Secret Library

Secret Library

I came across this really interesting article in the New Yorker the other day, and finally got around to reading the whole article. It talks about the Dunhuang Library, which was a sealed up cavern in China filled with thousands of manuscripts, some dated as early as 868 A.D. The collection was mostly sold off to researchers/explorers from other countries before China had realized the importance of the documents. (OK, I’ll give them a little slack the documents were found during the Boxer Rebellion, so arguably China had bigger things to deal with.)

But since 1994, an ambitious digitization program has slowly pushed the Dunhuang cache online, allowing scholars to reconstruct individual documents whose pages might be held by multiple collections, and to get a truer sense of its scope. –Mikanowski, J. (2013).

I was originally surprised by the early date that the digitization of these materials started at, but the more I think about it the more surprising aspect is that all of the different holders of the documents, which cover several countries, agreed to work together and produce this project. It demonstrates the importance of understanding the entirety of the collection for researchers who may not be able to travel to several countries to make sense of the items. It speaks wonders for open access to materials, which is still a controversial idea in libraries today.


Mikanowski, J. (2013). A Secret Library: Digitally Excavated. The New Yorker Online. Accessed on October 14, 2013.




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