Thursday, May 28, 2009

Blogging from the Miracle Conference

[posted by Jim Milles for Betsy McKenzie]

The China-US Conference on Legal Information and Law Libraries here in Beijing, opening today, is a miracle conference. First, the mere fact of it is a miracle. That librarians from the U.S. and China, (in fact, there are librarians here from other countries, too!), should put together a jointly planned conference, and gain support from China’s central education ministry for it is quite amazing. With the blessing of the ministry, not only most of China’s law schools’ librarians, but also their deans are attending! And many western librarians are attending – not only directors, but also reference and cataloging librarians. This is a wonderful development.

It took three years to plan the conference. Huge amounts of work by lots of people, in China, and around the U.S. went into this project. Frank Liu and Janice Johnston are the co-chairs for the U.S. side of the conference planning. Frank was working on the plans from the very inception, and Janice was on board after the first planning meeting. Janice’s work went to the key portion of fund raising. She spearheaded efforts that raised support from various publishers and vendors in the amount of about $34,000, which is astonishing in the recent economy. Another miracle!

We heard tonight about the team of translators who worked tirelessly to translate the brief biographies of the speakers and moderators, and the speakers’ handouts and papers into Chinese. This was accomplished under extreme time pressure as the speakers had to put together their notes and hand them in before the translation team could begin to work. There will be a book produced with everything both in English and in Chinese, and word is that it will look great.

And then, as time for the conference grew closer, there has been the growing threat of the swine flu pandemic. Many of us participants watched the news with trepidation, worrying that the Chinese government would shut down the conference in fear of inviting so many North Americans into their country right now. But the conference is on! We all had our temperatures taken on arrival, and filled out health cards certifying that we are healthy and haven’t been exposed to swine flu.

Registration today took off after the announced time... It was scheduled officially for 9 AM to noon, but actually occurred this afternoon. I think many of the folks running registration are student volunteers, so this probably explains the timing – after classes are over, I am guessing. These students, I believe, are the same who are providing the simultaneous translation services later. We were introduced to them at the banquet tonight for the planning committee members from both sides of the ocean.

The Americans are not worrying about irregular registration, largely because Frank Liu, the official godfather of the conference, says he’ll make everything right. And he will, as we all know. The conference has largely come about because Frank has made everything right. He has had huge amounts of help from lots and lots of people in China and the U.S., as well as AALL’s support, but I do believe that this conference is taking place because of the passion and vision of Frank Liu and Robert Hu. Without them, this would certainly not be happening. (Note: On Friday, May 28, we heard more about the counterparts in China, Dr. Zhang Baosheng of the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL) and Dr. Jiang Bo, Secretary General of the China Education Association for International Exchange. These two men, representing the university and the government interests, pushed hard to help bring the conference to fruition, and without their leadership and vision, here in China, there would not have been any success)

So, on the eve of this truly historic conference, we wait to see the next miracle unfold. We are very excited to meet our Chinese counterparts, and learn more about Chinese law schools and law libraries. From the Chinese perspective, this conference is another piece of celebrating the 30th anniversary of the entente between the U.S. and China, when Nixon came to China and the two countries established diplomatic relations.

I look forward to being able to blog and perhaps Twitter throughout this miracle conference! Right now, it is as if we are at the theater, and the curtain is just rising. The orchestra is playing the very opening notes, as the audience is rustling into quiet anticipation. The actual workshop sessions begin tomorrow afternoon. This should be the first of a series of China-US Conferences, held every two years. We are at the very beginning now.

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