Building smart library services through innovation and international collaboration
January 23, 2020
By Song Yingfa
Meeting the needs of faculty, researchers and students
When asked about his role as Library Director of the China University of Mining and Technology (CUMT), Song Yingfa replied enthusiastically, "I was appointed library director on October 17, 2016, and this is my 1,135th day and counting!”
In the early 1990s, Song was a graduate student in the Department of Political Science at Nankai University and often did research in the library. What impressed him most was an English-language text, the 10-volume International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, especially its entries related to political education. He was so serious about his studies that he sent a handwritten letter to the encyclopedia’s editor-in-chief, Professor Willem Langeveld of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
It turns out that the International Journal of Political Education he consulted, published by Elsevier in the late 1970s, was actually the committee journal for the International Political Science Association's Political Education Research Committee (now called the Political Socialization and Education Research Committee). The letter that Song wrote was his entry to this international academic organization. Now, almost 30 years later, he is the eighth chairman of the research committee (2018-2024) and a member of the editorial advisory committee of the academic journal Politics, Culture and Socialization. The research path he pursued opened a window to the world of academics and laid the foundation for his later library work.
Digital transformation: responding and adapting to user needs in changing times
The ways in which people access information in the digital age is undergoing tremendous change, and Song believes that library services need to adapt along with them. "The core issue of libraries today is digital transformation, and this should be the most important issue addressed," he said. “As we transform and develop our library to adapt to the times, we need to accelerate the overall digital transformation of the library and achieve management and service innovation based on online platforms.”
Since taking office, Song has been exploring how to build digital collections. The first step was to adjust the resource structure of the library, then adapt to the changes in reading habits of users, and finally to improve the construction of electronic resources. In 2018, the CUMT library used a total of 15.8794 million Chinese yuan (the equivalent of $2.2 million) for literature resources, 80.63 percent of which was devoted to electronic resources.
The print collections in the CUMT library are all available in electronic format. When searching for print books, readers can also see and choose to borrow the e-book as well. In order to protect intellectual property rights, e-books can only be obtained through the campus network and become unreadable after they are borrowed for 20 days.
"Our library is still leading the way in the digitization of document resources. Although other universities in China are also doing this, most of them have not yet completed the process,” said Song. “Domestic new books have not yet achieved an e-book market conversion, and this change will take time."
The CUMT library ordered 214 Chinese and foreign language databases in 2018. "Elsevier is the best database we have used, with downloads of more than 1.285 million, accounting for 50.2 percent of the total downloads of all full-text databases in our university," Song said. "Data vendors are more agile and proactive in adapting to market changes. They have gone faster than universities in digitizing resources, not only reflected in the shift from paper to digital resource sales, but also focus on the development of data analysis tools. I personally think that data providers like Elsevier have nurtured readers and promoted the digital transformation of university libraries.”
Smart services: knowledge service based on big data analysis and library wisdom
The CUMT library also uses smart technology to promote the preservation and construction of digital resources. It records academic conferences, expert lectures and academic reports, then publishes them on academic video-on-demand platforms. "We have accumulated more than 4,000 complete academic report videos so far, and the video click-through rate is very high," said Song. "I think the preservation of these videos are valuable, and that they’ll continue to hold their value.”
Recently, the CUMT officially launched its Smart Library Management and Service Platform, which represents a new generation of library service systems, including electronic resources and digital assets. The library has essentially completed the digitization of documents and Sung is working diligently to bring other library services online.
"Smart services rely on the use of big data technology to really pinpoint where the user's needs are and to help us achieve the most precise services,” said Song. He noted that technology can now record every book that the user has read, and data analysis tools can help the library carry out deeper data mining based on user-published works. "Data vendors and users have jointly built the ecology of the library. We have a relationship of coexistence and cooperation with each other. Relying on the professional tools of data vendors, we can truly achieve precise services,” he said.
The CUMT library is also using other data sets to improve its library. Every year, to identify gaps in its collection, it analyzes and compares its own collections with those of libraries for other world-class mining universities, including the Colorado School of Mines, University of Melbourne, Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania. Song found that the school had a high demand for environmental literature on subjects such as the clean use of coal and soil analysis. This made him realize that the environment is also one of the key disciplines that the school should pay attention to in the future. "Smart services also rely on the improvement of librarians' capabilities. Librarians must have a sense of service, a vision of service, and the ability to apply smart technologies to improve service level," he concluded.
In July 2018, the Colorado School of Mines, which is ranked No. 1 in the world among mineral and mining engineering institutions (QS World Rankings by Subject 2019), invited Song to visit the school and discuss potential research collaborations. In May 2019, eight members of Mines’ Arthur Lakes Library visited CUMT for an intensive two-day library symposium and conducted an all-day workshop for CUMT graduate students on scholarly publishing. Carol Smith, the Mines university librarian, agreed that staff from both institutions learned a great deal from each other and identified several opportunities for collaboration. In spring 2020, Mines will send another librarian back to CUMT for instruction and research related to information literacy. The CUMT library and the Mines library have truly become sister libraries through these exchanges of library knowledge and best practices.
Implementing new services to meet user needs
Song is always looking for opportunities to enhance library services. A couple of years ago, he saw several students come into the library to study, but there was no room in the self-study area and the reading room was not open that day. He now ensures that the reading room stays open so that students always have a place to go.
Recently, as exams approached, more and more students wanted the library to stay open later. After an online user survey, Song decided to adjust the closing time for the library's shared learning space and the social science reading room—and leave them open 24 hours during exam times. "User needs are always the driving force behind the development of the library. Responding to the needs requires a sense of contingency. If you do not adapt to external changes, library work will be separated from school development and we strive to bring more convenience to our readers," he explained.
Song has also put forward many innovative ideas on library development, which he calls "collaborative creation.” He believes that the cultural heritage of the school should determine the characteristics of the library, and that self-built resources will support the library's long-term survival and development. He proposed that the library develop several collections, including newspapers that describe early mining systems, stories of older generations of miners, and research related to cities involved in China’s mining industry.
The long-term goal of the CUMT is to build a world-class university. By accelerating digital transformation, advancing smart services, and deepening collaborative creation, Song envisions a state-of-the-art university library that helps achieve this goal. The next stage of library enhancements includes plans for a scientific literature center, a shared learning space, and a scholarly exchange platform.