“I hope my research will answer the first question we should ask: ‘Where did we come from? How did we get here?'”
Last spring, GSLIS PhD student Yang Luo successfully defended her dissertation proposal and promptly left on a trip to China for field research over the summer. The CCB was excited to find the opportunity to meet with Luo to talk about her dissertation research and her fieldwork trip.
Skip to a Question
Can you describe your research to me briefly? What’s it all about?
Why do you see your research as important to the field of youth services librarianship? Why is it valuable?
Tell me about your field research trip? What did you do while you were there? What did you learn?
What are some challenges you see in your particular field of research? What are some opportunities?
Do you have any advice for students interested in doing research in children’s literature, youth services, or LIS more broadly?
What do you hope will be the takeaway from your research and visit? How do you hope that it will change the field?
My research is on the history of children’s libraries in China. I’m specifically looking at the time period from 1912-1937. I begin with 1912 because that year marks the foundation of a new Republic of China after hundreds of years of imperial rule. I end with 1937, at the dawn of the Sino-Japanese War. I’m interested in the development and genesis of children’s libraries during this time, and my initial investigation has found several factors during this time period—modern education reform, the public library movement, the Republic’s investment in child welfare, influence of Western librarianship, the appearance of children’s rooms and children’s literature—that converge to form children’s libraries in the early twentieth century.
First, there’s practically no historical work on the history of children’s libraries in China, especially this early on. There’s a gap that I’m hoping my research will be able to fill. Secondly, I think my research will contribute to the history of American children’s librarianship. Historians have wondered if the “classic model” that early American children’s librarians developed has applied to other countries; my own research suggests that this model has influenced children’s librarianship in China.
“There’s practically no historical work on the history of children’s libraries in China, especially this early on. There’s a gap that I’m hoping my research will be able to fill.”
Before I went on my trip, I had hoped to visit five libraries in China. I ended up visiting four: the National Library of China, the Hubei Province Library, the Capital Library of China, and the Shanghai Children’s Library. The fieldwork didn’t turn out to be what I expected. I didn’t find the archives I needed to do my research—these libraries didn’t keep archives of their history like libraries in the U.S. The National Library and the Shanghai library did have children’s literature open to the public during the early twentieth century. They’ve kept that literature until now. I’ve also found some internal publications—annual reports and things like that—that detailed main developments in the history of the library. I was quite disappointed, however. I hoped they would have had more archives, more historical collections open to the public, more digitized collections.
I’ve already mentioned one of these challenges: there are not enough archives in Chinese libraries with the information I need. Another challenge is that I’d really like to be able to include oral history in my research, but many of the people involved during my time period are no longer living. This is a facet I’d love to include, but will be missing. A challenge for me, too, is that I’m studying the history of Chinese children’s librarianship, but I have to write in English. I have to think in one language and write in another. There are some translation challenges.
One opportunity is that I’ve been surprised to find American places that have kept some archives of Chinese children’s literature and libraries. There’s a historical collection of Chinese children’s literature from my time period at Princeton, and the ALA archives here have some information that’s been useful. It’s a good thing to find so many sources. Another opportunity has been that my research has relied on three main library periodicals from China. I had expected for it to be very difficult for me to find these Chinese periodicals here in the U.S., but luckily, these periodicals have been digitized and reprinted, so there have been opportunities for me to get access to the information I need.
I’m not certain I’m the most qualified to answer that question. I didn’t enter this program with a lot of experiences, but rather my own interests and passions. Many people enter this program with a background in children’s literature or librarianship that I didn’t have. But building connections to the material you’re studying is important. Take classes, go to seminars, show up to discussion groups, and go to conferences. Know what’s going on out there in your field so that you can build those kinds of connections.
“It is not a disgrace for a nation to lack a navy or an army. It is only a disgrace for a nation to lack public libraries, museums, and art galleries. Our people must get rid of this kind of disgrace.”
I hope that my final dissertation will contribute to the history of general Chinese public library development. Most of the history that’s been written is after 1949, which was when the People’s Republic of China was founded. My research takes place before that. Also, as China pays more attention to youth services today—we’re seeing more programs and libraries for young people being opened—I hope my research will answer the first question we should ask: “Where did we come from? How did we get here?” I hope I have another opportunity to do field work again and talk to someone in China who’s interested in my field of work. I hope that I will be able to find more of what I wanted. I know it’s been a setback not to find the archives I expected, but I really do hope that I can find more.
I take inspiration from Hu Shi, a great advocate for education reform and young people in China during this time period. He once said, “It is not a disgrace for a nation to lack a navy or an army. It is only a disgrace for a nation to lack public libraries, museums, and art galleries. Our people must get rid of this kind of disgrace.”