Saturday, May 30, 2009

More News from the US China Conference

[Posted for Betsy McKenzie by Jim Milles.]

On the first day of the conference, a half-day, the visiting Americans sat with some of the Chinese librarians. The bulk of the Chinese librarians did not arrive until the next day, Friday. But on that first day, we had a welcoming address from Dr. Jiang Bo, Secretary General of the China Education Association for International Exchange. In that speech, Dr. Bo essentially told the attending librarians how the Chinese librarians could go about setting up their library association. It is apparent that the government is strongly in favor of such a library organization, and desires librarians to begin the work of building a cooperative profession in China.

On the second day of the conference, many more Chinese librarians came. This is a three day national holiday, the first time it’s been celebrated nation-wide. So the librarians and their families are sacrificing a good deal to attend the conference. I sat in an afternoon session in which Chinese librarians and one American librarian, Virginia Wise, participated in a series of reports on librarianship, issues, and comparisons between China, and the U.S.

One of the most interesting reports was an older librarian who told how he had visited Berkeley in the 1980's and seen open shelving. He had brought that concept back to China, where they still practiced closed shelving. At that time, library users had to look up the book they desired in the catalog, order it from the librarians, and wait for delivery. This gentleman fought hard to implement open shelving in his Chinese university, where he encountered great resistance. People argued that books would be lost or stolen or even thrown from windows. He replied that it would be better for that to happen and the books to at least be read once than sit on the shelves forever, never used! He eventually carried the day and Chinese libraries today have open shelves. Now the fight is to improve customer service. We heard a wonderful Service Manifesto that included the translated phrase urging warm hearted careness for the users.

China is engaged in reforming legal education. Since 1978, when there were only 9 law schools in the country, there have grown to be 630 schools that teach law at some level. Law is taught as an undergraduate major, as a master’s level course, at the PhD level and at the post-doctoral level. In total, there are about 500,000 students in China studying law at some level. But there is deep dissatisfaction with the preparation of these students for the demands real world practice, as litigators, legislators, judges, and prosecutors. Speakers questioned whether undergraduate law students had adequate time to achieve true professional level training before graduation. Other speakers desired more practical training. The type and rules for what amounts to the bar exam recently changed. There is evidently a very low passage rate.

As the law schools grapple with sweeping changes in education, the law libraries also confront change. Many deans and other speakers or questioners at the programs commented on the inadequate nature of the law libraries at their schools. They referred to a lack of adequate books and a lack of adequate service. Several times deans asked that American law schools seeking partners for collaboration look beyond the Beijing schools. Conference organizers are preparing a list of participants with e-mail addresses so that contacts can be made and kept up beyond the time of this meeting. People are exchanging business cards like mad, as well. There is a real hunger for collaboration and a dissatisfaction with the status quo.

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