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From tradition to innovation: The evolutionary history of a library

February 15, 2019

By Chen Jin

A librarian's quest to improve the quality of library services and ultimately expanding the library’s influence with the university

On April 11, 2007, Professor Chen Jin was appointed director of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) Library. That was the start of a “revolutionary” friendship between Chen and the library that has lasted over 10 years and resulting in the library’s growth and transformation. “If you want to do something, do it well,” said Chen.

When he first arrived at the library, Chen found that the library staff often sought perfection in their work, causing efficiency to suffer. After carefully observing the library’s operations and contemplating the problems and issues, Chen decided to carry out several reforms, hoping to improve the quality of library services and ultimately expanding the library’s influence with the university.

Implementing the “3+1” goals

The reform and service transformation project was divided into what Chen calls the “3+1” goals.

The first goal was to reshape the service concept to become more user-oriented, emphasizing the importance of providing users with effective and efficient service. To put the service concept into practice, Director Chen requires all librarians to keep service top of mind.

The second goal was institutional reform that he believes is important for libraries to meet future needs. At the end of 2007, Chen boldly carried out the first round of reforms, streamlining the original 13 departments in four departments including Intelligence Research Institute, Reader Service Headquarters, Technical Service Headquarters and Administrative Management Headquarters. The new structure was intended to achieve flat management and improve service efficiency. In 2016, Chen made further adjustments to the departments, and the library is now divided into six departments including Resources and Public Service, Learning and Research Support, Culture and Special Services, Platform and Technical Support, Logistics Support and Literature, and Administration and Cooperation.

The third goal was to create a pan-disciplinary service system. Compared with resource-based disciplinary service models, Chen notes that “we are directly communicating with professors and embedding disciplinary services into their research process.” To strengthen academic support and service efficiency, Chen successfully pioneered the IC² Innovative Service Model that has become a brand in the pan-disciplinary service system. The model consists of two programs, the IC² Innovation Support Program and the IC² Humanities Development Program. The model expands services from academic and cultural perspectives, achieving both vertical and horizontal integration which has enriched the culture of the library.

The final “+1” goal of the transformation efforts refers to the culture that is woven through the library systems. “Our cultural focus is on three components, including organizational, management and environmental,” Chen said.  He feels that organizational culture is one of the most important aspects in encouraging enthusiasm of employees and guaranteeing the success of the library operations.

"Without ideas, there is no direction; without institutions, there is no management of superstructures. The busier the team, the closer they are,” says Chen. Through the "3+1" transformation, the SJTU Library has completed a huge shift from passive to active service, and from "self-entertainment" to demand-driven.

Supporting the development of the university with subject services

The SJTU library is also the center for science and technology updated accredited by both the Ministry of Education and the Shanghai Science and Technology Commission. As the first of its kind in China, the SJTU Library runs a “Library, Information Science and Archive-Management” Master’s program, with issues of strong professional and academic value being studied.

Chen notes that by analyzing the literature data they can provide students and researchers with highly customized series of analytical services including decision-making information support, evaluation consultations based on factual data, scientific information, and more to aid the in development of research projects and academic study. “This is a true power and value of the library and we will develop our services according to the needs of the users and our school's strategy," Chen said.

Chen encourages the SJTU library to consider providing strategic and decision-making resources by addressing issues like: What are other schools doing in the current environment? What direction should our school's development trend focus on? Which disciplines are worth developing? He feels that the library can support the school and college decisions by collecting data and integrating information to provide strategic analysis reports.

In addition, the SJTU library assists in the assessment of “talent” for both research and academic areas. “Basic talent assessment in the early stage is done by the library,” Chen said. The research focuses on the number of academic achievements, publication citations, and journal influence, and the library will perform quantitative analysis of researchers to determine whether a researcher’s output is falling or rising. This analysis not only provides a regular reminder to researchers, but also enable the school to understand their academic research progress and provide data support for managers.

For the development of disciplines in universities, the construction of interdisciplinary groups have important significance for academic innovation. Based on its professional advantages, SJTU Library has provided many analytic reports and suggestions for this school, which not only helped the school successfully build the Shanghai Urban Development Research Institute, but also helped some disciplined groups break through the bottleneck and directly promote the improvement of the overall academic research level of the school.

"We have risen to such a height that the results of our practice of subject services have fully supported the development of the university and we are considered to be ahead of the competition," Chen said.

The road ahead | A profession that is respected and shared

For more than a decade, Chen has thought about how to integrate the library's services into the school's teaching, learning, research and organization. The library not only supports school management and academic development, but also provides many programs for the school, undertakes intelligence analysis and talent assessment, and develops electronic teaching and software tools. The overall goal is by continuously improving the library’s professionalism and service quality, the faculty and students will view the library as a place of ability and strength. "We are now merging many things together, overall and systematically. If the library can do this well, I think the future prospect of the library will also be very good." Chen said.

In addition, to finding new ideas, methods, and technologies in library management and services, the library needs a platform for exchange of experiences. The annual “Library Management and Service Innovation Forum” was initiated by Chen and was founded in 2008. Focusing on the two key words of management and service, the forum includes two parts: the curator summit and academic discussion. "The purpose at that time was to hope that through academic discussions, we would find the direction of the future development of the library and promote the improvement of library service quality."

Since its inception, each library management and service innovation forum has different themes, including culture, management, services, resources, and technology. Each topic is advancing with the times. In November of 2018, the 11th Library Management and Service Innovation Forum was held in Hangzhou. “We discussed the construction of smart libraries and the content of supporting the two-tier construction of the school, which is closely integrated with the current development of the country's higher education,” said Chen.

In the future, the SJTU Library will continue to introduce advanced concepts and service technologies to provide teachers and students with a quality academic resources and knowledge service support so that they continue to their vision of building a world-class university library.



Chen Jin

Director, Shanghai Jiao Tong University Library