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Yunnan Library creating database of digitized ancient texts

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For the past four years, the Yunnan Provincial Library has quietly undertaken the rather large task of preserving literary history. The work involves digitizing written records in almost any form. It can be a slow and painstaking process depending on the condition of a given document. Once the ancient texts are scanned, they are uploaded to a website that is free and open to the public.

Library staff and preservation experts in Kunming have so far digitized 2,214 books and other literary objects since the project first began in 2014. Some of the works come from libraries or government repositories scattered around Yunnan, while others are donated from personal collections.

The qualifications are fairly basic — any book or piece of literary history created or published before 1912 will be considered for inclusion. The list of acceptable items — created by the National Library of China — ranges from oracle bones to personal letters to maps to unpublished pieces of fiction or poetry. However, of special interest to staff members at the provincial library are works concerning ethnic minorities, especially those in native languages.

Yunnan is home to 25 government-recognized indigenous groups, some of which do not have their own writing systems. Therefore, the Yunnan Provincial Library is actively looking for any written accounts concerning groups of people who may pass their histories and cultural traditions down through the generations orally.

But that is only one focus of many. Literature concerning Yunnan's minorities is not restricted to the 1912 cut-off point, and the library's curator, Wang Shuiqiao, has said anything will be considered. Those interested in submitting books or other literary works to the program for digitization must download and fill out an online form, which is available here. The existing archive is already online, with new additions added as each work is finished. Of the program, Wang said:

Many of the books [submitted by the public] have been damaged due to frequent usage over a long period of time. Digitizing them is a good way to protect the information they contain, and we hope to protect the ancient knowledge [they contain] as well as to share it with the general public.

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