Spotlight on Academic Libraries

We’re back in Fuzhou now, but I wanted to make sure to post about our last three days. We were being hosted by Mr. Li Fan of Huaqiao University who some library friends back home may remember as one of the four librarians to visit us in the spring. He has been wonderfully gracious and has spent the last three days showing us around the libraries and sights of both Quanzhou and Xiamen.

 

The focus has been on academic libraries and this region seems to have an abundance of higher education institutes. One can really sense the cultural importance of education in China by looking at how many resources are put into these institutions.

 

We started out by visiting Mr. Li’s home library, Huaqiao University’s campus in Quanzhou where he is the deputy director. We met with members of the network infrastructure group and the database administrator. We dove right into the nitty-gritty asking a lot of questions about their institutional repository system and how they deal with tracking access restrictions on digital materials. Seems we have a lot of the same problems – for example, when a dissertation includes information about technology that has a pending patent application, the library has to suppress access to the document until the process is complete. But It takes a lot of work and attention to make sure such things happen correctly and accurately.

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After lunch on the Huaqiao campus, we loaded our bags (which grow more voluminous with every stop as we are generously gifted many wonderful books and presents) into the van and headed off to Xiamen to visit Huaqiuao’s newest campus which only just opened in 2006. This campus focuses primarily on science and technology while the campus in Quanzhou focuses on the humanities. We met with the director and several members of his staff and had a very interesting exchange where, once again, we immediately shifted into full library nerd mode. We asked a ton of questions about how they deal with research data generated on-campus and also talked about the challenges and opportunities of building a million-volume library from scratch.

 

Like a lot of the library’s we’ve visited they have an extensive special collections room and a museum of artifacts from the university’s collection. These include archeological items from around the area, artwork, and dozens of calligraphy scrolls in many different styles. At the end of the tour, they invited us to try our hand at traditional Chinese calligraphy. We watched as they mixed the ink from a charcoal stick and then we were in turn watched by the people that gathered which included the museum manager’s adorable daughter. Jian’s calligraphy was the best, of course, but Richard did exceptionally well considering that it was his first stab at writing any Chinese at all!

 

The next day we visited Jimei University which, like Huaqiao, had a very new building which opened in 2009. Everywhere we go, I have been consistently amazed at how generous people are with their time, and maybe especially so at Jimei. The library director sat with us for nearly two hours along with several members of her staff we had a very candid and fascinating exchange about the state of libraries in the US and China. We shared our similar concerns and talked about ways in which we’ve solved various problems we’re struggling with. We talked about how their cataloging department has been shrinking even though there continue to be new resources in need of metadata expertise and Richard shared his experience with departmental reorganization at OSU.

 

 

In the afternoon we visited the newest campus of Xiamen University. We had just visited two brand new, very large university, but this one was the newest and largest of them all! They opened in 2014 in response to overcrowding in the central campus that we visited last week. Well, if elbow room was what they needed, then that’s what they got. The library sprawls over 9 floors, each of which seemed to be nearly the length of a football field.

 

The library director and her assistant toured us around the library and noted that because of the location of the campus far outside of the city they need to provide a lot of services and entertainments to their students so that they don’t feel isolated. They first showed us their English center where they host English-speaking events for students to practice their language skills. Attached to the English center was a very nice movie theater that probably seats about 60 or so students and is used for both classes and entertainment. They even treated us to a few minutes of a 3D screening of “Avatar”! We were impressed enough with that, but at the end of the tour they showed us their *second* movie theater which is larger than any movie theater currently in Oregon! It must seat 500 at least and has state of the art sound and stadium seating where they show current first run films. Wow!

 

On top of all of that, the library also has a 10th floor that only the library director has a key card for. Lucky for us, she wanted to show it to us and we got a commanding view of the surrounding area including a distant view of the sea. Like the library, the rest of the campus is massive, too. The student housing alone looked like enough to house a small city. They use solar energy for all their hot water heating (including for the world-class Olympic-size swimming pool in their rec center) and we could see all the solar panels on the buildings across campus.

 

Yesterday was a bit of a rest day – from libraries, anyway. Mr. Li took us to an area of town that featured a crocodile zoo which had more reptiles than I have ever seen in my life. Then we visited the home of famed philanthropist Tan Kah Kee founder of, among other things, Jimei University.  The home had a lovely garden and a small historical museum.

 

 

By our special request, Mr. Li shepherded us into downtown Xiamen city so we could see the Overseas Chinese Museum which we’d read about in Lonely Planet. After an hour on 2 crowded buses, and a bit of a walk, we finally got to the museum – and it was closed! Whoops!

 

But it wasn’t too much of a problem because we also wanted to visit the nearby Nanputuo Buddhist Temple only a half mile away. One can hike all the way to the top of Mount Putuo behind the temple — we only made it about half way up, but even so the view was pretty spectacular.

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When you think of visiting a Buddhist temple, you may think of calm serenity, but on this pleasantly warm Saturday afternoon the temple grounds were mobbed with families and couples enjoying the weather and the pretty surroundings. There were plenty of people worshipping at the various temples up and down the hill, but people were just as likely to be breaking out a picnic basket as they were an incense stick.

 

There was a treat in store at the end of our visit: the temple complex features a very popular vegetarian restaurant known for its creative, delicious dishes. It was a delicious and it was nice not to have to fret about which dishes were vegetarian and which weren’t. It was all edible to all of us!

 

We are so grateful to Mr. Li for spending so much time with us and introducing us to so many of the interesting libraries and cultural sites the area has to offer.

 

We’re back to Fuzhou today and we get to settle in for a full week before we leave. We hope to pack this week full of in-depth library visits – we get three full days at the Fujian Provincial Library where we will visit 2 departments a day.

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