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Views on technology and libraries

Meeting summary: Chinese Academy of Sciences Library

Today we had meetings with the executive staff of the National Science Library of China (NSLC), Chinese Academy of Sciences library, in Beijing. NSLC is the public library service system of CAS, as well as the National Library of Sciences in the Chinese National Sciences and Technology Libraries (NSTL) system. Under a Board of Trustees appointed by CAS, NSLC consists of a Main Library (based in Beijing, formerly the Library of CAS) and three branch libraries.

NSLC functions as the key library nationally, for collecting information resources and providing information services in natural sciences, inter-disciplinary fields, and high tech fields, to researchers and students of CAS and for researchers around the country. It also conducts services such as information analysis, digital library system development, scientific publication (with its 14 journals), and promotion of sciences. It also operates the Archives of CAS.

NSLC has a staff over 370, and a collection of about 11.5 million items. In recent years, it has acquired or developed more than 30 databases, covering over 5,000 foreign STM full text journals, 11,000 Chinese full text journals, 80,000 foreign theses and dissertations, 180,000 e-books, and an increasing numbers of full text proceedings and reference books, all of which are accessible from 108 CAS Institutes in over 32 cities in China. NSLC provides an interlibrary loan system, connecting every CAS institute, as well as connecting to NSTL and major academic libraries. In addition, NSLC has developed many innovative services and tools, such as cross-database searching, integrated journal browsing, online reference, subject portals, remote and mobile authentication, and the ScienceChina system, that incorporates abstracts, citations, and full text of key Chinese scientific literature.

There were a number of striking things with this meeting. First, the Executive Director of the NSLC was completely fluent in English, having been educated with an MLS and Ph.D. at Columbia University’s library school back in the late 1980s. He gave an excellent presentation on “Toward Knowledge-Based Information Professionals”, which outlined the NSLC’s programmes and capability in two periods, first from 2001-2006 and second, since that time. The NSLC supports 30,000 scientists and 40,000 graduate students in the areas of basic sciences, life sciences, geologic science, and technology, and provides a sophisticated suite of services to these clientele. They build scientometric analysis systems and services, current awareness, federated searching, a union catalog representing over 500 libraries in China, embedded library services and librarians (although these subject librarians do not have library science credentials) in China’s many scientific institutes, and a number of sophisticated desktop integration and other user point-of-need systems and services.

I was very impressed with the breadth and sophistication of the services offered, and it was interesting that they are very focused and intentional in serving the needs of scientists with the goal of helping them identify and innovate in new areas of research across these disciplines. They have both subject specialists as well as information analysts, and 93% of their subject specialists have science/technology/medicine (STM) backgrounds,with over 70% of them having Masters or Ph.D. subject degrees, and an even higher percentage of these for the information analysts. The one major difference these have from North American research libraries is the fact that these subject librarians and information analysts are not required to have library science degrees. It seems in North American academic libraries, we are much more concerned with having the library science credential and people socialized into the profession, and here in China they are much more outcomes oriented in terms of maximizing the contribution and sophistication of service that these subject specialists have on the research enterprise. I sometimes wonder if academic librarians in our institutions would be more credible if we had advanced subject degrees; it seems like here they can and are, so the question to ask is for some of our subject disciplines that are particularly complex, should an MLS be required over a candidate who has advanced subject degrees and still some socialization into the library profession?

The NSLC also is very outcomes oriented, which surprised me. Merit increases are tied to the success of the scientists that the subject specialists/information analysts serve,and if goals are not met, then their job isnot thought to be complete, and they must continue to work on this.

All of this has compelling implications for innovation in science & technology for China. It is interesting that these resources are being focused on enabling research outcomes.I think that our national science libraries focus more on collecting scholarly and research resources and providing access to them. The National Library here has this but focuses on making science happen much more intentionally. The thought of a nation of 1 billion focused on scientific innovation outcomes will pose a significant challenges to the more developed G8 nations, I can imagine.

We also spent time in discussing future collaboration between the NSLC and ASIS&T (Nancy Roderer is a Past President of ASIS&T) and SLA (one of our delegates is current President of SLA), and of staff exchanges between China and the United States. Some wonderful opportunities here for US libraries to host Chinese professionals!

Tomorrow we have two visits: the China Science & Technology Information Institute in the morning, and the College of Information Science & Technology at Beijing Normal University in the afternoon.

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Filed under: librarianship, travel reports

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