CALA's Role in Chinese and American Librarianship

Mengxiong Liu
Engineering Librarian
San Jose State UNiversity

As the current president of CALA, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to share with you about CALA's role in Chinese and American librarianship, and its activities in enhancing the communications between the libraries and librarians between China and the United States. Since its founding in 1973, CALA has been making great effort in promoting the development of Chinese and American librarianship. After China opened its door to the world, numerous exchange programs, such as workshops, seminars, conferences were carried out by CALA, as an professional organization, or by its members individually. Today, among the 650 active CALA members, 19 are from China as either institutional or individual members.

CALA's first president Dr. Tze-chung Li has played an important role in promoting the exchanges between American and Chinese libraries. Dr. Hwa-Wei Lee, CALA's former president, and Andrew Wang of OCLC have been very active in organizing workshops, seminars, and training programs for Chinese librarians. During the years, many CALA members visited China and participated in various exchange programs. They also sponsored numerous Chinese librarians to visit American libraries and receive training. In 1996 alone, there were three consecutive conferences in China which were co-sponsored by CALA. As a recognized professional association in the library world, delegates from CALA were invited to attend the grand openings of the new National Library building in Beijing, and the new Shanghai Library building in Shanghai. CALA's Book to China program chaired by Julie Tung has shipped numerous donations to Chinese libraries.

I don't have a complete list of CALA's activities involved in the development of Chinese librarianship in China, so I can only mention a few that I am aware of. Today, I'll focus on my personal experience of my latest trip to China attending three conferences in a row, on behalf of CALA last August. The first one was the first "US-China Conference on Global Information Access in Beijing"; the second one was IFLA in Beijing, and the 3rd one was the "International Symposium on Academic Libraries in the 21st Century", in Shanghai. With IFLA being recognized as the core conference, these conferences were labeled as the preconference, the conference, and after-conference. In Chinese, they are "hui qian hui", "hui zhong hui" and "hui ho hui". I took part in all of them. Since Angela already reported about the First China-US Conference on Global Information Access, I'm going to focus on CALA's activities at IFLA.

It was the first time that China hosted the IFLA conference. The Chinese government rendered great support to the success of the conference. The Premier of the State Council of China, Li Peng, addressed the opening speech; the State Councilor and Secretary-General of the State Council, Luo Gan, was the Chair of the Organizing Committee; the famous sociologist Fei Xiao-tong was the keynote speaker. China's key newspaper People's Daily published an editorial "Welcome the New Era of Library: Congratulations on the Opening of the 62nd IFLA Conference". Librarians became TV stars during those days on all Chinese TV stations. Therefore, IFLA arouse special attention from Chinese people. For the first time, librarians received so much nationwide attention and felt themselves treasured by the people who we serve. What a great feeling!

There were 2,500 attendees from 91 countries, with 800 Chinese delegates as the largest group, and 234 US delegates as the second largest group. Then, there were 135 from Japan, 117 from Russia, 98 from France, 84 from Korea, 65 from Denmark, 56 from Netherlands, 50 from United kingdom, 47 from Norway, and 46 from Malaysia. The seven day conference included 214 sessions, 18 poster-sessions, three floors of exhibits, and hundreds of presented papers. Robert Doyle had an article about IFLA in the American Libraries, which said "according to many experienced IFLA attendees, the single most impressive activity of the conference was the transportation" provided by the Organizing Committee. Delegates were transported in 75 buses escorted by the police like a 5-kilometer long parade, while the rest of Beijing came to a standstill during the rush-hour. This made the American delegates worry that we may not be able to provide transportation nearly as good as the Chinese did when the IFLA holds its conference in Boston in 2001. "Social events were held every night and it is often said that the receptions are where most of the 'work' is done at an IFLA conference. Because of language and cultural differences, the informal sharing of ideas and experiences across boundaries is critical."

During the conference, CALA sponsored a very successful panel discussion on "Chinese American Librarians' Activities in the Changing World" with the assistance of China Organizing Committee. The great success was due to the hard work of Susan Bau who coordinated this important event. I chaired this session and Mr. Lim Hong Too, former Director of Nanyang Technological University of Singapore moderated the session. The meeting room was overcrowded by the enthusiastic Chinese librarians. There was a total of 13 speakers from CALA. The presentations and discussions focused on three topics: "libraries as Gateways to Information", "Continuing Education of Librarians in a Changing World", and "Resource Sharing".

The presentations were warmly welcomed by the enthusiastic audience. After each presentation, questions were answered and ideas were exchanged. We ran out of the original 40 copies of the paper in five minutes. Additional 50 copies were made, but still not enough. Finally, we promised them that they could get the copies the next day, thus to ease the anxiety of the audience. Before the panel discussion, we decided to conduct this session in Chinese because we expect that it was most likely that Chinese librarians would attend the meeting, and it was more convenient for mutual discussion in Chinese. However, I noticed three Caucasian faces among the audience before the meeting. I went up to them to warn them that this session would be conducted in Chinese. To my great surprise, they said "mei guan xi" ("It is OK."). I learned a lesson, just like a Chinese saying "ren bu ke mao xiang" ("never make assumptions by one's appearance").

My next stop was Shanghai, my hometown. I attended the after-conference, the "International Symposium on Academic Libraries in the 21st Century", at Jiaotong University. I made a short speech on behalf of CALA. We did a membership drive during the three conferences. As a result, many Chinese librarians handed in their applications to me right on the spot.

While I was in Shanghai, I had the chance to visit the construction site of Shanghai Library. The new building was completed in mid-December last year. CALA sent a letter of congratulations to its grand opening ceremony. The library is highly automated. Rather than following the traditional closed-stack practice, it opens the stack to the public. I was very much impressed by its artistic architectural design, High-tech facilities its orientation to provide information and serve the readers in the most effective and efficient way. I offered CALA's assistance to them. However, I am afraid their technology may already surpass many of the American libraries. That's all about my experience in China last summer.

I am proud of CALA for its global involvement in promoting Chinese and American librarianship. I want to quote Mr. Zhuang Shoujing, former Director of Beijing University Library and CALA's 1995 Distinguished Service Award recipient. When he concluded his speech at the IFLA/CALA panel, he inspired us to "further strengthen the global friendship of Chinese librarians, and promote the development of librarianship in the 21st century."

This paper was presented at the1997 CALA California Chapter Spring Program.
Copyright © 1997 Mengxiong Liu.
Submitted to CALA E-J on May 14, 1997.