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Chinese librarians coming to U. of I. to study 'library futures'

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor
217-333-2177; andreal@uiuc.edu

6/13/2006

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — There still are many realms where communications between the United States and China are strained or non-existent, but the realm that includes libraries, librarians and librarianship is not among them.

In fact, the ties are only strengthening between one U.S. university, including its library school, and several Chinese academic libraries.

For the second year in a row, academic librarians from libraries across China are attending summer school at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. GSLIS consistently is ranked the top library school in the United States. The summer school program is a partnership between Chinese institutions and several units on the U. of I. campus, including the Library and the Illinois Fire Service Institute.

Arriving on Saturday (June 17) and studying on campus through July 8, the eight men and five women will take up a wide range of topics, including e-publishing, team management, community informatics, regional library systems and research library leadership.

The theme of their summer school course is “Futures of the Libraries.”

The Chinese librarians hail from several cities in China, including Beijing, Jinan, Nanjing, Shenzhen, Shihezi, Wuhan and Xiamen. In their home libraries, they serve as directors and assistant directors, research specialists and heads of acquisitions and of technology departments.

Members of the GSLIS and the U. of I. Library faculty, including university librarian Paula Kaufman, will team-teach the course in the various areas of their research expertise.

In addition to lectures and classroom discussions, the librarians will work on group assignments, tour cultural and library sites in the Champaign-Urbana area, in Chicago and in Springfield, and cap off their course work with a graduation ceremony.

After graduation, the group will visit libraries in Washington, D.C., as well as New York, Nevada and California, before returning home to China on July 14.

John Unsworth, the dean of GSLIS, sees China as “important to the future of information science.”

“Along with India, China is one of the world’s great economies, with an incredible breadth and depth of expertise, as well as a wealth of challenges in the areas of library and information science.”

China also is important closer to home – to the library school that Unsworth directs.

“Nearly half of our students go to work in academic research libraries, and about 15 percent of our students are international, with the largest group of those students being Chinese,” Unsworth said.

“We need to build an alumni network in China that will help us to recruit highly qualified new students from China and to place our graduates,” he said.

After the Chinese librarians leave the United States, Unsworth will travel to China where he will meet with some of last year’s summer school participants, with library administrators and with foundation and embassy representatives. He also will give lectures at several universities.

With embassy personnel, he hopes to discuss the issue of obtaining visas for Chinese visitors; at present visas are “extremely difficult to arrange in a timely fashion, and this complicates planning a program.”

With administrators at two universities, he’ll discuss the possibility for “coordinated degree programs.”

And with U.S. foundations in Beijing, Unsworth will explore various possibilities for obtaining additional support for the summer program.

GSLIS’ Chinese summer school program is “fee-based – fully supported by participants’ tuition – and self-sustaining,” said Lian Jin Ruan, head librarian of the Illinois Fire Service Institute and a graduate student in GSLIS who coordinates the program. She also will travel to China at the end of the course.

Illinois’ China partners helped Ruan identify qualified participants at Chinese academic libraries who had “the potential for future leadership roles, funding and administrative support.”

Those partners are Mengli Wang, deputy director of the Beijing Aeronautical University Library; Qiang Zhu, director of the Beijing University Library; China’s Society of University and College Libraries; the GSLIS Chinese student group; and 2005 summer school participants.

“GSLIS, as the top-ranked library school, and the U. of I. as a top-ranked public university, also help attract potential applicants,” Ruan said, adding that the trip to China in July “should help promote the program directly and effectively.”

The summer school program was established through a partnership involving GSLIS, the Illinois Fire Service Institute (on the U. of I. campus), China’s Society of University and College Libraries, individual Chinese libraries and the U. of I. Library.

Marianne Steadley, continuing professional development program director, is coordinating arrangements for GSLIS.

Unsworth, Ruan and Qiang Zhu are working on grant proposals that would provide financial aid to support one or two Chinese academic librarians in underdeveloped areas to attend future summer school programs.