Pinyin Conversion for North American Chinese Cataloging

This activity is now closed. The information on this page is provided for historical purposes only.

Until 2001 American libraries had been at odds with the rest of the world in using Wade-Giles, instead of Pinyin, to romanize Chinese characters in their bibliographic records. (Meanwhile, US federal agencies, mass media, and the scholarly community had been using Pinyin for years.) During that period researchers looking in online catalogs for such well-known Pinyin names as "Laozi," "Mao Zedong," or Deng Xiaoping" could not find them unless they knew also to check the Wade-Giles forms: "Lao-tzu," Mao Tse-tung," Teng Hsiao-p'ing."

When the Library of Congress announced in 1997 that the romanization in all new Chinese bibliographic and authority records would be Pinyin in the future, it signaled the need for a major cooperative effort. LC and the two largest online union catalogs in the world—OCLC's WorldCat and the RLG Union Catalog—all used Wade-Giles. There were already more than 2.3 million Chinese-language records in the RLG database alone, plus hundreds of thousands of these records in individual library online catalogs.

Thanks to outstanding communication and coordination among all the players, the October 2000 target for new record creation was met, and in 2001 the massive conversion of existing records was completed. Through this project American libraries joined the international community in using Pinyin, facilitating access to Chinese materials by scholars everywhere. By the end of 2002, there were over 3.3 million Chinese-language records in the RLG Union Catalog, using Pinyin.

  • RLG news release, October 2000: "Library of Congress, Other US Libraries Join International Community on Use of Pinyin"

    Please note: RLG News releases are no longer directly available on the Web. You may access an archived version of the RLG Web site from September 2007 and follow this path through the main menu at the top of the site: About RLG – News – Complete list of news releases.

Reports and updates

The electronic newsletter for users of RLG's information resources and services reported on key milestones:

  • "Wade-Giles to Pinyin Conversion Will Affect Everyone!"
    RLG Focus 35 (December 1998)
  • "Pinyin Conversion of RLG Union Catalog Underway"
    RLG Focus 46 (October 2000)
  • "Mission Accomplished: RLG Union Catalog Converted from Wade-Giles to Pinyin"
    RLG Focus 52 (October 2001)

    Please note: Archived versions of RLG Focus are available from the OCLC Corporate Library Collection in the OCLC Digital Archive. Choose the preferred index and browse from here.

During the life of the project, RLG took the lead in convening a series of open forums on Pinyin conversion at American Library Association conferences—in June 1999, January 2000, and January 2001. Designed to ensure all issues were taken into account for this very complex transition, each forum drew upwards of 100 attendees:

  • "RLG Forum on Wade-Giles/Pinyin Conversion Identifies Key Issues"
    RLG Focus 40 (October 1999—plans and impact on local systems)
  • "RLG Forum: More Wade-Giles/Pinyin Planning"
    RLG Focus 43 (April 2000—plans and use of "record markers")
  • "RLG Forum: Issues in Pinyin Transition"
    RLG Focus 49 (April 2001—status of conversion and remaining work)

    Please note: Archived versions of RLG Focus are available from the OCLC Corporate Library Collection in the OCLC Digital Archive. Choose the preferred index and browse from here.

The Library of Congress, RLG, and OCLC all maintained informational Web pages during the project and for some time afterwards. These were for use by the deeply involved library participants in this effort, who needed to do various follow-up record reviews post-project. LC still retains a substantial background site at www.loc.gov/catdir/pinyin/.

We are a worldwide library cooperative, owned, governed and sustained by members since 1967. Our public purpose is a statement of commitment to each other—that we will work together to improve access to the information held in libraries around the globe, and find ways to reduce costs for libraries through collaboration.