Reference Book of the Week: Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography

Welcome to a new edition of our semi-regular feature in our blog: Reference Book of the Week. Here at Hutchins Library we have an excellent reference collection. It is a great resource for students, faculty, and staff. We use this series of posts to highlight specific items in our reference collection, telling our readers what the item does and how it can be used for your research needs.

Cover Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese BiographyThis week we are featuring a new item of interest to students and scholars in Asian Studies as well as world history, politics, and biography: The Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography (the link goes to the book’s record in BANC, our library catalog). This three-volume set is designed for general readers seeking a working knowledge of Chinese history through its key figures.

The set features three volumes. Entries in the dictionary cover emperors, politicians, poets, writers, artists, scientists, explorers, philosophers, and others. The dictionary features 135 long biographies that range from 1,000 to 8,000 words in length. Entries are written by scholars fro China as well as from Europe, America, and Australia. The three volumes cover from the beginnings of Chinese history to 1979, the year when China resumed diplomatic relations with the United States. A forthcoming fourth volume will bring coverage to the present day. The publisher states that this work is inspired by the Dictionary of National Biography to provide access to information similar to that set about Chinese persons. The publisher speaks further on the set’s coverage:

“. . . we have tried to strike a balance between the obvious figures who cannot be left out of any overview of Chinese history, and lesser known individuals, whose life and achievements can nonetheless provide insight into China’s development” (xxviii).

Each entry features the following components:

  • The person’s name. (Right now, the volumes do not feature any living persons. In the forthcoming fourth volume, some living individuals will be featured. This is another way in which this set is different than the Dictionary of National Biography).
  • The time and dates the person lived and a brief statement of what they did.
  • Alternate name(s), if the person had any.
  • A summary paragraph.
  • The full entry essay.
  • The set overall contains various illustrations. When available, there is at least a portrait of the person. Images come from various sources.
  • A list of items for further reading.

How can you make use of this resource?

  • The volumes are organized chronologically by dynasty or historical period. Within each period, articles are mostly alphabetical (there are some exceptions).
  • Each volume has a complete list of entries for the specific volume and the set.
  • The first volume contains an introduction, the publisher’s note, and a reader’s guide that gives further guidance on how to best use this set for research and learning.
  • The third volume has a names index to help you find all the figures mentioned in the volume. If a person has a full entry in the dictionary, his or her name would be listed in bold letters.
  • The set features helpful indices, a timeline, and a glossary.

As of this post, the set is being featured in the library display honoring the 15th Anniversary of Asian Studies at Berea College. It is a reference book, so it may not be checked out, but you can use it inside the library. After the display, the set will return to the second floor Reference Collection. You can find it under the call number REF 951.003 B5125 2014.

September/October Library Displays at Hutchins Library

The library is currently featuring two book displays from September to the middle of October, 2013. Books on the displays are available for check out, so if you see something you like, feel free to pick it up, take it to our Circulation Desk, and check it out. Don’t worry. We’ll be happy to put another book in its place.

From our shelves to your table display photoFirst we have “From Our Shelves. . .¬† to Your Tables.” This display highlights some of our cookbook library holdings. With fall season now here, I am sure many will look for some recipe ideas for the chilly days to come. The following books are currently on the display, which is located on the second floor of the library, near the seating area next to the reference collection.

Constitution Display photoSecond, we have a display for the observance of Constitution Day. As part of our observance of Constitution Day, the library held a film showing of the film Good Night and Good Luck, featuring Dr. Dwayne Mack as our guest scholar for the evening. The book display is a companion to the film as well as a highlight of books and materials about the Constitution and our rights. The following books are featured on the display:

Book links go to BANC, our library catalog; all books are usually located on the library’s third floor unless otherwise noted.

And don’t forget that our Presidential Inaugurations of Berea College display is still up in the second floor of the library.

So stop by and check out our displays. As always, if you have any questions or comments, you can comment here on our blog, or you can stop by our reference desk.

U.S. Government Document of the Week: Sourcebook of United States Executive Agencies

Federal Depository Document LogoThe U.S Government and its agencies create a broad range of reports, documents, and other publications. Many of these are available to the public; you can think of these are another way in which your tax dollars are at work. Also, these materials are a great way to see how the government works and functions. In addition, the government, through its various agencies, branches, departments, etc. investigates and does research on a broad range of topics and it puts that research in pretty well organized materials. Government documents can be a treasure trove of information for researchers and students. With that in mind, I am starting a new feature here at Hutchins Library Highlights: The U.S. Government Document of the Week. In my daily reading and research, I come across a lot of government information. I will be sharing some selections from what I find and also creating a record here on the blog so you can find it again later. We are starting with Sourcebook of the United States Executive Agencies  (link to document page at ACUS).

The sourcebook is a publication of ACUS (Administrative Conference of the United States). ACUS is:

“. . . is an independent federal agency dedicated to improving the administrative process through consensus-driven applied research, providing nonpartisan expert advice and recommendations for improvement of federal agency procedures. Its membership is composed of innovative federal officials and experts with diverse views and backgrounds from both the private sector and academia.” (from the ACUS website).

The agency looks at federal agencies and government procedures looking for ways to improve and resolve any conflicts. They do conduct a good amount of research in to how federal agencies operate.

The sourcebook was written and compiled by David E. Lewis and Jennifer L. Selin of Vanderbilt University’s Center for the Study of Democractic Institutions. Basically, they were given a contract by ACUS to create this publication. In brief, the sourcebook “examines the agencies and other organizational entities of the federal executive establishment, including independent agencies” (from the publication description). This resource, though designed for members of government and other policy makers, may also be of use to researchers and academics. It looks at how federal executive agencies are organized. According to the document, “the report describes the diversity of federal agencies, their place in the executive establishment and structural characteristics, and how these features matter for political control and agency performance.” Notice that they use the term “federal executive agencies.” It means that while many of the agencies covered are within the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government, other agencies are outside direct Executive Branch control and to a lesser extent Congressional control; this is likely to allow the agencies to function with a certain degree of autonomy and thus not be directly influenced by elected officials.

The report is divided into two parts. Part one is an overview of the federal executive establishment. It lists and describes agencies; it provides a historical context , and it also describes the agencies’ personnel systems and how they have evolved over time. Here, we get topics such as the definition of a federal agency. The second part explains how these agencies get created, implemented, organized, and if need be, terminated. There is also discussion of the measures that make agencies insulated from the elected officials as noted above. For example, want to know the difference between a government “czar” and a GSE (Government-Sponsored Enterprise)? This book can help explain that. Want to know what criteria can be used to decide if there is need for a new agency? This book can help explain that as well.

The Sourcebook of United States Executive Agencies is available for download at the ACUS site. I provided that link above, but here it is again:

You can also find it available at Vanderbilt University’s CSDI website at this link:

A print copy can be purchased at the GPO (Government Printing Office) website. Here is the direct link for that option:

If you wish to borrow a print copy rather than buying it, and online download is not a preferred or available option, you can also check to see if your local Federal Depository library has a copy. Federal Depository libraries, in brief, are libraries designated by the federal government to receive government documents. While not all depository libraries receive every document, they usually have the major or most common documents, so it is worth a look. One way to do this search is to use WorldCat (direct link to WorldCat record: And if you wish to find a Federal Depository Library near you, here is the link to GPO’s interactive map and location finder:

Over time, I will strive to write a bit more about government documents, what they can do for you, how to use them in your research. And then, there is the world of NGOs, think tanks, and international agencies, but we’ll talk about those later. So feel free to subscribe to our blog to get our posts via e-mail or on your feed reader. You can find our subscription links on the right side column of the blog. As always, if you have any questions about this or any other topic, you can contact us at Hutchins Library ( or leave us a comment here at the blog.

A tip of the hat to Free Government Information blog for pointing us to this resource.