East Asia Resource Library in Slovenia. Open a matchbox and access global knowledge of the region
In September 2017 a delegation from a Chinese institution came to visit the location of the East Asia Resource Library (EARL), which is hosted by the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Social Sciences, in Slovenia. This is a modern, spacious building, home to about 3,000 students, researchers and faculty and a venue for countless events at all levels. The delegation could hardly hide their surprise when they realised that the EARL was made up of three rooms which barely exceed 200 square meters. They thought that the entire Faculty of Social Sciences was the ‘Library’.
We, too, were taken a bit by surprise by such an observation, but we also took a lesson from that impression. Since then, we never fail to explain to our guests that the word ‘space’ has different meanings in different contexts. In Slovenia, which given its geographical determinants belongs to a group of smaller countries on this planet, physical size does not matter much. There are many determinants that relativise it. What follows is a story that proves this.
In November 2015, a group of four scholars – synologists, japonologists and experts in international relations from the University of Ljubljana – began to meet regularly to reflect on the academic landscape in Slovenia and the neighbouring countries with regard to studying the East Asian region. They agreed that there were several study programmes devoted to East Asia in the region, however, they have comparatively speaking relatively modest support in literature and in primary sources. To access these (re)sources, students and experts need to travel to East Asia. So the group started wondering: if all these resources are difficult to reach, why not bring them closer to us?
With technological advances, the idea how to make ‘smallness’ irrelevant seemed doable. After all, digital databases already cover most of secondary sources, and digitalisation of primary sources is progressing rapidly. Hence, with the support of experts on digital databases, a concept of a regional hub for resources devoted to East Asia started to take shape. By the end of 2015, work on the EARL began. Its mission has been embraced and supported by the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Social Sciences. Both faculties are large teaching and research institutions (https://www.fdv.uni-lj.si/en/home; and http://www.ff.uni-lj.si/an). On 17 May 2016, the Deans of the two Faculties signed an agreement to establish the East Asia Resource Library – EARL (https://www.fdv.uni-lj.si/en/library/earl).
The EARL was structured as follows. Symbolically, the EARL signifed a region. It provided designated spaces for each of the participating institutions, which are also called ‘corners’. Officially, the ‘corners’ are named as follows (in alphabethical order): China Corner Reading Beijing, Japan Corner, Korea Corner, and Taiwan Resource Centre for Chinese Studies. Each section is organised differently. Embassies from Korea and Japan in Slovenia serve as facilitators of information and contacts with the Japan Foundation and the Korea Foundation that provide the financial support for electronic databases, books and other resources. The EARL also collaborates extensively with the Capital Library of China, with the Taiwan Resource Centre for Chinese Studies and various nonprofit institutions from East Asia. All these institutions contribute to the unique concentration of knowledge about the region. EARL offers access to several East Asian databases, to over 3,000 titles of printed books and other materials and is also a lively social place, where students, scholars, practitioners and interested public from the region meet.
The EARL is yet another embodiment of the conviction that Humanities and Social Sciences must go hand in hand to understand what is going on around us and how we got there. Interdisciplinarity matters. One might have the most detailed knowledge about politics or social fabric of any corner in this world; yet, if one does not understand the culture and speak the language people speak in one part of the (East Asian) region or the other, one shall never have a full understanding of it. In modern social sciences and humanities, it is safe to say that this kind of thinking has not yet been internalised. The EARL is built on the premise that the 'wall' between social sciences and humanities is not really high if we use the right ladder, the one which is built from the wealth of interdisciplinary knowledge and experience of scholars coming out from the two branches of science.
In conclusion, let us go back to the reflection on size. We see the EARL not in terms of the small, landlocked room, but, in terms what it really offers. It is a large port, with access to the open sea of resources, going into millions of books, articles and historical documents. In international relations, Open Sea signifies a space with no borders. In our world of science and teaching, knowledge is our ocean. This is why EARL’s motto is: knowledge knows no borders. It is in this vast space that people with knowledge meet, compare notes, and discuss. With this in mind the EARL hosts presentations, lectures, galery, cultural events, and also academic, professional and unoficial meetings. A very special value of the EARL is the unreserved commitment of our partners to provide the EARL with the very best the region as a whole can offer. In trying times like the ones we live in today, access to resources and a possibility to compare them is the only way forward to bridge irrational political differences and discuss the region with only one vision in mind: to assure and sustain lasting peace.
Zlatko Šabič, Director General of the East Asia Resource Library (EARL)
Mirjam Kotar, Head of the Central Social Library, Chief Coordinator of the EARL