Autumn in Beijing was beautiful. Leaves were changing color as China's Peking University hosted the International Conference on New Missions of Academic Libraries in the 21st Century, October 25-28, in conjunction with its 100th anniversary celebration. Some 200 academic librarians from 19 countries gathered for the largest international conference ever held at the university.
Six themes pervaded the conference: the missions and purpose of academic libraries in the 21st century, library management and organizational structure of the digital library, sharing services and resources in a networked environment, management of electronic information, libraries and distance learning, and professional development and continuing education.
Group discussions followed each panel presentation. Librarians from various countries offered unique experiences from different perspectives. Chinese and English bilingual translators facilitated the discussions.
Ching-Chih Chen of Simmons College and Dai Longji of Peking University Library provided speeches at the opening session. Chen is serving on President Clinton's Advisory Committee on High Performance Computing and Communications, Information Technology, and Next Generation Internet (NGI). She urged academic librarians to develop a vision for the future of libraries in this Internet-enabled society and define their role in facing this new frontier.
Dai gave an overview of Peking University's new library, which promises to provide high-quality collections, staff, services, and scientific research. One of the library's digital projects is to digitize ancient rare books. In addition to the Peking University Library, the National Library of China, Fudan University Library, and the Chinese Rare Book Institute at Princeton University are participating in this joint project.
Speakers Min-min Chang of Hong Kong University and Frederick Friend of University College of London agreed that the mission and purpose of the library will remain unchanged, but the way the mission is achieved certainly will not and that the mission must be expressed in a new way and through new services. Friend pointed out that when librarians from different countries meet in a conference like this, we come from different cultures, with different histories, and with different resources to offer. But what we have in common is the wish to use those resources to provide the service that library users in our different cultures require.
On the theme of library management and the organizational structure of the digital library, Zhang Xiaolin of China's Sichuan Union University talked about the roles of the library in a changing environment - new roles such as information market researcher, information policy researcher and consultant, developer for information services and systems, and operator of value-added services.
Facing many unknowns
Jerry Campbell of the University of Southern California questioned suppositions about the digital library that are based on the traditional library service model. He said libraries are facing many unknown areas, including continual changes in technologies, remote access, copyright and intellectual property, a large variation of user groups, raw sources of materials, changing job portfolio, and job descriptions. Academic libraries will have to deal with these unknown areas sooner or later.
In his speech on the theme of services and resource sharing in the networked environment, Zhu Qiang of Peking University revealed the status of the China Academic Library and Information System. This project is connected with the China Education and Research Network to provide resources to support teaching and research in universities and colleges across China through its four national and eight regional centers. …