As Peter Bleed prepared to move out of his eighth-floor office in Oldfather Hall, the emeritus professor of anthropology looked at his large inventory of books and realized it was time to let some of them go.
Now, Bleed’s unabated interest in Japan is benefitting UNL — he and his wife, Ann, donated a selection of more than 300 books, magazines and brochures to the Kawasaki Reading Room for Japanese Studies in the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center. Bleed has long been fascinated with Japan — it is one of his academic specialties — and it shows in his various collections. To support his research over the years, Bleed has added thousands of books to the shelves in his office and in his home — most of them books on Japan and its culture, history and people.
The donation spans from the 1890s to contemporary works and covers topics ranging from Japanese art and photography to World War II cultural guides for soldiers and guides for American businesspeople traveling to Japan.
“I collected a lot of these things, not because they were scholarly, but because they are interesting documents about how Japan views itself and how Japanese society operates,” Bleed said. “And they are interesting documents on the relationship between America and Japan.
“They’re not the sort of thing that makes it into libraries and I think they’re worth preserving.”
Bleed said some of his favorite donated items were language books that were given to American soldiers in World War II and some of the tourism guides for Americans traveling to Japan.
“The Japanese are comfortable with rules and regularity,” Bleed said. “For 200 years, they have been writing books on how to fit in, saying ‘When you come here, it will annoy us less if you behave this way.’”
He said many of the old volumes document distinctive Japanese social patterns; others illustrate what non-Japanese thought about Japan when they got there.
Dan Riley, assistant to the director of the reading room, said the donation is an exciting development.
“The nature of these books, and the timespan many of them cover, allows us to educate in a way we weren’t able to before,” Riley said. “There is an American view of the Japanese culture in many of the books that our collection didn’t previously explore.”
The collection is also invaluable because of the exploration some of the materials provide of racism in wartime America.
Riley said Bleed made the donation about a month ago. Since then, librarians in Love Library have been cataloging the books, finding ISBN numbers for the older volumes and registering them with the U.S. Library of Congress.
Once that process is complete, the collection will be housed at the Kawasaki Reading Room. Riley said all of the donated items will be available for use, but some may not be available for checkout because of their fragility and rarity.
Bleed said he was pleased that the reading room was willing to take his donation. A longtime supporter of the reading room, Bleed has offered his expertise as a consultant, lecturer and resource for the reading room and its patrons. He said he hopes students can use the collection to further their understanding of Japan.
“Every good archive has resources that people haven’t yet figured out what to do with,” he said. “But I’m very glad that this stuff will be preserved and explored by the University of Nebraska community.”