Magazine article Information Outlook

A Roundabout Route to Minnesota: Her First Studies Were in German Literature, but Then She Fell in Love with Libraries

Magazine article Information Outlook

A Roundabout Route to Minnesota: Her First Studies Were in German Literature, but Then She Fell in Love with Libraries

Article excerpt

Not many experienced library catalogers in St. Paul, Minnesota, started their lives in the flat, low-lying plains of Jiangsu, a province in eastern China. Qin Tang is one.

Her life is the stuff movies are sometimes made of: the young woman whose thirst for knowledge takes her on a personal and professional journey across the globe; first to Germany to study, to fall in love and marry; and then, finally, to the U.S. to build a family and a career.

Tang's story is one that could only happen at a special time in history when the world shifted its political and economic boundaries, and when an opportunity came to go beyond the limitations she knew; it's a personal tale about two cultures and how one woman took an extraordinary journey to secure an ordinary life.

Qin Tang is technical services librarian at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT). It's a demanding job but one at which she is proficient and experienced. Tang has worked very hard to reach this point in life.

When she came to the U.S. in 1991 at the age of 27, her knowledge and comprehension of the English language was nominal, but the one institution that changed her life was the public library. Her desire for knowledge and to master English to access the available information in our own education helped her fuel her choice to enter the information profession. Libraries were not a natural part of her life in China. Tang recalls the Cultural Revolution more than 30 years ago when use of a public library was limited to a few adults with special permission. But China started to change from an enclosed society to one that was to be integrated with the world through commerce and language, a crucial element for the Chinese to do business globally.

"I went to the Beijing Foreign Studies University," Tang said. "It was the best of its kind--mainly a university where people learn foreign languages like Romanian, Arabic, all sorts. The biggest departments were the English and European languages. I graduated with a BA in German literature and linguistics in July 1985.

"At the time, China had started opening more to the world and people started wanting to study foreign languages. The Chinese Central Television (CCTV) network started offering English, French, and Japanese language programs. They wanted to offer a German language course. I then got a permanent job at CCTV, but one year later I was offered a government scholarship to study in Germany."

The scholarship was part of a German academic exchange that allowed her to live and study in Germany. She left China for Heidelberg in 1986. Tang was supposed to return to CCTV after a year of studies, but her scholarship was renewed and she stayed longer to finish the master's degree, which she did in 1991, a master's in German literature and linguistics from the University of Heidelberg.

It was there she met the man who later became her husband, a Chinese native who was also at the same school. In 1991, he had an opportunity for work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, so they moved to the U.S. It was in Madison that she began going to the public library to refresh her English, a language she had learned in high school but had all but forgotten after years studying German. After a year of hard effort, Tang was able to communicate more effectively. Before long, she found a job at the Madison Public Library, checking in books.

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"I had never been a library user before in China," Tang said. "I like the idea of working with books and being surrounded by books. I started enjoying reading and going to the library regularly before I went to work at the library. So I thought going to library school, getting a degree is the way to go." Tang pursued her MLS in the summer of 1993.

Three years after arriving in the U.S., Tang had an MLS from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At the university, she was employed part-time as a library services assistant, working on a retrospective conversion project and cataloging life sciences materials in German and English. …

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