Shanghai Express: Donating and Shipping Law Books Overseas

In February and March of 2007, I was a visiting scholar at Shanghai Jiaotong University (SJTU) Law School in China. This article describes the steps I took in collecting and shipping 300 English-language law books to the SJTU Law Library as well as my experience as a law librarian in China.


I was first introduced to SJTU Law School through friends residing in Shanghai. Founded in 1896, Shanghai Jiaotong University is well known for its science, engineering and technology programs. The campus has a total of 38,000 full time students (almost half are Master’s and Doctoral students). The Law School was established in 2002 and currently has 50 law faculty and 800 law students. The Law School offers an undergraduate law degree (the main degree for licensed attorneys in China), two Masters degrees and a PhD. Recently, the SJTU Law School established a Chinese American Legal Studies Center in partnership with New York University Law School. Serving as a link between the Chinese and American legal communities to promote law reform efforts in China, the Center’s main tasks include scholarship, symposia and lecture series.

During a visit to Shanghai the previous year, I met with the Director of the SJTU Law Library, Professor Xu Xiaobing, to explore whether a visiting scholar appointment within the Law Library would be mutually beneficial. We discussed the possibility of collecting English language legal materials in support of their new Center. As the Seattle University Law Library routinely sets aside material for other foreign donation programs, this project seemed feasible if I could get the books to Shanghai.

Explore Transport Options

I began researching various methods for transporting the books to Shanghai. I discovered that there are several established book donation programs for China such as Bridge to Asia and Books to Asia. While these programs expressed a willingness to assist with this project, transporting the books to their facilities in the United States was expensive. I then explored options such as air cargo and USPS M-Bags (note that USPS has recently changed its rates and services for M-Bags). I also learned about other creative ways to transport books internationally, including sending them via diplomatic pouches or disbursed throughout the suitcases of groups traveling by air.

In the end, I obtained reduced cost cargo space on a ship sailing from Seattle to Shanghai through the generosity of Pete Rose, President of Expeditors International, a global logistics company based in Seattle. My sincere thanks go to Tod Anderson, Ocean Manager and Jessica Richmond, Export Compliance Officer for helping me navigate the intricacies of ocean cargo shipping. They are truly experts in their field.

Determine Budget

After obtaining an estimated shipping cost, I inquired whether SJTU Law School could cover these expenses as well as the cost for clearing customs in Shanghai. In October of 2006, I received word that the SJTU Law School deans had approved funding for the shipment and customs. Additionally, the Shanghai office of the American law firm, Squire, Sanders & Dempsey graciously offered to subsidize a portion of the shipping costs. The Director of the Seattle University Law Library, Kristin Cheney, authorized support for supplies such as packing materials and boxes. Unfortunately, there were no funds available to cover book purchases. I would have to build a collection through donations and gifts.

Identify Needs & Develop Selection Criteria

Over the next few months, I worked closely with Professor Xu to pinpoint the Law School’s collection needs and priorities. They were especially interested in materials on: administrative law; American legal system; banking law; Chinese law (commentary in English); constitutional law; corporate law; criminal law; dispute resolution; environmental law; human rights; international/foreign law; intellectual property; legal research; and torts.

Based on further input, I developed the following selection criteria for the books:

  • books were to be scholarly, current and non-serial in nature
  • books with substantial commentary rather than collections of laws were preferred (the SJTU Law School has access to primary materials via online databases)
  • casebooks would be considered in specific topical areas if they were current
  • study aids were generally not a priority; however, some study aids, especially current hornbooks and nutshells would be considered in specific topical areas
  • duplicate titles were to be avoided unless they were an important reference source (e.g. dictionaries, legal research manuals)
  • paperbacks were preferred due to weight limitations
  • all titles were to be reviewed and approved by the SJTU Law Library Director

Contact Publishers

From October to December 2006, I reviewed publisher catalogs, identified appropriate titles, and requested donations from over 70 publishers and university presses. Casting my net wide, I requested materials from nonprofits and for profits; American and foreign; independent and conglomerate; legal and nonlegal publishing companies. I set limits on the price and quantity of books requested. For example, I requested only one or two titles from smaller publishers. For the larger publishers, I requested more titles or titles in a higher price range.

Identifying the appropriate publisher contact person proved challenging. A few publishers posted specific procedures for donation requests on their websites and adhered to strict guidelines about the kinds of donation projects they support (e.g. school literacy, K-12, inner-city). Other publishers considered donation requests on a case-by-case basis. In general, I made requests via email, explaining the purpose and timing of the project as well as how the particular title would fill a specific need. My e-mail requests were easily ignored unless addressed to a specific person within the company. Follow up was essential.

Working through my local or regional sales representatives proved fruitful. I also spoke to publisher representatives at the AALL convention exhibit hall who donated material on the spot. (Had I known that some publishers prefer not to ship home their exhibit hall display copies, I would have brought a bigger suitcase to AALL!) I augmented the collection with duplicate books and other materials not appropriate for the Seattle University Law Library collection. I also solicited donations from Seattle University Law School faculty who had published books on relevant topics. Additionally, I monitored listservs for possible donations.

Pack and Ship Materials

So that the donations did not get confused with material purchased for our collection, I housed them in a designated shelving area, requested that publishers send the materials in my name by a specific date and alerted our Technical Services Department about incoming material. A detailed list of books was maintained which included title, author, date, edition, publisher, ISBN, donor, and price. Later, this list proved helpful in preparing shipping lists, customs documents and gift letters, especially when I had to estimate the value of the books from American and foreign publishers separately. I carefully packed, labeled, shrink wrapped and weighed fourteen boxes of books according to International Expeditor’s instructions. To save on fees for pick up and delivery, my husband kindly volunteered to deliver the books directly to the container freight station at the port of Seattle. The books (all 865 pounds of them) set sail for Shanghai on February 2, 2007. Shortly thereafter, I left for China.

Use and Promote the Collection

Because the books arrived in Shanghai at the end of February, right during the middle of the Chinese New Year, they took a couple of weeks to clear customs. Once unpacked, I immediately began using the books to answer student and faculty research questions. The SJTU Law School and its patrons were very grateful for the materials. The students found the study aids particularly helpful in understanding complex American legal concepts without the legalese. (Several law classes are taught in English with American casebooks.) Faculty appreciated many of the scholarly materials in their topical areas. The dictionaries and legal research books were a big hit!

With the donation project completed, I spent the rest of my time at the SJTU Law Library working with faculty and students on their research projects. Several students and faculty were writing on cutting edge legal topics, comparing law in the United States, Europe and China. They needed current laws and commentary in English and other languages. I demonstrated how to use online databases and e-books to find legal information. I was thoroughly impressed by their language proficiency and ability to navigate databases with search syntax in English. My favorite reference question involved finding an appropriate American name for several Chinese law students. (In retrospect, I should have included a book of names in the new collection!) The students were very amused when I logged onto websites like to find suitable names.

I also consulted with the Law Library Director on library issues and found many commonalities (e.g. security, printing, cataloging, wireless versus wired access, print versus digital, budgets, etc). I had the opportunity to meet librarians from the SJTU main campus library and library school. Again, their challenges were very familiar (new building construction, budget and overhead, digital versus print, bibliographic instruction). When visiting law firms, I took the opportunity to discuss the need for legal information professionals in the private sector. Whether I was interacting with the legal or librarian community, I felt that there was an appreciation for the role of law librarians in providing access to legal information. During my spare time, I enjoyed shopping, dining, sightseeing and practicing my Chinese on some of the most patient and friendly people I have ever met!

Further Reading

International Book Donation Resources

Julia Gross & Aminath Riyaz, An Academic Library Partnership in the Indian Ocean Region, 53 (4) Library Review 220 (2004)

Paul T. Jackson, Biz of Acq – Developing Book Donation Resources, 14 Against the Grain 80 (Sept. 2002)

Gretchen Walsh, Africana Librarian, Boston University, Book Donations Instructions and Tips

SLA, Contacts for Book/Journal Donations

State University of New York at Buffalo Health Sciences Library, Donation Programs for Books, Journals and Media

University of Washington, International Book Donation Programs

Barbara Ruelle, International Donation of Medical Journals and Books: a How-To-Manual, 11 Medical Reference Services Quarterly 35 (Summer 1992)

ALA, International Donation and Shipment of Books

ALA, Library Fact Sheet 12 Sending Books to Needy Libraries: Book Donation Programs

Lawyers Without Borders, Rule of Law: Assistance, Books (Law) and Computers

Chinese Libraries and Librarianship

Yurong Atwill, Changes and Adjustments: Collection Development in a Chinese Academic Library, Charleston Conference Proceedings 2002, Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, 2003, 97-101.

Ying Shen, Chinese Academic Librarianship in Transition: A Comparative Study Between China and the United States, 38 International Information and Library Review 89 (2006)

Yafan Song, Continuing Education in Chinese University Libraries: Issues and Approaches, 55 Libri 21 (2005)

Hu Ming Rong & Haiwang Yuan, International Dateline: Age of Knowledge Calls for More Qualified Librarians in Chinese Academic Institutions, 14 Against the Grain 82 (April 2002)

Jingli Chu, Librarianship in China: The Spread of Western Influences, 22 Library Management 177 (2001)

Shen Xiangxing, Xu Lifang, & Xie Hai, Library and Information Science Education and Laboratory Construction in China, 42 Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 63 (Winter 2001)

People to People Ambassador Programs: College and Research Librarians Delegation to the People’s Republic of China Journal of Activities

Hu Ming Rong, Qualified Librarians Are the Key to Modernization of Chinese Libraries, 66 Kentucky Libraries 18 (Summer 2002)

Ke Ping & Sha Li Zhang, Toward Continual Reform: Progress in Academic Libraries in China, 63 College and Research Libraries 164 (March 2002)

Su Chen & Jing Liu, Using Libraries in China: Know Before You Go, 66 College and Research Libraries News, 124 (Feb. 2005)

I would like to thank the following the publishers for their generous support of this project:

Posted in: Features, Law Librarians, Legal Research, Libraries & Librarians