Working without Microcomputers in Chinese Academic Libraries

Article excerpt

Working Without Microcomputers in Chinese Academic Libraries

As the application of microcomputers in libraries has become commonplace, it would be difficult to find a library, especially an academic library, in the United States that has not incorporated one or more microcomputers into its daily operation. Nowadays, the microcomputer, like the typewriter, is just another tool in the library, and topics such as expert systems, OS/2, CD-ROM, LANs, and the new generation of automated systems are quite common in the library literature and conference programs. (1)

No Microcomputers in Libraries

However, in the Yunnan Province of China, having a small computer in a university library is still a dream. What the libraries there are going through now is reminiscent of what many libraries in the United States went through a decade ago.

Sharon Lin reported that by the end of 1984 microcomputers were available in 80 percent of the specialized information centers and 60 percent of the regional ones, and that more than 80 percent of the universities with library and information science programs were equipped with microcomputers. The Yunnan University Library, however, as well as the Yunnan Normal University Library, and the libraries of more than a dozen other colleges and institutes in the Kunming area, were not so fortunate. (2)

These institutions did not have a single microcomputer for their library services or internal operations when I visited in the fall of 1988. These libraries reminded me of what M. Nofsinger wrote in her article on Sichuan Province -- that electric typewriters, calculators, and computers were not available in most of the libraries that she visited. (3)

World Bank Support

In September and October of 1988, I served as a project specialist at the Yunnan University (YU). My visit to China was under the auspices of the Chinese Provincial Universities Development Project (CPUDP). This is the third in a series of World Bank-supported Chinese university projects aiming to improve the quality and management of university programs.

Specifically, I was invited to deliver lectures on expert systems and Prolog at the Computer Science Department of the Yunnan University, to conduct a series of workshops on library automation, and to served as a consultant for the development of the library automation project at the university.

The Yunnan University and

Its Library

The Yunnan University is the largest and most prestigious academic institution in the province. The university has more than six thousand undergraduate and graduate students and a little over two thousand faculty and staff. Students who enter YU must have higher scores in the national United Entrance Examination than those entering other colleges and universities in the province, including the medical and technological institutes.

The University library contains a little more than a million volumes and has close to one hundred employees. Very few of these employees have library science degrees and there seems to be no clear distinction between the professional librarians and the support staff. One thing was very clear; they do not hire student assistants to work in the library. The reason, I was told, is that student assistants might cause some security problems.

The functional organization of the library is quite similar to our system here; there are units such as acquisitions, cataloging (the Western language cataloging unit and the Chinese language cataloging unit), circulation, reference, microforms, periodicals, special collections, library automation, etc. The collections are divided by subject matter into several sections, each housed in a different room. Each room has a subject librarian to help patrons.

The automation unit of the university has a staff of three persons headed by Mr. Zhang, who has a strong background in physics. …