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Building a university library into one of the most influential in China

September 10, 2019

By Library Connect

An interview with Ming Nie, Huazhong University of Science and Technology Library, China

In July 2019, Ming Nie began his third year as the library director at Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST). But he is far more than a library director. He loves books and regards reading as a way of life. Having studied and worked at HUST for many years, he has deep-rooted feelings for the university library and is working toward making it into one of the most influential in China.

"The first time I entered the HUST Library was 41 years ago. At that time, the staff members were close to retirement, so I may have been dealing with the library longer than anyone who is currently on the job,” says Nie. "It was my own choice to come to the work at the library, and after three years, I still have a sense of accomplishment."

Years of university work experience have enabled Nie to understand the overall situation of the university and the needs of its scholars and students. In addition to considering traditional areas of librarianship, he looks at the future development of the library comprehensively and has been committed to promoting the transformation of the library. "From the perspective of the needs of top university libraries, it is not enough for the library to just serve as a resource information center. It must go deeper into research and teaching, and even get involved in management decisions,” says Nie. “What I have done is to turn the library into a ‘knowledge service center,’ letting it play a greater role in the development of the university."

Data breadth determines value depth

Nie believes that the era of big data has arrived – data is processed into information, then transformed into knowledge. He feels that data-driven libraries face the challenge of optimizing their resource structure, but that this can be difficult because there is no one standard of choice. To meet the information needs of its readers, HUST Library has had to reduce the number of paper resources while increasing electronic resources, all while avoiding infringement issues through IP control and ensuring the regulation of intellectual property rights.

Elsevier is one of the major providers of electronic resources for HUST Library. "From the service value chain, the library and the content provider are integrated,” says Nie. “It is difficult for the content provider to directly face the reader, and the library hopes to effectively pass the reader's needs to the content provider and thereby create more value for readers."

Electronic resources currently account for about 70 percent of the library’s total resources. The goal is to satisfy users based on resources, information, and knowledge discovery. Director Nie has done a lot of work in this regard. He established a “research results library,” collecting the academic achievements of all the teachers in the school and providing them to the colleges to be used as one of the main criteria for annual teacher assessments.

The data provided by the library is 90–95 percent accurate, which helps teachers save time filling out forms. "In the past, database construction was wishful thinking on the part of the library,” says Nie. “After being included in the reference for the annual assessment, teachers must take the initiative to ensure that the database is complete, there are no omissions, and the timeliness of the assessment has been updated. Mechanisms are in place to ensure that data is continuously updated."

In addition to his library contributions, Nie has set up an international meeting approval system for China’s Ministry of Education. Every year, the Ministry of Education supports a large number of international conferences. In the past, colleges and universities submitted paper materials to the Ministry of Education for review and approval. Since the international conference approval system launched, all international conferences can be submitted and approved online through the platform, which greatly simplifies the process.

"The reason why I do this is to not only contribute to the Ministry of Education, but to improve the influence of the university. Secondly, we can learn about the information of many international conferences through the backstage of the website, such as the type of meeting, and participants," says Nie. "As long as the data is related to school development, I hope to be able to collect it. I hope that the library will be built into a think tank in the future, not only in schools, but also in the industry or region."

Talent is the first resource for high-quality development

In the past, the HUST Library focused on traditional library functions, such as providing literature resources for patrons. Therefore, school management paid insufficient attention to employee development within the library. After taking office, Nie put a lot of effort into optimizing talent and employee development within the library. “I believe that the development of the library ultimately depends on the efforts of all librarians,” says Nie.

When he first arrived at the library, he found that although there were enough librarians, their skill sets did not match his vision for the library. He actively worked to introduce more professionals to the school and to improve the library. For example, Nie will occasionally send librarians to other university libraries to conduct research or attend conferences, so that librarians can gain a better understanding of the industry. The librarians are asked to summarize and analyze other libraries after each visit.

With Nie’s efforts, the overall skill set of the library staff has been elevated. "Now the basic quality of librarians has been significantly improved, and they have basic capabilities in developing new businesses." The school also supports the library staff and recruits high-quality talent from different disciplines every year.

Recently, the Ministry of Science and Technology released a guide to national major projects, one of which is to vigorously promote the key technologies of the mobile terminal. Nie believes that the project can be led by the HUST Library, joint colleges, such as the School of Computer Science, as well as research and development teams of some external companies, and other libraries in Hubei. “If everything depends on the librarian, the library can do very limited things,” Nie says. “As a first-class university, we have very rich academic resources, if we can coordinate and integrate these resources. Then the library can do more things."

Service-oriented knowledge services

In the past few years, the HUST Library has vigorously carried out subject services by collecting, aggregating, analyzing and comparing resources and information.

Next year, the Ministry of Education will conduct a fifth round of discipline-specific assessments, and the library needs to provide relevant statistical analysis. These reports not only allow the college to see its own subject rankings, but also understand where there are gaps. They also help the school plan how to develop each discipline. "These things we do actually rely on the library's information resources, but we no longer limit ourselves to the traditional business, but make full use of the advantages of information resources to cut into all aspects of the school. This is an example of more value-added services," comments Nie.

At the beginning of this year, the HUST Library was designated as a National Intellectual Property Information Service Center by the Ministry of Education and the State Intellectual Property Office, a recognition of the library's intellectual property information service capabilities.

When asked about the library’s future development, Nie says that providing personalized service based on reader behavior is inevitable. He feels that it takes a lot of time for readers to find the right documentation in a resource-rich library, so he hopes to further enhance search efforts, thereby bringing more convenience to readers. "Although it is not difficult to achieve technically, the public concept hopes to obtain more, better and more accurate services. But on the other hand, it is not willing to be tracked by their behavior. This process will take time. Adapt slowly," he says.

The term information literacy refers to the ability to reasonably judge the authenticity of information and effectively sift through massive amounts of information. The HUST Library plans to offer a course on information literacy and expand its existing document retrieval training to include information literacy. Many university libraries in China offer courses in how to find documents.

However, information literacy education is a broader concept, one that aims to help students improve their ability to collect, organize, and use information that will be valuable for future work and life. "Information literacy is a quality that people must have in the information society. We hope to open different courses for students at different stages and make information literacy education a system, “says Nie. “At present, our library is not fully equipped, but I hope to incorporate it into the library business as soon as possible."

As part of its overall plan to build a world-class university, HUST puts two requirements on the library – to build a first-class service school and a first-class library. In this regard, Nie notes, "I have done a lot of work thus far and feel that I need to continue to create special and important things to accomplish these goals. I hope that through my efforts, I can lead the HUST Library into becoming one of the most influential libraries in the industry.”