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In Memoriam: Yeen-mei Wu,1935-2022

January 5, 2023

Yeen-mei Wu, ardent supporter of the Tateuchi East Asia Library and the Taiwan Studies Program, died November 29th.  She was 87.

Yeen-Mei came to the US in 1959 to study business at the University of Michigan. She was part of the second wave of Chinese immigrants to the country, many of whom were from Taiwan. On her way to Ann Arbor, she stopped by San Francisco, and ended up staying. With the help of friends, Yeen-Mei enrolled in the School of Information at San Jose State College and worked at Stanford University Library in the summer. The next year, she enrolled in the School of Librarianship at UC Berkeley.

While studying for her Master of Library Science degree, Yeen-Mei worked part-time jobs in three libraries at UCB. One of these, the Center for Chinese Studies Library (CCS), offered her a librarian’s position before she even graduated. It was thus at CCS that Yeen-Mei began her career as a professional librarian in 1962. In 1967, Yeen-Mei moved with her husband and two young children to Seattle, where he worked for Boeing and Yeen-Mei was hired in 1969 as the Chinese Studies Librarian at UW’s Far Eastern Library, as it was then named.

During her tenure at UW’s East Asia Library (EALUW), from October 1969 to August 2001, Yeen-Mei made many important contributions. In the 1980s, most East Asian libraries in the United States moved their catalogs online. EALUW played a leading role in such moves towards library automation. For example, it collaborated with Academia Sinica’s Computation Center in developing the Twenty-Five Dynastic Histories database, providing full-text searchable versions of key traditional Chinese histories. After the departure of EALUW director Karl Lo, Yeen-Mei took over and completed this important project, which had a significant impact on libraries and users worldwide.

As Chinese Studies Librarian, Yeen-Mei was responsible for collection development, user consultation, and reference. Following the normalization of diplomatic relations between the US and the People’s Republic of China in 1979, EALUW expanded its book acquisition network from Taiwan and Hong Kong to include mainland China. In 1989 Yeen-Mei visited Beijing for the first time, to present a paper at an international conference—held at Beijing Library, which later became the National Library of China—on Chinese library collections.

Yeen-Mei was actively involved in local Taiwanese communities. In 1970, she was part of a group that founded the Taiwanese Association of Greater Seattle. In 1985 and 1986, she was elected chair of the Association. Her election as Chair of the Taiwanese Association led to her blacklisting by the Kuomintang (KMT) government in Taiwan, but that did not stop her. She joined the Greater Seattle Taiwanese Women’s Club when it was first formed in 1987 and served as its Chair from 2006 to 2008. She wrote a history of the club, compiled a video of its past activities, and was an active writer for its publication Funü yuandi 婦女園地 (Women’s Corner).

Yeen-Mei was an excellent archivist, and carefully documented significant events. Items from her collections relating to Taiwanese organizations in Seattle were included in the digital project Historical Sources on the Taiwan Democratic Movement Overseas at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University (2013-14).

Yeen-Mei has dedicated an endowment fund to the collection of primary sources and scholarship relating to local Taiwanese history, focusing on Taiwan studies at the grassroots level. She encouraged collection of archival and other primary sources from the county level and below. She also promoted the collection of resources relating to Taiwanese communities in America, particularly in the greater Seattle area.  Bill Lavely, Chair of UW’s Taiwan Studies Program, noted, “Building the TEAL collection of Taiwan local materials is a great project that will complement our program and help to build it into a research organization.”