IT, books and bookbots: Dr Jomkwan Polparsi on Thai libraries
Dr Jomkwan Polparsi was welcomed to the Cambridge Asian Librarian Advisory Board for the first time in 2018.
Dr Polparsi works in Bangkok, at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce [UTCC]. She holds three job titles there: Assistant President for Information Technology; Director of the Central Library; and Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence. All of these involve overseeing the University’s ICT infrastructure and learning systems, resources, environment and facilities.
Dr Polparsi is also involved in running one of Thailand’s most important consortiums, The Association of Private Higher Education Institutions of Thailand [APHEIT]. Sixty-five educational institutions are members.
Dr Polparsi has two roles at APHEIT. She has recently been appointed Chair of the Learning Resources and Educational Technology committee, which promotes opportunities for Thai colleges and universities to work with international and local corporates, publishers of learning materials and resources and resellers of content.
The consortium’s main objective is to develop scenarios that are beneficial for all stakeholders, but especially for students. As an example, it has set up a collaborative project with Adobe to license products at affordable prices for educational institutions.
In her role as the Chair of the Thai Private University Library Network (which focuses on APHEIT libraries) Dr Polparsi leads training and knowledge sharing initiatives. Her focus is on working with publishers and resellers to set up consortium programs. Demand-driven acquisition has been a recent innovation.
Asked what it is like to be an academic librarian working in Thailand, Dr Polparsi says that Thai librarians, like many of their counterparts elsewhere, are now required to teach as well as provide support services. They have become “facilitators of learning resources and information techniques”.
She herself is currently teaching an undergraduate programme in Library and Information Studies (LIS). She teaches a range of theoretical and practical courses on librarianship, including how to carry out research in library and information studies. She says she doesn’t teach cataloguing, but still regards a working knowledge of cataloguing an essential part of a student librarian’s education.
Dr Polparsi adds that “since many universities are moving toward practice-based or work-integrated instructions, librarians need to take part in the training of future information professionals. I believe this is now true of librarians worldwide”. She says that training librarians in how to carry out research is also very important, because both conducting research and working with research data enables them to make logical and well-informed decisions when planning for the future.
However, more work still needs to be done: “I think we need urgent training in how to explain all that can be done with the data and content in the digital environment. We need to be able to understand the difference that we, as librarians, can make to both the physical and digital dissemination of information.”
She started her teaching career in 1995 while working at Bangkok University and subsequently gained her Masters – majoring in Library and Information Technology, which included studying curriculum and instruction – from the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, in 1997.
Dr Polparsi earned her PhD in Library and Information Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2012. Her research interests include LIS education and professional development, copyright, fair use, addressing plagiarism, and understanding information needs and user behaviours.
She is passionately interested in helping Thai librarians develop their potential: “I think of challenges as opportunities that can move Thai librarians forward. My main focus is to develop some professional development programmes that encourage them to discover where their talents lie and empower them to utilise their knowledge and skills efficiently and effectively in the work environment.”
She is a great believer in encouraging openness with colleagues in the workplace, so that people feel confident of sharing their limitations as well as their successes in order to develop further. “Right now, the main challenges lie in promoting knowledge and skills in digital technology and data science; but we also need to keep on educating our staff in soft skills such as constructive discussion, innovative thinking, creativity, and socialisation.”
She says one of her proudest moments, professionally speaking, was when she and her team of librarians were required to move buildings twice in a period of two years:
“The first time we moved all our holdings out of two buildings to an underground storage facility. That was when we decided to divide the collections into current and ‘old’. For the latter we provided an on-demand service in which we picked out books that were requested and delivered them. I think it was amazing to see my team work at their day jobs as well as these extra jobs, as though they were bookbots. Last year, we moved again, to the UTCC landmark building. The two moves ran precisely to schedule. Teamwork is a blessing.”
Looking into her crystal ball to anticipate what will happen in Thai libraries in the medium term, Dr Polparsi says: “Library transformation will be an ongoing and largely spontaneous process; the shift from print to digital will continue, but we will continue to maintain a variety of resources, taking into account user experiences as well as institutional policies to achieve a balance of fulfilling teaching, learning and research needs.
I personally think that the key challenge is to make sure that the Library achieves as much as it possibly can through its management and development of human resources so that it provides the services most relevant to users and ensures the most appropriate maintenance and development of collections by responding quickly to change.
Change in this context takes many forms, from evolving users’ needs to new organisational policies and strategies to the fulfilment of national plans. We also need to help our libraries and librarians to become more cosmopolitan in their approach. We need to improve our own collections and include more international ones, which means improving our staff members’ language skills – we should be able to provide support for publications in English, Chinese, Japanese, and other important world languages.”
Recently, UTCC Library was on the Thai national news: https://www.facebook.com/teeneethaipbs/videos/1784513974933631/