To understand intellectual life and knowledge production, it is critical to examine the circulation of information. In 1996, Timothy Brook published a list of twenty-three core titles in Ming dynasty school libraries. Brook argued that local libraries throughout the country were issued a modest number of imperial editions, but had few other books due to schools' limited budgets. However, Brook's list was limited to Ming and based on a small sample because he did not yet have access to digitized gazetteers. My research, based on both manual collection of school sections of local gazetteers and mining of newly available local gazetteer databases shows that, in fact, local schools were important sites of intellectual development and exchange, especially in borderlands regions that lacked private libraries and easy access to commercial books. In such areas, students often depended on prefectural or county school library collections.
New local gazetteer databases make possible a broad examination of school collections across time and space and reveal substantial variation in the size and scope of collections. Some schools collected books on a wide range of topics, including astronomy, medicine, law, and the military. This project will use digitized gazetteers and GIS tools to build a geo-tagged database of local school libraries and their book collections, covering Ming, Qing, and Republican China, including data on when libraries were built and renovated, how books were acquired and circulated, and what titles were owned on particular dates. This will allow us to obtain a better understanding of the distribution of specific texts over time and space and make possible regional comparisons.