Looking east: C. V. Starr East Asian Library celebrates 120 years of collecting

From the outside, it’s a modern marvel: a fortress of white granite, covered with dazzling bronze lattice. Light streams through large glass windows, which only just separate the trees outside from the calm, cherry wood interior.

But inside, it’s a different story: Within those pristine walls are pieces of East Asian history that are thousands of years old.

This fall, the campus celebrates the 10th anniversary of UC Berkeley’s C. V. Starr East Asian Library, or EAL, and the Chang-Lin Tien Center for East Asian Studies. At the same time, the library is celebrating 120 years of collecting — a journey that began with a vision nearly as old as the university itself.

“This year, the campus is celebrating 150 years of light and history,” said Peter Zhou, EAL’s director. “If I can pick one thing that can really epitomize Berkeley’s aspiration through this whole span of time, it is this library.

“It’s the epitome of an idea.”

All told, the library’s print and electronic resources combine to form one of the largest collections of East Asian materials in North America. The library’s Fong Yun Wah Rare Book Room holds about 40,000 items, including Chinese, Japanese, and Korean manuscripts and imprints; Japanese historical maps; and early Buddhist scriptures.

Today — along with building the collection — librarians dedicate themselves to opening up those resources to researchers around the world.

“We are working very diligently to make these collections available beyond the space by digitizing all of our materials and setting our treasures free,” said Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, university librarian. “It's only through the generosity of donors that we’re able to make these materials available — to expand our collections and improve access for everybody.”