July 23rd, 2013
West Virginia University librarians Jing Qiu and Martha Yancey brought home more than just souvenirs and photographs from their recent two-week trip to China. They returned with a renewed enthusiasm for serving library users.
Earlier this summer, Qiu and Yancey traveled to China through a partnership that began last fall when two librarians from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, Deyu “Ben” Gong and Yu “Henry” Huang, spent the semester in Morgantown learning about WVU Libraries’ operations. During that visit, Yancey first witnessed the pair’s enthusiasm for serving library users. In China, upon meeting Gong and Huang’s colleagues, she discovered that the attitude is rampant throughout the SUFE Library.
“I was struck by their youthful zeal and their commitment to service,” Yancey said. “I’ve been in this business for 20 years. It’s wonderful to be reenergized by those who haven’t been in the profession that long and are so interested in providing quality service.”
Qiu and Yancey’s whirlwind schedule began with meeting SUFE Library Dean Xiaoye Li, touring the campus, and delivering presentations detailing aspects of their jobs.
In her talk, Yancey focused on a customer-service training program the WVU Libraries instituted last year. The presentation received such a positive reception that the program might be incorporated into SUFE’s daily operations.
In her presentation, Qiu discussed the importance of teaching information literacy and the reasons that librarians should teach. SUFE’s credit course in information literacy has to be taught by librarians with teaching certificates and the library has only one such librarian: however, other SUFE librarians have made attempts at instruction. They offered drop-in sessions on how to use available services, but saw relatively low attendance.
“In the US, teaching is a responsibility for most academic librarians including technical services librarians, but the concept was foreign to the technical services folks we talked with at SUFE,” Qiu said.
Next, Li asked Qiu and Yancey to meet with each department in the library to learn what SUFE is doing and offer critiques. Li wanted them to share their impressions on what SUFE is doing well and make suggestions in areas where SUFE can improve.
“The librarians at SUFE are interested in what we’re doing at WVU and want to learn from us,” Qiu said.
The visit was a learning experience for Yancey and Shanghai native Qiu, too. Although Qiu studied and checked out books at the library, she never took advantages of any of the other services while attending college. So she was equal footing with Yancey as they walked through her hometown’s libraries.
“I noticed many different things. It was fascinating,” Qiu said.
One observation involved operating hours. While students at WVU and other schools in the United States campaign for libraries to be open around the clock or into the wee hours of the morning, there’s no late-night studying at the SUFE Library. The Library closes at 10 p.m., and some academic libraries in Shanghai close at 8 pm.
“They’ve done surveys, and students say these are the hours they want,” Qiu said.
Another difference involved what Qiu referred to as the culture’s obsession with food. Every day at noon and 5 p.m. beautiful music flows from the intercom, and a soft voice reminds students to take a break from studying to eat.
Qiu said: “If we did that here, people would say, ‘Who are you to tell me when to eat?’”
Jiao Tong University
Qiu and Yancey also explored the area, visiting tourist areas and other libraries. Their guide was their old friend Huang, who is now secretary of foreign affairs for the SUFE Library.
One tour was of Jiao Tong University, the region’s flagship university, and its new library. Opened in 2010, the facility is a showplace for modern design and the latest technology. Windows shower the space with natural light and the open design provides a view to the outside from any spot in the building.
Yancey noted the glass walls around most study rooms, spacious and modular collection areas, and a spiral staircase and escalators to move visitors between floors.
On the technology front, Jiao Tong made arrangement with Apple for a “petting zoo”: two tables lined with Apple hardware and software for students to try before beginning to work on a project.
When students are ready for a break, they can go to the bookstore, convenience store, and gift shop.
The administration and designers also remembered the employees running the building. The large staff lounge is a relaxing haven; it is equipped with exercise bikes, a foot massager, a ping pong table, and a full kitchen.
“I was quite impressed with Jiao Tong. It was a stunning facility,” Yancey said.
The Next Step for SUFE
At SUFE, the librarians and Dean Li are exploring changes that they want to implement, for example, putting in a café and transforming some areas to be flexible and modular.
One effort might involve digitizing some of their special collections. Qiu explained that SUFE wants to focus on resources and materials that will make them unique, and on ways to better serve their faculty and students.
As part of this process, Gong, who visited Morgantown last fall, recently received approval from the Shanghai Society for Library Sciences to do a comparative study on reference services at WVU and SUFE.
Qiu and Yancey are optimistic that SUFE will be successful because they have already demonstrated they possess energy and commitment.
“The librarians at SUFE are young and dynamic and they want to make changes. All they need is some time and a little bit of help,” Yancey said. “And I think they’ll be doing a spectacular job.”
The collaboration will continue. Although plans are not yet finalized on when the next group of SUFE librarians will visit WVU, a forum for academic library deans is already on the calendar for November 2014 in Shanghai.