Bibliothèque nationale de France. Librarian, in charge of the collections of Japanese modern and contemporary literature
Illustrated books from the Duret collection at the Prints Departement of the French National Library
The Prints and Photographs department of the French National Library (BnF) holds several thousands of old Japanese items, including prints and illustrated books. Among those is the Duret collection, after the name of Theodore Duret (1838-1927), art critic and japonesque collector who donated over 500 illustrated books from the Edo period. They cover a wide variety of literary genres (novels, epic chronicles, poems, oraimono, kabuki plays…), some written by renowned authors such as Saikaku, Bakin or Chikamatsu Monzaemon, and illustrated by the finest artists of their time (Hokusai, Moronobu, Hiroshige, Utamaro, etc).
The bibliographical description for these books, available from the online catalog of the BnF, is a digitized copy of the descriptions that were made at the beginning of the 20th century, with information that comes directly from Duret, which probably didn’t speak Japanese, and at a time when transliteration was not normalized at all. Therefore, the metadata is often very poor, with frequent mistakes, no indexes nor links to authorities. As a result, in spite of being highly valuable material, in their current state of description these documents are barely accessible for researchers.
As the person being in charge of Japanese contemporary literature, I was maybe not best fitted for the task, but with no other Japanese speaking librarian at the French national library, I started working on the improvement of the bibliographical description of these old illustrated books, at a rate of 10% of my working time.
In this presentation, I will be:
- introducing the collection, in its current state of description, with a focus on some noticeable items
- sharing the methods I developed “on the field”, gathering links of Japanese catalogs and databases to compare and identify our books, and also for adapting the data to the norms of our catalog, which are designed to describe mainly European prints
- making some suggestions on how our description standards could be better suited to Japanese material, in order to make them easier to find for Japanese studies researchers