Libraries and Librarianship in China

G.E. Gorman (Victoria University of Wellington)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 1 August 2000




Gorman, G.E. (2000), "Libraries and Librarianship in China", Library Review, Vol. 49 No. 6, pp. 303-310.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

An interest must be declared at the outset – the reviewer is co‐author of an about‐to‐be‐released competitor to this volume, Library and Information Services in China (Scarecrow Press, 1999). While the works cover much of the same territory, they are arranged rather differently, rely on very different sources and draw rather incompatible conclusions in many areas.

Ms Lin’s volume is essentially the view of an outsider who has visited China many times to see first‐hand some developments, who relies for the most part on Western publications for supplementary material and who expresses a largely Western view of library developments in China. Her work consists of 11 chapters, with the first three offering discussions of, respectively, pre‐1976 history of libraries, library legislation and regulations, and library administration and organisation. The next four chapters then discuss types of libraries: national, public, academic and school, special research. Two chapters then address specific aspects of library service: bibliographic control and services in Chapter 8, automation in Chapter 10, with LIS education curiously forming an intervening chapter. A concluding summary chapter, a list of acronyms, English translations of Chinese names and a somewhat inadequate index conclude the work.

Superficially this structure seems reasonable, but a reading of the text shows considerable inconsistency and lack of organisation. On historical matters, for instance, Lin continues her Chapter 1 survey in the chapters on types of libraries, so that a full history of the library movement in China requires reading across several chapters. The same is true of legislation and administration, with these topics being covered not only in Chapter 2 but also in subsequent chapters.

In general the chapters treating types of libraries are adequate, although the author clearly has a better grasp of academic libraries than other types, and with regard to special libraries and the Chinese Academy of Sciences some of her information is considerably dated or inaccurate – but this is less a reflection of her abilities than of the difficulty of obtaining the most accurate and up‐to‐date information from outside the PRC, a fact that Americans in particular seem unwilling to accept. Also, it must be pointed out that these chapters are not organised in a consistent manner, even with regard to headings that ought to be applicable across the board – for example, “recent major developments” as a heading in the public libraries chapter could have been profitably replicated in other chapters.

The chapters on bibliographic control and on library automation are equally uneven, with the former simply not an adequate discussion of the considerable developments in this area (see comparable chapters in Library and Information Services in China). The chapter on automation, though, is perhaps the gem in this work, offering a clear, historically organised discussion of developments and trends in this significant area. Especially insightful is Ms Lin’s analysis of the period from 1987 to the present, which she characterises as one of “application and implementation” (1987‐1992), and “networking and expansion” (1992‐present). I am particularly grateful for her analysis of developments in the present period, which I have not fully understood until now.

On balance, then, this work offers a mixed bag, and only libraries collecting comprehensively in comparative librarianship or Asian studies should consider it an essential acquisition. Others should wait for reviews of Library and Information Services in China before making an acquisition decision – but with China developing its information infrastructure so rapidly, most academic and research libraries servicing users in LIS will want to have something on libraries in this country.

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