Pourciau, L.J. (2000), "ICONMAL-98 and the MPT Annual Work Conference: Observations and Reflections on Experiences in China", Library Hi Tech News, Vol. 17 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/lhtn.2000.23917bac.004Download as .RIS
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ICONMAL-98 and the MPT Annual Work Conference: Observations and Reflections on Experiences in China
ICONMAL-98 and the MPT Annual Work Conference:Observations and Reflections on Experiences in China
Lester J. Pourciau, with an introduction by Victoria Spain
The International Librarianship column of Library Hi Tech News is devoted to discussion and publicity of library conferences and events occurring on a global basis. It particularly attempts to portray library activities and developments in locales outside the UK and the USA.
China there lies a sleeping giant. Let him sleep, because when he wakes he will move the world (Napoleon).
Libraries in China have been undergoing great transformation ever since former paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, rescued his country from the ruins of the Cultural Revolution and opened up his country to the outside world. Some of these improvements have included new library buildings, open-access, bibliographic instruction, and the incorporation of advanced technologies.
China, the inventor of paper and the art of printing, has been noted for her famous imperial and family libraries. In 1914, China had 18 libraries at the provincial level. In 1925, The People's Republic of China (PRC) had 392 libraries in large cities. Academic libraries suffered greatly during the disastrous years of the Cultural Revolution, 1966-1979, and many publications were burned or stashed and librarians were exiled to work on farms and factories. Prior to 1978, Chinese libraries were basically state-owned and the government exercised administrative management over them. But since 1978, library services in China have made remarkable progress, in that the government realizes that libraries are essential to China's reconstruction. In 1991, there were more than 2,500 public libraries at the county level in China which together housed more than 300 million volumes nearly twice as many as in 1978. By 1994, the number soared to 258,477 libraries with more than 400,000 employees, housing collections of over 3 billion volumes. Today in China, growth in Western language collections, internal restructuring, and new technological developments continue as well as scholarly exchange. Li Peng, Premier of China, declared at the 1996 IFLA meeting in Beijing, that China was committed both to development of libraries and to literature preservation, realizing the great historic value that China's libraries can offer the world. China has the oldest continuous history and culture, dating back to more than 4,000 years (Fong, 1997; Jing, 1996).
China is determined to catch up technologically and economically, and since 1978 has rigorously sought foreign investment and advanced technologies to promote its modernization efforts. As a result, China's communication market has grown sevenfold during the last five years. Ten percent of the population now has a telephone, with two-thirds of these being urban householders. In March 1994, China formally connected to the Internet via the Institute of High Energy Physics network of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, providing e-mail access for scientists at the National Science Foundation of China. In May 1994, the National Computing and Networking Facilities of China was given the country level Internet domain name ".cn". Internet users in China soared from fewer than 100,000 at the end of 1996, to 820,000 at the end of 1997, and to more than 1.17 million by July 1998. As of September 1999, China had four million people wired to the Web. Within the last three years, the personal computer market has increased annually by 47 percent, and the software industry by 37 percent. Attitudes within China are changing, and the new generation is looking beyond the rice bowl to the fields of advantages that capitalism can offer. On October 1, 1999, the People's Republic celebrated 50 years of communism in China, and there was much celebration (Hongbing, 1999; Lin, 1999; Zhu, 1995).
Compared with some developed countries, mainland China was relatively a latecomer to applying and popularizing computer and networking technologies. China's Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications is the functional organ of the State Council responsible for these services. As in other countries, China's first computer data networks supported research and education activities in the field of computer science. CAnet (China Academic Network), established in 1987, is generally cited as China's first computer network. The academic networking activities have consolidated into two major national initiatives: ChinaNet (based at the Chinese Academy of Sciences), and CERNET (China Education and Research Network, based in the State Education Commission). China Net interconnects more than 20 academic networks in China. CERNET proposes to link more than 1,000 campus networks: Its goal is to link all universities, institutes, primary through high schools, and other education and research entities (Mueller and Tan, 1997). As of 1997, more than 50 academic libraries had developed homepages, but only a few had made their catalogs available on the Internet. An international drawback was that foreign users needed Chinese systems installed in their PCs in order to view many of the catalogs. As of July 1999, 500 university libraries in China had homepages on the Web which can be found listed on the "Chinese University Directory" http://hong.commerce.ubc.ca/www/shen/univ.html Of China's "107 key universities," 61 of these have been selected to participate in Project 11, an initiative funded by China's State Development and Planning Commission to improve education, research, and institutional efficiency through CALIS (China Academic Library and Information System) (Ma, 1999).
The National Library of China http://www.nlc.gov.cn/etext.htm is the general repository for all national publications and the largest and richest collection in China. It is the world's fifth largest in terms of total collection size 21 million items. The National Library of China recently became a member of OCLC in December 1998 and is participating in OCLC's cataloging online and Interlibrary Loan services as a borrower (OCLC Newsletter, 1999). East China Normal University Press, Shanghai, published the first Chinese language textbook on OCLC cataloging services in September 1999 (Weihan et al., 1999). Ms. Eliza Sproat, Marketing Communications Specialist, OCLC Asia Pacific, shared the following information: "The book was conceived by Ms. Diao, a cataloging professor, while a visiting scholar at Ohio University from July 1997 through February 1998. The idea of writing a textbook in Chinese on OCLC cataloging services was enthusiastically supported by both Mr Wang and Dr Lee, and the three agreed to co-author this textbook as a mission to better train the next generation of Chinese librarians as well as to persuade libraries in China to participate in global resources sharing through OCLC."
The dilemmas China is facing today are vast. However, China is strongly committed to a technology-led economy and has a proven record of achievement. It is estimated that China needs $500 billion for infrastructure developments between the years 1995 and 2000. China's ninth Five-Year Plan (1996-2000), and her long-term target (to the year 2010), and various additional technology advancement programs, such as the three "Golden" Projects, are intended, in part, to build a state-of-the-art telecommunications and information system. Foreign and international funds, including the World Bank, the USA, Japan, and other countries have contributed to China's growth of the past decade. Furthermore, a vast potential of unrealized resources lies in China's household savings which approaches 40 percent of personal income (Boulton and Kelly, 1999).
China will require fully developed libraries to achieve modernization. The needs and problems of China's academic libraries include:
decline of library resources due to costs;
decline in purchase of foreign materials due to costs needed to keep up with technological advancements abroad;
need for preservation plans and permanent paper;
increased exchanges and collaboration with Western institutions;
attitudinal and organizational changes over-centralized academic institutions prevent needed innovation;
increased accessibility to materials in Chinese libraries and archives;
unavailability and high expense of equipment, including computers;
need for updated reference books and textbooks;
scarcity of trained professional staff;
better qualified and certified professional leadership;
improved relationships between central and departmental libraries;
need for written library policies;
need for formal collection development programs and plans for resource sharing;
need for system directors and collection development officers positions;
further development of library networks (Ma, 1999; Yu, 1996).
Since the 1980s, numerous library buildings featuring diversified architectural styles have mushroomed in China, producing some very beautiful libraries (Jing, 1996; Weici et al., 1996).
China was one of the founders of IFLA which was established in 1927. The shared interests between China and the USA have increased since the Cold War era, and no doubt will continue into the future, with libraries being an important part of sharing.
Lester J. Pourciau
Lester Pourciau has been closely involved in the transformation of China's libraries for more than ten years, as a five-times invited lecturer at various Chinese universities. In 1996, Pourciau was named a Consulting Professor at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications. He has been credited with introducing the Internet and its application to Chinese library information management, as well as the latest technologies to the Chinese library field. Pourciau's lectures and training courses have accelerated the development of China's library automation.
Pourciau was Director of Libraries at the University of Memphis, starting in 1970. He retired from his directorship position on August 20, 1999 and remains active internationally. While director, Pourciau chaired the planning effort which resulted in a new library building, opened in 1994, which accommodates all currently available information technology.
Pourciau has globally influenced the fields of library technology and international librarianship. He has participated in, and given papers at, conferences in Australia, Canada, Crimea, the UK, Georgia, Hungary, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, and Ukraine. Some of his recent lectures and training sessions were at the USIS Headquarters in Kiev, at the Kiev National University of Culture and Arts, and at the Lesys Ukrainka Public Library, where he spoke about Library Organization and Management, Conflict Management in Libraries, and Information Literacy. Pourciau served as Deputy Chair of the International Organizing Committee for the International Crimea Conferences: Libraries and Associations in the Transient World: New Technologies and New Forms of Co-operation, for the years 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000.
Pourciau served as member of the International Organizing Committee for the Conference on New Missions of Academic Libraries in the 21st Century, held in Beijing, China in October 1998. He shares with us firsthand his experiences and observations in his article to follow.
In the latter part of 1996, officials at Peking University discussed and made a decision to host a conference in 1998 as part of the year-long activities commemorating the centennial anniversary of Beida, the affectionate, shortened name of Peking University, Bei(jing), Da(xue). They knew at that time that the new library building at Peking University, then undergoing construction, would be completed and ready for use in the Fall of 1998. Thus, they targeted late October for the International Conference on New Missions of Academic Libraries in the 21st Century (ICONMAL). Their idea and plan were proffered to Hwa-wei Lee, of Ohio University, and to Bessie Hahn of Brandeis University, two distinguished Chinese-American librarians who have had extensive dealings and relationships with Peking University. These two scholars immediately endorsed the idea and offered their full support of it.
After discussion with them, and with other international academic library leaders, two organizing committees were formed for purposes of planning. The International Organizing Committee assumed responsibility for the selection of external participants, and the Internal Organizing Committee selected those from China. In the Fall of 1997, a Call for Papers was released on the Internet and this, along with the work of the two organizing committees, ultimately resulted in the selection of 142 papers of which 109 are in English, and 33 are in Chinese. The Chinese papers include English-language abstracts. Each of the papers focused on the conference title and theme, "New Missions of Academic Libraries in the 21st Century." These papers are available at http://www.lib.pku.edu.cn/98conf/ (see Plate 1). The venue for the conference was the newly completed library building at Peking University, and it was held from October 25-28, 1998. Construction of the new building was funded by Mr Shing Li Ka of Hong Kong and was supported by the State Education Commission of China and by the municipal government of Beijing. It occupies 50,000 square meters of space and rises to eight storeys. It was designed to incorporate the most advanced information technologies so as to facilitate world class library services and management.
Plate 1 Entrance to the new library building at Peking University
The origins of Peking University date from 1898, when it was established as the Metropolitan University (Jing Shi Da Xue Tang). It was renamed Peking University in 1912, and by 1919 was China's largest university. It is considered by many to be China's most prestigious university. Perhaps the most famous of its employees was Mao Zedong, Chairman Mao. Beida is proud to note that Chairman Mao worked in the library as a young man. Peking University became a comprehensive university in 1952, after the establishment of the People's Republic of China and established emphases on teaching and research in the liberal arts and sciences. Since 1949, Beida has awarded more than 100,000 undergraduate and graduate degrees. It currently has some 21,500 students, including international students from more than 60 foreign countries. It has a faculty of 2,100.
The library of Peking University was established in 1902. Today it has the largest collection of material of any of China's institutions of higher education. These collections include more than 4.5 million volumes, including a rare book collection of 1.5 million volumes. In addition to the book collections, the library of Beida holds an extensive collection of microform, audiovisual, and CD-ROM items. Gift and exchange and interlibrary loan agreements are in place with more than 500 major libraries throughout the world.
Six different themes made up the format of the conference: The Mission and Purposes of Academic Libraries in the 21st Century; Library Management and Organizational Structure of the Digital Library; Services and Resource Sharing in the Networked Environment; The Management of Electronic Information; Libraries and Distance Learning; and Professional Development and Continuing Education.
Not all of the papers included in the printed Proceedings were individually presented at the conference. Rather, because of the number of papers and the limited time for presentation of them, a decision was made to have two keynote presentations at each theme session, followed by a theme discussion during which an appointed moderator encouraged and co-ordinated discussion germane to the theme and the papers included in that theme. The opening ceremony was hosted by Prof. Wang Yi-Qiu, the Executive Vice-President of Peking University. Then, Dai Longji, Professor and Executive Director of the Peking University Library, and Ching-chich Chen, Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College, made keynote presentations. Dai Longji spoke about the Peking University Library and its preparation for supporting university study and research in the twenty-first century. Professor Chen, a member of President Clinton's Presidential Committee on Information Technology (PITAC), spoke on the Next Generation Internet (NGI) and the changing role of academic libraries in the digital knowledge society. Both of the presentations were interesting and informative. Following these, the remainder of the day was devoted to the substance of the conference, and to discussion of each of the first two of the six themes of the overall conference. The first of these, The Mission and Purpose of Academic Libraries in the Twenty-first Century, prompted healthy discussion, as did the second, Library Management and Organizational Structure of the Digital Library. As was indicated above, for each of these two themes, there was a panel discussion which involved a presentation by two keynote speakers, and then a group discussion of each of the two themes. These two themes are interrelated, of course, and the mix of papers included in them demonstrates this clearly.
Among the papers included in Theme One was "Academic Libraries in Transition," by Min-Min Chang, University Librarian at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Chang used Peter Drucker's writings about post-capitalist society being one in which the most important resource will be knowledge and, thus, the leading social class will be composed of "knowledge workers." Using this as a basis for extrapolation, Chang identified technology as the driving force transforming libraries, i.e. the accelerating convergence of telecommunications technology and information technology.
A more focused paper, "Some Ideas on the Development Strategy of Academic Library in the Twenty-first Century," by Zhu Haikang and Zhao Meidi of Zhejiang University, discussed the relationship of the academic library to the changes and development of higher education in China. Their remarks are exactly what the word "Ideas" in the paper title implies, a discussion of strategy with the ultimate goal of advancing Chinese civilization.
A somewhat more pragmatic view is espoused in the paper by Gao Min and Li Hongmei, of Northern Jiaotong University in Beijing, "Several Problems on How to Speed Up the Modernization of Chinese Libraries." They first identified some basic characteristics of modern libraries as incorporating computer technology, CD-ROM databases, and fiber optic telecommunications. They then provided a brief commentary on the present conditions in Chinese libraries, characterizing libraries in some developed countries as having made striking advances. They cite some progress in Chinese libraries but suggest that this progress is uneven and is limited to certain libraries with little evidence of a common effort to standardize the application of technology to library operations. They point out that the lack of commercial companies in China which are in the business of selling library automation systems is a handicap, causing a waste of manpower (this is the word they use in their paper; political correctness has not taken a foothold in China), resources, and causing unnecessary complications.
In the same vein, a paper by Zhang Qijie of Jinan University of Guangzhou, "A Discussion on the Problem of the Modernization of the University Libraries," paralleled the concerns expressed in the papers briefly mentioned above, speaking of the need to maximize the utilization of information technology, so as to accommodate university students of tomorrow. These students, Zhang proposes, will be different from students of today, and will not depend on the country and cultural circumstances in which they live but, rather, will accept and accommodate education via an electronic world. Thus, there is a fundamental role for libraries to play in endorsing and providing information resources.
The four papers referenced above were all written by Chinese nationals and were chosen for mention here so as to reflect some of the concerns of librarians in China. By way of contrast, although "contrast" is something of too strong a word, Andrew Wang, an ethnic Chinese who is Director of OCLC Asia Pacific Services and who is extremely well versed in the state of electronic and digital resources, offered his views on "The Electronic Library and Information Services in the 21st Century." In his introduction, he suggested that discussion of libraries in the twenty-first century has perhaps created the illusion that, once the date into the twenty-first century has been crossed, libraries will be completely different organizations from what they are at the time of this writing. Further, some librarians have been led to believe that libraries will cease to exist in the twenty-first century. Wang's comment about these two views is, "It is not so." Rather, he points out that libraries have been changing and evolving throughout the entire twentieth century and that this change and evolution will continue into and throughout the twenty-first century with the exception that the rate of change will undoubtedly be faster. He pointed out that libraries all perform the functions of:
selection and collection of information;
classification and organization of information;
dissemination of information; and
preservation of information.
He added that these functions will continue into the twenty-first century; however the tools used to perform them are changing and will continue to change.
Theme Two: "Library Management and Organizational Structure of the Digital Library," included papers that spoke of the implementation of many of the ideas included in Theme One. Zhang Xiaolin of Sichuan Union University in Chengdu, in writing about "Rebuilding University Library Mechanism for the twenty-first Century," spoke of the university as a social environment built on various information activities. Zhang wrote of an earlier view of university information systems being one which was library oriented but, with the proliferation of information systems and services in various schools, departments, and agencies of a university, the landscape of a university information system is changing and is leading to a loss of the "captured users, captured market, and captured" status of traditional libraries. Using that cogent observation, Zhang then argued that the library faces an urgent need to recapture managerial attention and support by redefining and reestablishing its roles in the university information environment. He identified needs in terms of a redefinition of the concept of a university library and its operational needs and a review of the models and analysis of reformed university libraries.
A Theme Two paper by Guo Wei and Yang Huai of Northeastern University in Shenyang, Liaoning Province: "An Approach to the Reorganization of Library Under Networked Environment," identified the China Education and Research Computer Network (CERNET), as providing Chinese academic libraries with good network connectivity and with access to the Internet. Identifying a characteristic of this networked environment as having eliminated constraints of time and distance, they argue that the concept of a library as a place is changing and that the idea of the virtual library is emerging. With this as a given, they elaborate on the organizational structure of the traditional library, and identify a variety of changes mandated by the repositioning of the library within the networked environment. They point out that relatively few libraries in China are connected to CERNET, but that this is changing rapidly. Because of this change, they identify increasing attention and focus directed to issues of library reorganization.
A paper by Wang Xiaoling of the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications: "New Era, Chinese University Libraries' Management Modes," identifies challenges facing libraries as:
Changes in thought and concept;
Changes in technology methods and service modes;
Changes in skill requirements of librarians; and
Changes in the tasks and service modes of [the] library.
She discusses the nature of change precipitating challenges and then discusses a reorientation and reorganization of the library's acquisitions department, a reduction of staffing in catalog departments, the building of a comprehensive journal (periodicals) department, the establishment of a comprehensive circulation department, and the establishment and maintenance of an "Electronic Information Construction Department," i.e. the provision and staffing of an organizational unit charged with the responsibility of creating and maintaining the library's Web site.
As was the case with the discussion of papers included in Theme One, the papers briefly characterized here in the discussion of Theme Two were all written by Chinese nationals. Also as was the case, some small contrast might be shown by providing brief comment on a paper by Zhang Sha Li, a Chinese American who has worked and lived in the USA for several years. In her paper, "Collection Management in Small and Medium Size University Libraries in the New Century," she describes consortium involvement and participation on the part of several different libraries, identifying OhioLink as an example of a large academic library consortium. She identifies benefits as shared online cataloging, group-purchased electronic databases, and the availability of networked resources for small and medium-sized libraries. She identifies several other consortium-based efforts and identifies each as advantageous. Zhang discusses distance education and the need for libraries to re-evaluate their roles so as to accommodate the impact of this on higher education. Additional comment is directed to the increasing share of library "collections" that is composed of electronic resources. Because of these factors, Zhang argues that the boundaries between and among library staff in collection building, public services, technical services, and systems work are disappearing as electronic resources flourish. Her summary comment is that: "When the new millennium approaches, small and medium-sized libraries have to address these new issues in their collection development policies. New technologies, new knowledge environment, and [a] new generation of users will continue to present challenges to these libraries as they do the same to large libraries."
The first day of the conference ended with a reception hosted by the Peking University Library, which offered a stunning array of Chinese delicacies along with drink. On the second day, ICONMAL began as planned with presentations germane to conference themes by different people. At lunch the Organizing Committee was taken to a special dining room where the President of Peking University hosted a sumptuous meal. Following this were several more presentations of theme topics and, at 3 p.m., the group left via buses for the National Library of China, for a tour of the building and its various collections and services. That evening, conference participants were taken to the Da Yuan Hotel, a complex in the style of a typical Chinese garden for a reception and party hosted by the National Library of China. The final day of the conference was occupied with presentations and discussions during the morning and with a visit to Tsinghua University Library in the early afternoon. Following this and a return to the Beida campus in mid-afternoon, participants took up the meeting agenda again with a report by Beverly Lynch of UCLA in which she presented a summary of the various discussions that had taken place during each of the six theme sessions. Then, James Neal of The Johns Hopkins University made a presentation summarizing the content of the conference presentations and papers. He was followed by He Fangchuan, a vice-president at Peking University, who spoke about the conference and the library and its mission.
ICONMAL was clearly a successful venture. This was obviously the result of work by both the external and internal organizing committees and, especially, the individual who assumed responsibility for local arrangements, Zhu Qiang, Deputy Director of the Peking University Library. During the three days of the conference, participants provided, discussed, and exchanged new ideas and methods on how libraries can and must modify existing roles and organizational patterns so as to adopt new ones in order to accommodate the evolving technology which is increasingly becoming an everyday part of the daily operation of a university library. Participants were virtually unanimous in their view that, as the Internet diminishes the recognition of political and territorial boundaries, libraries will encounter financial and legal hurdles as well as differences in language and culture in their efforts to build a global digital library.
The MPT Annual Work Conference
Immediately following ICONMAL in Beijing was the Annual Work Conference of the Library Directors from universities and institutions governed by the Chinese Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) (see Plate 2). This MPT Annual Work Conference was held in Chengdu, in Sichuan Province, and this writer was invited to make presentations at the gathering. This Annual Work Conference has been held for a number of years, each time on the campus of one of the participating institutions, and its purpose is to network, to share experiences, and to lay plans for co-operation and interaction. On this occasion it took place on October 30 and November 1 and 2, on the campus of University of Electronic, Science, and Technology of China (UESTC). In the opening session, Ma Ziwei, Director of the Library at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, reported on his attendance and participation in the IFLA Conference in Amsterdam in August 1998. After his presentation, this writer made a presentation on the topic of information literacy, outlining the basic components of this effort in the USA and in Australia. He described his own university libraries' efforts to provide instruction to faculty, staff, and students in library use and the use of technology available in the University of Memphis. He then described the variety of databases available by accessing the University of Memphis Libraries' home page.
Plate 2 MPT Work Conference participants at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, in Chengdu
The format of the Annual Work Conference was not highly structured. Various topics were discussed during dinners at restaurants or at sites away from the primary venue. Among the matters considered were the various facets of automation of systems in each of the MPT institutional libraries, changes in staff assignments and staff educational needs, cooperative collection development, and matters of connectivity to CERNET.
This Annual Work Conference of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (P and T) librarians is by and large unknown to the Western world, but it has for some time provided an opportunity for individuals associated with each of the P and T institutional libraries to meet, exchange views, interact, and network. This particular MPT work conference was the fifth one in which this writer had participated. Throughout the experiences of these five conferences in five difference venues, the observation is consistent that they serve their purpose to Chinese academic librarianship well.
Lester J. Pourciau is "International Librarianship" co-editor, Library Hi Tech News, and Director of Libraries (retired), University of Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Victoria Spain is "International Librarianship" co-editor, Library Hi Tech News, and Bibliographic Services Librarian, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts. email@example.com
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