more than seeing my younger colleagues learn, grow and become much better librarians than myself. And that has been the most fulfilling aspect of my job as a Librarian of the Harvard-Yenching Library.

Ruohong
Please share the most challenging aspect and the most enjoyable aspect of your work as Director of the Harvard-Yenching Library.

James
The most challenging one is to raise money from outside of Harvard University. We have done a lot of projects at the Yenching Library, but most of these projects were not supported by Harvard, rather, they were supported by outside funding from our exchange partners, from donors and other resources like that. Fundraising is very challenging indeed, and it consumed a large part of my energy and time in this job in the last 20 years! When searching for my successor, the Harvard-Yenching Library Faculty Advisory Committee should consider fundraising experience as one of the qualities the new director should have. Otherwise, our projects at the Yenching Library cannot continue.

The most pleasurable experience for me is to see the library projects being done one by one. Nothing pleases me more than to see the work being done successfully. Again, the credit goes to my colleagues. I really mean it. Also, to see some of my colleagues grow on the job and become much better than I am. That is really something that money cannot buy.

Ruohong
Indeed, speaking of the many projects that the Yenching Library has accomplished during your tenure, share with us the ones that you are proudest of during your tenure.

James
Clearing of the backlog is number one, and then the digitization projects. And when we do digitization, as I mentioned before, we only digitize rare, unique and unusual materials. Our philosophy is that we do not need to spend our money or effort on regular library materials, because those materials, sooner or later, will be digitized by commercial vendors. So, we pick for digitization only our rare materials — uniquely available at the Yenching Library — and then make them available to scholars worldwide. Related to digitization projects, the visiting Librarians program is another aspect of my work during these years that I find very fulfilling.

Ruohong
Yes, both projects you just mentioned really opened up the library to scholars worldwide, and some of them, after learning about these treasures that used to be stored in the basement of the library, came to the library to do research on those materials. And the digitization projects also made tons of materials available to scholars worldwide. Both are wonderful accomplishments which opened the library up to scholars around the world.

Now, my next question is about the future of our research university library and librarian. To the next generation of librarians at major teaching and research universities, not only in North America, but also in Asia, please share your words of wisdom from your experience as a leader and director of one of the most important research university libraries in the world.

James
Well, about 30 years ago, I was invited to give a talk to the students at the Department of Library and Information Science at Zhongshan University (Guangzhou, China). And the emphasis of my talk was being a librarian as a very respectful profession and career. I heard from a young fellow who sat in front of my table saying that he chose to be a librarian only because he needed a job. And he also said, he, otherwise, would not want to be a librarian. This is one of the mindsets that some people have when coming to this profession. But to me, I was trained as a librarian, and I always think that librarianship is a highly regarded and highly respectful profession. That is my take. I’m proud to have been an East Asian Librarian for 50 years of my life. I know that in some countries, librarianship is not regarded as a highly-regarded profession, but it really comes down to how you want people to respect you — it really depends on how you respect yourself and how you conduct yourself. I find nothing wrong or to be ashamed of being a librarian. What I would like to share with all my peers in East Asian librarianship in the general library in the United States, in North America, in China as well as the entire region of East Asia is not really a word of wisdom, but my humble word of experience: we librarians are in a very respectful profession. There is a saying in Chinese. “It’s not that important how others respect you. It is important how you respect yourself.” (“人必自重,而后人重之。”)

So, as a librarian, being in this highly respectful profession, all one needs is to do your job, however you can, and then to help scholars get access to what they need, get the materials to scholars and help them do their research, that is ultimately your contribution.

And if you find satisfaction in this job, then become a librarian, and you will enjoy your career and your profession. But, if you don’t think this is the job that you want to take up on, don’t choose this career path; you should pursue other career options. That is my advice to the younger folks who are trying to be a good librarian.

Ruohong
Thank you for your words of wisdom, we will share it with everyone.

You certainly have earned high respect through your hard work and your efforts as a director of the Harvard-Yenching Library. What  you have done for faculty, students, scholars, particularly, from the Harvard-Yenching Institute’s perspective, for our visiting scholars and fellows, year after year, you have done so much for all of us. As the leading librarian of East Asian Studies, you’re one of the most highly respected librarians in the field, James.

James
That’s very kind of you, and I appreciate it. And again, I’m not the only one. I am just a member of a team.

Ruohong
For me, personally, first as a graduate student at Harvard, and then as a staff member working for the Harvard-Yenching Institute, I have seen the fundamental changes to the Harvard-Yenching Library, from filling out those yellow and white slips for the old circulation system to sitting in the rare books reading room, I have personally experienced these changes all for the positive. So, I thank you so very much for everything that you and your colleagues have provided for us all, faculty, students, HYI scholars and fellows. All my colleagues here at the HYI will share your message to our affiliates.

And thank you for your time, James, for taking the time to answer my questions and share your reflections on your years as Director of the Yenching Library. Finally, I’d want to ask you, do you have any big plans after you retire from the library?

James
Yes, everybody asks me what I’m going to do. My immediate plan is to rest for a week or two, since I don’t need to worry about raising money for the Library anymore.

After a little bit of rest, I will take on my 10-year project. I would like, for the first five years, to catch up with my reading, you know, reading Chinese classical novels such as Shui Hu Zhuan 《水滸傳》,Hong Loumeng《紅楼夢》, San Guo Yan Yi (三國演義) and Ru Lin Wai Shi《儒林外史》 and all that. I’d really like to spend five years re-reading them. I read them when I was in high school in Hong Kong, but now, after 50 years, I hope to reread them, my take should be quite different, I hope. And then after I finish and enjoy all these classical novels in the next five years, I will start reading martial arts novels, wuxia xiaoshuo (武侠小說).

I dare not to start with the martial arts novel, because if I get hooked, I’m done. So, I would like to do serious reading of classical novels for five years first, and then for the next five years I will finish all the rest, these martial arts novels. And by that time, I will be a very old man, and then I’m more than ready to go. That is my 10-year plan after retirement.

Ruohong
Enjoy, James. Do you have any plan to write about your experience working in the three major universities libraries and turn it into a book after finishing your reading plans? Something like writing a memoir about your experience as Director of the Harvard-Yenching Library?

James
No, I am an ordinary librarian, so I have no wisdom or other things to leave behind. In addition, I’m not able to write that well, so I’m just going to do my reading.

Ruohong
How very modest you are, James. I’ll expect to see you often, and you will come back to the Yenching Library to use the collection of Chinese classic novels and others for your reading, right?

James
No, actually I do not intend to borrow the books from the Harvard-Yenching Library. For these novels, I probably will go to Zhonghua Shuju (中華書局) in Hong Kong and buy them so that I could own these novels. And I will travel to China from time to time, but I have not had that many chances to travel to Europe. So, I also plan to travel to Europe with my wife from time to time, and to balance out my travels with my reading plan. Thank you for your advice and for your support for all these years.

Ruohong
My pleasure. It’s been nice to work with you and the Yenching Library Faculty Advisory Committee members. It has been a joy for us to work together to help the library improve and to make better efforts serving faculty, students and scholars.

James
Yeah, me too. And you’ll stay healthy, and stay safe.

Ruohong
It’s very nice talking to you, James. Thank you very much for your time. And again, most important of all, enjoy your retirement and have fun!