Self-Education of Librarians: Making Use of the Internet Resources

Guoqing Li
East Asian Library
The Ohio State University

As an East Asian Collection Manager and Cataloger at the George A. Smathers Library of the University of Florida, my job has been a real challenge for me from the beginning. First, there were no courses on area specialists in the library school I attended. In fact, no library schools in the United States offer that kind of courses, as far as I know. Second, as the only East Asian librarian at the University of Florida and in the State of Florida as well, one could not get any help from colleagues nearby. Still, the libraries are rapidly changing from storing mainly printed materials to providing multimedia information online. Many skills, especially computer-related ones that did not exist just a few years ago, are now needed for librarians to perform their daily work. Naturally, continuing education is indispensable to me in order to fulfill my job responsibilities.

Unfortunately, although laying a great emphasis on professional growth, the University and the Library are unable to provide much funding for us to attend formal courses, workshops, or professional conferences. The good part of being a librarian at a major academic institute in the United States though is that I have access to adequate equipment to do self-education online. By equipment, I mean hardware and software such as a desk-top PC, local network and connection to the Internet. Following discussion will focus on resources available on the Internet related to librarianship in general and to East Asian librarianship in particular.

The Internet is a catch-all word used to describe the massive worldwide network of computers. The word "Internet" literally means "network of networks". In itself, the Internet is comprised of thousands of smaller regional networks scattered throughout the world. Therefore, it is sometimes simply called the "net".

The most effective learning resources for librarians on the Internet, from my experience, are mainly electronic discussion groups and the World Wide Web pages.

There are two major kinds of electronic discussion groups according to different technical formats they use for online communication. One is news groups, which is also commonly known as electronic bulletin boards. Anyone interested in a certain topic can, with a software called news reader, post and read discussion on a relevant news group. The other is mailing lists or listservs, which provide means of discussion through email. After subscribing to a list, you can send messages to the list which will automatically forward them to the rest of the subscribers. In the same way, you will automatically receive others' postings. The Internet contains literally thousands of special interest discussion groups, each individually controlled by a program known as a listserver (commonly referred to as a listserv or a list). Discussions are often moderated by a list owner. Most lists can be provided to the user either in a digest form or on a post-by-post basis. Any member of the list may take part in a discussion or start a new topic.

As mentioned above, you need certain software to join the news group. Besides consulting your library's computer systems officers, you may also find details on many mail and news readers for MSDOS, Windows and OS/2 systems in the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) posted to the "comp.os.msdos.mail-news". For a list of news groups, there is a Web page ( on which you will find a list of more than 6,000 representative news groups.

The new group I visit regularly is "alt.Chinese.computing". As the name indicates, people on this news group mainly exchange information on how to do Chinese computing, which is quite relevant to my needs.

Due to the variety of programs used to run mailing lists, the way of subscription may vary from one to another. The most common one though is as follows:

  1. send a message to:
    listserv@[list address]
  2. leave the subject line blank
  3. in the body of message, type:
    subscribe [name of list] [your first name] [your last name]

There are two very good directories of library-related lists on the Internet. One is Library-Oriented Lists and Electronic Serials compiled by Steve Bonario ( and Ann Thornton ( This document provides brief information about selected Internet and BITNET lists and electronic serials that are of interest to librarians. It can be retrieved via email by sending the following message to: get library lists f-mail

A World Wide Web version of this document is also available. To view it, use the following URL:

The other is Library-Related E-mail Lists compiled by Randy D. Ralph. It has only the Web version:

Both of them have general information on listservers, which is good for beginners, and both are fairly comprehensive. However, the former, while containing a useful subject index, only includes lists and electronic serials that are open for general subscription. The latter has all lists' addresses on the page in "mailto:" links so that you can subscribe right away if you find the one you are interested in.

Following are some sample lists with their addresses grouped into three categories according to their nature. The similarity among them is that they all serve as the forum for subscribers to post questions, initiate discussion topics, provide examples, or share information, methodology, and solutions related to certain problems. Therefore, they are excellent resources for self-education.

1. Function-related discussion lists

a library cataloging and authorities discussion group

an acquisitions librarians' electronic network

a discussion list for use of CD-ROMs

a cooperative cataloging discussion group

an interlibrary loan discussion group

a forum for discussion on multimedia applications in libraries

an informal list open to members of the serials community to discuss matters related to serials/journals

2. Librarians/libraries organizations' lists

the Chinese American Librarians Association discussion list

Council on East Asian Libraries/Association for Asia Studies.
Note: This is the one I closely monitor and actively participate in, since I am a member of this Council. Similar lists in European are CJKlib and Sinolist, and in Australia, the (

International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions

American Society for Information Science

It is worth to note that the Chinese librarians have established a significant presence on the Internet last year in the form of the Internet Chinese Librarians Club (ICLC). ICLC does not have a concrete building as its headquarters; all its operations, including correspondence, publications and other activities, are conducted mainly on the Internet. It aims at providing an environment wherein we Chinese librarians, at home or abroad, can discuss issued related to librarianship and information science, making full use of the cyberspace and computer technology to cultivate scholarship among Chinese librarians and information specialists. It plans to establish, stage by stage, 3 electronic journals, to offer volunteer services to the whole library world in Chinese collection development, Chinese materials acquisitions consultation, Chinese cataloging assistance, and Chinese materials reference. It has now over 200 members in 19 countries and regions from all the 5 continents. However, only 11 members are from the mainland China. I hope that more colleagues will join this club and utilize its list and Web pages as a learning resource and a door to the world.

ICLC has a mailing list, MWCALA-L (, and a Web page (

3. Special library systems user group

a public list providing a forum for discussion and exchange of ideas and information about OCLC CJK products and services. Anyone who is interested in OCLC CJK products and services may join.

a forum to discuss the use of RLIN for technical processing and reference, directions and development of RLIN services, including CJK script support, and integrating RLIN within institutional local systems and campus network. This is open to all interested individuals, members and non-members.

an Innovative Interfaces Online Public Access Catalog discussion list

Now let us turn to the other topic, the World Wide Web (WWW, 3W, Web). Although the World Wide Web is mostly used on the Internet, they do not mean the same thing. The Web refers to a body of information, an abstract space of knowledge; while the Internet refers to the physical side of the global network, a giant mass of cables and computers. With the help of a popular Web software interface or browser, such as Mosaic or Netscape, it provides users on computer networks with a consistent means to access a variety of media in a simplified fashion. The Web has changed the way people view and create information, thus offering a good opportunity for librarians to take advantage of global network technologies to do our business -- information access, storage and retrieval -- in a more cost-effective, user-friendly and efficient manner.

To me, this means I have to learn how to locate and select resources on the Web as well as how to create Web pages to provide access for our users. In the beginning, I attended several short workshops on how to surf the Web and how to create Web pages at the Faculty Support Center for Computing on campus. I also got help from colleagues from time to time during the learning process. But I got the majority of the needed knowledge from the Internet. Among many sites I have visited, the following ones, I think, are good self-learning resources for the beginners:

To see the resources I collected for Chinese and Japanese studies, you are welcome to visit the pages I have created:

Another page I participated in creating is:

In the process of creating them, I found the following sources very helpful and might be of interest to my Chinese colleagues as well:

There are also many powerful search engines available on the Web. They work in many different ways. Some search titles or headers of documents, others search the documents themselves, and still others search other indexes or directories. Although the search result may not always be ideal, due to many reasons, it could at least give one a point to start. Following are two most popular search tools:

Beware that the Internet is fluid. All the above cited can be changed or deleted by their creators. If a cited address doesn't work, check some of the Internet finding tools for an appropriate one.

Making use of the Internet resources, I accomplished two projects last year. One is the aforementioned Web pages. The other is the investigation of the feasibility for setting up a workstation which will be able to provide access to multilingual materials on the Internet. The current library automation system in use at the University of Florida Libraries can not display languages other than English, causing great difficulty for student and faculty to access materials in their original scripts. Committed to providing a better service, a Vernacular Workstation Task Force was set up in late 1994, which I chaired it, includes librarians dealing with Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Cyrillic and Hebrew. This is a quite complicated task, which involves many things we do not have knowledge of. Lacking local expertise on this matter, the Task Force members had to seek help from colleagues outsides. For example, I sent a help-seek message to the EASTLIB, and received feedback from many colleagues, for examle, the Chinese Studies Librarian at Arizona State University Libraries, Director of the Systems Office at the Library of University of California-Berkeley, and Library Service Officer at the Research Libraries Group which provides the RLIN bibliographic utility service. Other Task Force members did similar things. The valuable information we collected from various discussion groups and Web sites formed the base of our recommendations to the Library administration.

To sum up, self-learning as a form of continuing education of librarians is indispensable in this changing world. With the rapid advance of library-related technologies, it has become increasingly difficult to catch up. However, if we are willing to tap the almost inexhaustible resources readily available on the Internet, we will succeed.

This paper was presented at the panel discussion co-sponsored by the China Organizing Committee of the 62nd IFLA Conference and CALA, held on August 27, 1996 during the 62nd IFLA Conference in Beijing, China.

Copyright © 1996 Guoqing Li.
Submitted to CALA E-J on October 16, 1996.