Electronic Resources for Chinese Studies and East Asian Libraries



Publication: New Library World, Volume 104, Number 1193, 2003, pp. 404 411.

Author: Ka Wai Fan is Senior Tutor, Chinese Civilisation Centre, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Keywords: Electronic journals, China, Databases, Academic libraries, Collection management

This paper examines electronic resources, including journals and databases for Chinese studies, collected in North American East Asian academic libraries. A small survey of 26 East Asian academic libraries in North America was conducted in May 2003 in order to learn more about collection development practices and accessibility issues for Chinese electronic resources. Based on the eight question survey, 57 per cent of the responding libraries have collection development policies for their electronic resources, 36 per cent do not while 7 per cent were unsure. Budget constraints, time constraints, lack of technical support lack of training, and Chinese/English computer operating system incompatibilities were given as the top five constraints in the collection of Chinese electronic resources and providing access to them. After analyzing the collection, classification, and accessibility issues, the author provides some suggestions on the future development of Chinese electronic resources in East Asian academic libraries.

Acknowledgements: The author would like to thank Moya Mason for conducting the survey and assisting in the structure and editing of the article.

Introduction

Libraries attempt to meet the needs of a diverse and complex group of users, who have wide ranging interests and complex sets of demands. Historically, the fundamental aim of libraries was to formulate a philosophy of intellectual freedom, and to provide access to a finite amount of print information. Over the course of the last decade, very valuable resources of information have become available on the Internet and through other electronic databases, and libraries are currently playing a very different role from before. Not only do libraries continue to collect and provide access to printed materials, but also they have to manage the ever increasing amounts of electronic resources. Owing to an increased use of online indexes, databases, and of course, the Internet, the role of librarians has changed. They are expected to have specialized knowledge of these new information tools to enable them to help their clients with online searching, and to find the best information available on any given subject. How can libraries provide professional assistance to users, who are searching for useful information in the vast ocean of the Internet and other electronic resources? What techniques do librarians use when collecting electronic resources?

Purpose

The purpose for writing this article is to examine electronic resources on Chinese studies that are collected in East Asian academic libraries in North America, with the aim to present observations through a set of survey questions touching on both librarian and user perspectives on collection and access. The survey included the following questions: How do you go about selecting Chinese electronic resources? Do you have a collection development policy for your Chinese electronic information, including journals, databases, and Web sites? Do you spend any time writing instructions for the databases and journals that you have on your site? Would you be willing to cooperate with other East Asian librarians to come up with standard terminology for the classification/naming of your electronic resources? How do you think you can play a, larger role and provide better reference service for your electronic resources?

Method

The Council on East Asian Libraries Web site lists 44 East Asian libraries. Apart from three law libraries and three non university libraries, the remaining 38 are all East Asian academic libraries. Of these East Asian libraries, online electronic resources are available from 26 of them. These 26 East Asian libraries are the subject of this analysis. For a list of these libraries and their Web site addresses see Appendix 1. The libraries fell into the following categories:

In other words, five of the responding libraries had fewer than 100,000 volumes, while eight of the libraries had more than 100,000, but less than 250.1000 print volumes. Of the 14 responding libraries, nine provided information on the size of their electronic journal collections: six had fewer than 1,000, and the remaining three hold between 1,800 and 2,500 electronic journals. All of the responding libraries gave information on the size of their print journal collections: one had fewer than 100; six had between 100 and 1,000; four with collections of 1,000 to 2,000 journals; and the remaining three had more than 2,000 print journals, with none of the libraries having more than 3,000.

The survey consisted of eight questions about Chinese electronic resources, including journals, databases, and Web sites. In May 2003, an e mail to all 26 libraries was sent directly to the Chinese Studies librarian, or addressed for the attention of the person in charge of Chinese Studies if only a general e mail address could be found. The survey itself was contained in an e mail message that included the text of the eight questions.

Survey respondents could answer the questions from within their own e mail packages without going to an external Web site, and could return their surveys simply by pressing the "reply" button on their e mail packages. Alternatively, the librarians could take the survey online, where a Web version was located.

A total of 26 initial messages were sent out. One library declined to participate because it did not have a Chinese Studies librarian on staff at the time of the survey. Completed surveys were received from 14 libraries, for a response rate of 56 per cent. Answers from all 14 respondents were collocated and entered into an Excel spreadsheet and analyzed to obtain the quantitative results presented below. In the presentation of results, quantitative results are supplemented and enriched by the verbatim comments of survey respondents. The text of the eight questions used in this survey is provided in Appendix 2. A second e mail was sent requesting further participation.

Survey Results

Collection development policies

According to the survey, 57 per cent of the libraries have collection development policies for their electronic resources, 36 per cent do not, while 7 per cent were unsure. Of those who do have collection development policies, some librarians noted that the guidelines were out of date and should be revisited, while others specified that their policies were the same for all Chinese materials, regardless of format.

Evaluative Criteria

Based on the eight question survey, 71 per cent of the librarians surveyed use evaluative criteria, such as credentials of the author, scope, currency, and accuracy when choosing which Web site links to post on their library Web sites, and only 29 per cent do not. Some librarians said they also use evaluative criteria such as customer references, database trials, vendor background cheeks, usefulness, and credibility. Others specified that faculty requests and reviews were very important considerations when collecting electronic resources, as were other university collections; information from publishers; the opinions of other librarians; and what is popular with students.

Written Instructions and Bibliographic Instructional Sessions

When asked if they spent any time writing instructions for the databases and electronic journals on their library Web sites, 14 per cent of the librarians said they did write instructions, 36 per cent wrote instructions and also offered bibliographic instructional (B1) sessions, while 7 per cent only offered BI sessions for users. Of responding librarians, 29 per cent did not write instructions nor offer BI sessions, and 14 per cent did not answer the question. Some said they provided instruction if patrons requested assistance. Others relied on the instructions posted by the publishers in electronic databases. One librarian wrote instructions on how to use the databases, distributed them via e mail to her users, and provided training sessions for faculty and students who wished to learn more about how to use the resources.

Cooperative Scanning

As universities with East Asian libraries support East Asian departments and programs, along with the professors and students, their needs should be given top priority. While building up electronic resources, libraries should first of all take into consideration the development, research, and teaching requirements of these programs and users. Instead of having users searching on the Internet for useful journal catalogs, libraries could provide electronic versions of their own paper journal catalogs. Some libraries are scanning the tables of content of dozens of Chinese journals, so that users can view them on their library Web sites. Such practice proves extremely helpful, as many Chinese journals are not included in databases, and are therefore, not searchable.

Such practice proves extremely useful, as many Chinese journals are not included in databases and are, therefore, not searchable. The East Asian library at the University of Minnesota has led the way here; they scanned catalogs of dozens of Chinese journals (no longer available now) and posted them on the Internet. Some other libraries are following suit: "Chinese Journal Table of Contents" at the East Asian library of Indiana University, and "Chinese Journals" at the East Asian library of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, are two such examples. They both selected dozens of Chinese journals and scanned the table of contents of each issue, so that users now have access to them from the library Web site. Even if they are included, the table of contents of a particular current issue might not become available on the Internet until after a considerable length of time.

It is neither necessary nor practical to scan the table of contents of each and every journal. The decision of which journals to scan should be made in coordination with the East Asian programs. For example, China Studies covers a wide range of subjects, ranging from politics to economics, from sociology to history, and from literature to archaeology. The Chinese journals chosen for scanning should be based on the recommendations of professors, with consideration about the teaching and development of the department or program.

In addition, East Asian departments in different universities have different focuses and directions in their teaching and development. A cooperative initiative among them to scan different Chinese journals would eventually lead to the sharing of resources, which is very exciting.

When asked if they would be willing to cooperate with other East Asian academic librarians to share scanning duties, 64 per cent answered yes, while 36 per cent said no. Of those who declined to participate in a scanning initiative, common sentiments included:

  1. No, many Chinese journals are already in on line full text databases, on line indexes, and even more will be in the future.
  2. Scanning table of contents of the Chinese journals is unnecessary. We do not have a project to scan TOC of Chinese journals.
  3. We use the indexes available like: Periopath, CAJ, Hong Kong, etc. I have no time to do scanning myself.
  4. We do sometimes use the U of Minnesota's scanned TOC.
  5. Not at this point due to lack of human resources.

One librarian interested in taking part in such an initiative was already working on the format for the necessary metadata before proceeding, and is definitely going to do table of content scanning in the near future. Many were excited about the prospect of jointly scanning, but pointed out that financial resources are needed if a well organized attempt is to be made. Others would participate only if someone could identify journal titles that were excluded from the Chinese Academic Journal Database (http://www.cnki.net).

Classification

An analysis of the electronic resources collected in the 26 East Asian academic libraries indicates that "Bibliography," "Journal," and "Database" are the three main terms used for classification of resources in the collections, while providing links to other specialized Web sites is also important. Examples of such electronic resources include Web sites for Internet Guide for Chinese Studies, Asian Studies WWW Virtual Library, and Association of Asian Studies. The valuable resources linked from these specialized Web sites not only saves users time and is convenient, but also adds a qualitative aspect to the library Web sites.

However, there is a lack of unified practice among East Asian academic libraries in various universities regarding the classification or naming conventions of the three resources outlined above. Some libraries combine the three together, while others classify them under different categories. At the University of Iowa, for example, the system is called "On line Database of Journal Articles," but at Washington University (St Louis), "Bibliography" is classified into "Electronic journals." If we take "Chinese Journal Network" (equivalent to "China National Knowledge Infrastructure" here, abbreviated as CNKI) as another example, most of the East Asian libraries use "East View Online Service," whereas Columbia University, Indiana University, and Yale University classify it as "Database." UCLA links it with other journal search systems, an example of which is "Chinese Serials Database" and classifies it as "Electronic Journals," while the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto use "e journal (electronic journals)." There is no e journal classification in the University of Minnesota library system, and instead, classification is broken down into a sub category of "Database" and called "Full text journal."

As a result, it is frequently difficult to distinguish between databases and electronic journals. Nisonger (1997, p. 58) pointed out that, "there is no standard accepted definition of an electronic journal". Users, therefore, may need to search under different categories when using the online resources provided by these libraries. Librarians cannot assume that users understand that naming conventions differ from one university to the next, and sometimes, differ within libraries in the same institution. Historically, librarians have made great efforts to cooperate with one another, using common terminology and classification systems, such as the Library of Congress, to provide better access. However, to date, standard policy for classification and naming of electronic resources has not yet been implemented in many libraries. Electronic resources are here to stay, and the same considerations should be given to classifying them in order to improve access, and avoid causing confusion.

The author also noted differences in how electronic journals are made available in various East Asian libraries. The University of Hawaii, Manoa, provides the same e journals as the print journals purchased by the university itself, and does not differentiate between electronic and print. At Columbia University, electronic journals are provided through links to "On line journals." The University of Minnesota, Rutgers University, and UC Berkeley list journals on China Studies collected in JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org) (a digital archive collection of core scholarly journals) and Project MUSE (http://muse.jhu.edu) (a database of digitized scholarly journals, most of which have been published in paper form for many years). All of these are classified into databases for English journals. In respect to Chinese journals, most libraries provide links to the National Central Library in Taiwan; "Chinese journal Indexes;" and "Index of (Hong Kong) Chinese Periodicals."

Some very good links are provided for searches of Chinese journal systems, yet most libraries fail to include instructions on methods of use. For example, the University of Iowa provides "WanFang Data" (Chinese information databases covering industrial, commercial. scientific and technical fields), which requires searchers to input Simplified Chinese characters, yet there are no instructions for use on the library Web site. Another example is "Chinese Journal Network." which can be used for searches of journals in Mainland China, but it does not scan and include every article in the journals.

Also included in e journal databases are journals that are only published in the electronic form. A very small number of such e journals are collected in East Asian libraries (normally only Asian Review, published by the Department of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia). The author once tried to search on the Internet for electronic journals on China Studies, but did not have very much success. This may be the reason why those libraries do not set up extensive electronic journal databases. As a result, most libraries provide online links to paper journals. Through these links, one can normally view "Table of Contents" in most journals and "Full text" in some (via JSTOR for example).

As a result, some libraries give the impression that they just randomly find a couple of such Web sites as links, when in fact they could have done much better. For example, the University of Washington provides a link to City University of Hong Kong's Bulletin, yet this only publishes brief news about the university and is neither an academic journal nor a magazine. The criteria used by libraries when deciding which electronic journals to include has to be questioned. Do they have collection development policies for their electronic holdings? How do they decide what links they will post on their Web sites?

When librarians were asked in the survey if they would be willing to cooperate with other East Asian librarians to come up with standard terminology for the classification of electronic resources, of those surveyed, 93 per cent were willing to cooperate and only 7 per cent declined. Here are some of the more interesting answers:

Yes, Yes, Yes! There is too much confusion that our categorization brings to users. Users have to check so many categories in order to find what they want to find. I think we ought to make changes to this situation.

I would really like that because it would help the students find more of what they need.

Yes. This is the most important thing we could do for our students.

Constraints and improvements

When asked to name the biggest constraints regarding the collection of electronic resources, and providing access to them, the top five answers given were: budget constraints, time constraints, lack of technical Asian departments. In addition, quite a few support, lack of training, and Chinese/English computer operating system incompatibilities (i.e. Microsoft offers 25 international language versions of Microsoft Windows 95), stating that Chinese products produced for Chinese operating systems do not work very well with English operating systems, because Chinese does not always display very well. The librarians said they were really interested in providing better access to electronic resources, especially as they realize that many students are accessing the resources off site from their own homes, and have little chance of getting help from a librarian. Some of the librarians surveyed think that increased promotion and instruction, and configuring some of the public terminals for optimum Chinese functionality would be helpful. Others wish they had more training using the databases because so much more information is available to those with experience using them properly. With the increase of online indexes, databases, and of course, the Internet, librarians must have knowledge of these tools, so that they can help the public use them to access the information they need. The following response encapsulated the feelings of many:

As librarians, we must know e-resources well just like good librarians know their book collections in order to provide good services. We must know e resources, namely scope: what the databases cover in terms of subject and dates; interface: what functionalities they have, what the limitations are, which search key will bring more results, and which will not. After all, you should be an expert in using e resources in order to show or teach your users.

Discussion and Recommendations

The librarians who participated in this survey are very committed to the work they do and are interested in offering better access to electronic resources. East Asian libraries can provide more services for their users. For example, the East Asian library at the University of Minnesota has established the databases of "Research Guide to Chinese Local Histories" and "Catalog of Extant Ming Gazetteers," which is very convenient for researchers and a very important tool. The establishment of such databases will improve library collections and help to develop East libraries have rare Chinese books. To make such special collections known to more people, catalogs and even synopses should be prepared. For example, the East Asian library at the University of Wisconsin Madison has established an online database of "Chinese Pre 1949 Periodicals and Rare Books"; and the East Asian library at the University of Toronto has also established an online database of "The List of Un Cataloged Rare Books." Such databases introduce the academic world to special collections, and attract scholars from all over the world, who visit and use such collections. Librarians should seek assistance from experts and professors when considering such initiatives.

Libraries can at the same time develop their own special feature services. The East Asian library at the University of Pittsburgh provides the "Gateway Service Center of Chinese Academic Journal Publications." Users can utilize this service to obtain photocopies of the Chinese journals collected at the library. This is another good way to share resources. Also, research projects conducted by school professors can be digitized and put on a library's Web site. For example, the East Asian library at the University of Virginia has established "Chinese Text Initiative," which provides five online English versions of Chinese literary works, including 300 Tang Poems.

One area that needs to be improved upon is the provision of access to academic journals published in Chinese, something that most of the observed East Asian academic libraries neglect to do. Libraries could provide category based links to a variety and post them under the "e journal" section of their Web sites, which would not only provide guidance to novices, but also help all users to save time. On looking at journals of Chinese history as an example, a great number of highly academic journals on Chinese history studies have their own Web sites, tables of contents for uploading, as well as Chinese and English abstracts, yet they are not included on any of the library Web sites. Some examples are Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology, edited by The Institute of History and Philology, Taiwan and the Journal of Chinese Studies, edited by Institute of Chinese Studies, Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The search for English journals outside those included in JSTOR and Project MUSE is far from thorough and misses many of them, including the Journal of Song-Yuan Studies, Early Medieval China and Early China, just to name a few. Part of the problem might be that if a library does not collect a journal, it is less likely to have a link to its Web site, but the University of Melbourne in Australia sets a good example in this respect with their subject based classification.

East Asian libraries could provide links to these journals, and library professionals could spend more time searching for better quality and more academic journals rather than providing links in a perfunctory manner to non academic journals. It is the responsibility of the libraries to provide a high quality service to both professors and students who desperately need to have access to the most up to date research information and resources. Librarians can help a great deal in this regard.

Conclusion

People really need assistance to retrieve quality information. Very few can properly search the databases for the information they need. They require a specially trained human intermediary to sift and filter, or at least good instructions on how to do it themselves. A noticeable trend over the last few years has been a reduction of library services, which is exacerbated by more cutbacks and loss of staff. An emphasis on self service in libraries is also on the rise, for everything from placing orders for books, checking out, and for renewing. On the one hand, libraries say they are trying to offer better service, but what they are actually offering are automated systems for customers to use, hoping that self service will be the savior. Can it be assumed that anyone at all can access quality information if they are connected to electronic resources? No, they should be offered clear and concise instructions. Librarians should make sure users have as much access as possible to electronic resources, including links to quality Web sites; and at the very least, utilize common naming classifications for the resources listed on library Web sites.

East Asian libraries must decide their own strategy in selecting electronic resources and preparing catalogs to suit the needs of users. The focus for future development should be on how libraries can develop multifunctional Web sites with their own unique features, because that direction will bring about the full utilization of library collections, particularly if cooperation among libraries and staff is increased, and collaboration with East Asian departments is successful.

Related Papers

Review of Web Sites for Chinese Archaeology
Searching for Chinese History Journals Online

References

Nisonger, T. (1997), "Electronic journal collection management issues." Collection Building, Vol. 16 No. 2, pp. 58 65.

Further Reading

Chiu, C. (1997), "Access CJK journal or article databases on the Web: does it work?" Chinese Librarianship: An International Electronic Journal, No. 3.

Chu, H. (1999), "Electronic journals: promises and challenges for academic libraries," Chinese Librarianship: An International Electronic Journal, No. 8.

The Council on East Asian Libraries Homepage

Appendix 1

Asia Collection, University of Hawaii at Manoa Library

Asian Library, University of Illinois

Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library, University of Toronto

C.V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University

East Asian Collection, Duke University

East Asia Library, University of Washington

East Asian Library, UC Irvine

East Asian Collection, University of Wisconsin Madison

East Asian Library, University of Southern California

East Asian Library of the University of Kansas

East Asian Collection at the University of Arizona

East Asian Collection at Indiana University Bloomington

East Asian Studies Center, Ohio State University

East Asian Library, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

East Asian Library at the University of California at Santa Barbara

The Harvard Yenching Library, Harvard University

Asian Library, University of British Columbia

UC Berkeley, East Asian Library

Richard C. Rudolph East Asian Library, University of California, Los Angeles

The East Asian Collection, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

East Asian Collections, University of Iowa

University of Minnesota, East Asian Library

East Asian Library, University of Pittsburgh

University of Virginia Library, Asian & Middle Eastern Languages & Culture

Washington University, East Asian Library

Yale University Library, East Asia Library

Appendix 2

Text of Survey Questions:

1. What is the size of your collection, specifically for Chinese electronic and paper journals, and other Chinese resources?

2. Do you have a collection development policy for your Chinese electronic information, including journals, databases, and Websites?

3. How do you go about selecting Chinese electronic resources? And do you use evaluative criteria, such as credentials of the author, scope, currency, and accuracy when deciding which Web site links to post on your site?

4. Do you spend any time writing instructions for the databases and journal systems that you have on your site? Or do you instead offer in house bibliographic instruction sessions for your users? Do you think that written instructions would increase user satisfaction and ease of use, while providing better access to information, especially for offsite users?

5. Instead of having users searching on the Internet for useful journal catalogs, libraries could provide electronic versions of their own paper journal catalogs. Some libraries are scanning the Table of Contents of dozens of Chinese journals, so that users can view them on their library Web sites. Such practice proves extremely useful, as many Chinese journals are not included in databases and thus, are not searchable. It is neither necessary nor practical for every East Asian library to scan the Table of Contents of each Chinese journal, but a cooperative initiative among them to scan different Chinese journals would eventually lead to the sharing of resources.

Would you be willing to cooperate with other East Asian librarians and share scanning duties? Do you currently or have you had any projects to cooperate with the East Asian department in your university and other East Asian libraries before? If not, why? If yes, what difficulties did/do you face?

6. An analysis of electronic resources in North American East Asian libraries indicates that "Bibliography," "Journal," and "Database" are the three main terms used for classification. However, there is a lack of unified practice among East Asian libraries regarding the classification of the three resources. Some libraries combine the three together, while others classify them under different categories, which may require users to search under different categories when using the online resources provided by libraries.

Would you be willing to cooperate with other East Asian librarians to come up with standard terminology for the classification of your electronic resources?

7. What are your biggest constraints regarding the collection of electronic resources, and providing access to them?

8. How do you think you can play a larger role and provide better reference service for your electronic resources?


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