The fifth (Asian) Cambridge Librarians Day was held in Seoul, South Korea, on 11th January, kindly hosted by the staff of Seoul National University (SNU) Library.  Over fifty librarians attended from academic libraries across the whole of South Korea, together with members of the Cambridge Asian Librarians Advisory Board [CALAB], representing several countries across Asia.

So, what are the issues facing librarians in Asia? This post asks such questions as ‘how are librarians in Asia overcoming budget cuts’ and ‘how do local universities operate in a global age’? 


Seoul National University
Seoul National University

Budgets and resources: How to deal with budget cuts creatively…

Dr Edzan Binti Che Nasir, Chief Librarian of Perpustakaan Universiti, Malaysia (pictured above), and Ms Roxanne Missingham, University Librarian at the Australian National University (ANU), began the formal presentations with a dual session on library budgets.


Dr Nasir, whose library had to accommodate budgetary cuts of 36.9% in 2015 and will have to manage a further cut of 7.9% in 2016, said that making the cuts did not mean that the university should increase its fees or that the library cease to provide a first class service.  Instead, the university was looking into overlaps with their digital databases- particularly cases when commercial and society databases offered similar listings. This exercise led to the university cutting its subscription from 86 digital databases to 43.  Dr Nasir and her team have accepted that budget cuts will always happen when there is a downturn in the economy, but finding ways of dealing with these in a creative and in an upbeat way was key.

A different perspective on budgets was given by Roxanne Missingham at ANU.  Fundamental in the policy of ANU was to look at the data that underpins the habits and behaviour of academics. The library at ANU has carried out research among its users and found that academic staff who have published between 5 and 10 items in the last two years do the most reading.  Overall, Undergraduates spent an average of 133 hours (or 17 days) reading, which increased to 254 hours (31.75 days) for Postgraduate students.  To accommodate the needs of these voracious readers, the library continually has to review its collections and assess their relevance to research and teaching.  ANU has concluded that there is an ‘imbalance of quality’ between commercially-supplied publications and publications from university presses, with the result that it now has a decided preference for the latter, and acts accordingly if cuts have to be made.

Seoul National University Library reading room
Seoul National University Library reading room

Globalisation: collaboration and expansion in China and Hong Kong…

Mr Xin Bi, the University Librarian at Xi’an Jiaotong University, China, and Ms Louise Jones, Librarian at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, presented the second dual session, on the globalisation of higher education.  Xin Bi said that his university, which is only a few years old, has embarked upon an ambitious expansion programme, particularly with attracting overseas students.  Over the next two years it hopes to attract a total of 15,000 undergraduates, of which two to three thousand will not be Chinese.  As a new university, it has more scope for experimenting with new models, and is particularly encouraging collaborative work by researchers from different universities.  Xi’an Jiaotong University has a mission statement (this is rare for a Chinese university): “Educating technical and managerial professionals with international perspectives and competitive capabilities.”

By contrast, Louise Jones said that the Chinese University of Hong Kong was well-established and plans to innovate without shedding its traditional methods.  In 2014 it opened a sister institution, CUHK Shenzhen, so that teaching could take place in Chinese as well as English.  Both are keen to increase their numbers of international students.  The university also has a robust exchange programme, with just under 1500 exchange students working there annually.  For the library, this presents the challenge of holding enough material in both English and Chinese (currently the split is 60 / 40).  All the library staff are bilingual or multi-lingual and the library offers language-specific workshops.

Marketing the Library- what tools to use?

Ms Ng Chay Tuan, Head and Deputy Director of Acquisitions and Collection Management at Lee Wee Nam Library, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, talked about the role of the librarian in marketing the library.  She described an impressive number of ways in which she and her colleagues make academics and patrons aware of the facilities and resources the library offers. For NTU this included e-newsletters, social media, open days and one-to-one training and support by subject librarians.  Some of these are extremely sophisticated, and include a research commons programme that promotes networking and sharing of data among researchers, learning pods, video walls, a technological sandbox and a digital workbench. To help users engage with content NTU offered quizzes, an ebook gallery, instructional classes and a roadshow. Academics were given the tools by the library to help promote their own research including advice on Altmetrics, managing references and citations and utilising blogs.

Ms Fanny Wong, Director of Academic Publishing for Cambridge University Press, Asia and Chris Bennett, Global Sales Director for Cambridge University Press, thanked the audience for their enthusiasm and participation. The day concluded with a tour of the Seoul National University Library by all delegates.

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