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Ms. Louise Jones on Library Development

Ms. Louise Jones, University Librarian (Photo by Cheung Wai-lok)

Louise Jones, the new University Librarian who assumed office in January 2013, unfolded her career story and told us why she travelled afar to take up the appointment in Hong Kong.

What brought you to Hong Kong?

Shortly after completing my first degree in psychology at the University of Manchester, I spent a year teaching English in the remote and rather unlikely—that was in the 1980’s—city of Harbin, in the northeast of China. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay there, and the experience was much enhanced by my next job, with the London-based Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding, where I spent five years working as their librarian and organizing activities related to educational exchanges and cultural programmes between Britain and China. During this time I completed a Master’s degree in Information Studies, and also a Master of Public Administration at Warwick University some years later. Then I took up work with the National Health Service (NHS), specializing in medical librarianship. After that I moved to Leicester as the medical librarian for the University Medical School and the NHS in the region. I became the Director of Library Services of Leicester University in 2007, at an exciting time when a major library building project took place, modernizing both the building and library services. Then, the East Asia beckoned again and the opportunity of running the library system in a major research university on the China coast presented itself. With my children grown-up I was looking for a career change with new challenges, and accepted the appointment at the Chinese University.

Nowadays digitization is the buzzword among librarians. How well have we been doing at CUHK?

As a matter of fact we are doing pretty well. The most recent figures show that 90% of our new acquisitions are already available electronic, be it journals, books or primary archival material. Most of our journals and periodicals are now available in digital format, and digitization and the bundling of all titles from a publisher into a ‘Big Deal’ has enabled us to subscribe to additional titles and acquire back issues with greater ease and to some degree less expense.

But that doesn’t mean we have stopped buying print just yet; last year we acquired over 65,000 titles of printed book. However we have reached a tipping point. The quality of e-books is now much better than before, and there are almost four million e-books available via our catalogue, two million of them in Chinese.

We are also in the process of digitizing our rare books, with emphasis on books printed in the Yuan and Qing Dynasties, and volumes related to the culture, history and folklore of southeast China. Digitization of rare books is very important not only for preservation purposes, but also in making such books more accessible to both scholars and general readers across the globe.

How does digitization affect the acquisition of books and journals?

The availability of books and journals in the electronic format is revolutionizing the academic publishing industry, and that bears directly on us as librarians. New models of publication such as open access are fiercely debated internationally, and in the UK have government support. As I was leaving Leicester the Library was just setting up an open access publication fund, as are all research intensive universities in Britain. Open access publishing seems to have less traction in Hong Kong, but I will be interested to see if it becomes a hot topic.

But e-books are also changing the way the Library’s purchasing practice in ways which readers may not be aware of. Academic monographs are expensive and can have short print runs. Publishers are now making these titles available electronically first. The Library makes a range of e-books available, but we only pay for them once they have been downloaded a number of times. It’s called ‘patron driven acquisition’ and has been shown to be a more cost effective purchasing model, that requires canny negotiation from our acquisitions librarians. For readers who still want a printed copy of a book some libraries are offering a ‘print on demand’ service which is environmentally friendly.

How is the Hong Kong Literature Database doing in the University Library?

The Hong Kong Literature Database is a striking example of how successful the University Library has been in its digitization programme. All items are now catalogued and digitization is well under way, although some items cannot be digitized yet because of copyright considerations. You will be amazed how popular the Collection is on the internet: in the past year, a total of five million visits were recorded, of which a third came from users in Hong Kong, another third from residents in the mainland, and the remainder from the rest of the world. The Hong Kong Literature Database will continue to be a major project, its success dependent on the close collaboration between the Department of Chinese Language and Literature and the University Library. It’s a model I hope we can build on to create other academically important digital archives.

Are students being helped to make full use of electronically obtained information?

One can never talk enough about the impact of the information age, and information technology, on libraries. Here at the University Library we are fully committed to supporting e-learning. In the past we have helped our students learn to track down specific information that has often been hard to find. We are ‘flipping’ this approach and will help students to manage and appraise the vast corpus of literature they encounter on the net.

We see ourselves as having a role in assisting our users to exploit the internet fully and ethically. Take social media as an example. There is evidence that having a social media presence, even as simple as blogging about your research, is an aid to enhancing citation counts. Classic citation analysis is complex enough and users need support, but one can see that altmetrics, measuring article downloads, tweets, social bookmarks is a brave new world. Students need all the support that can be given in order to find their place in the e-society, and faculty need support in the rapidly changing world of scholarly publication.

What other innovations are being introduced to the services at the University Library?

The Learning Garden at the University Library—a most wonderful innovation which I can take no credit for, conceived when the Library extension was being planned and now a much welcome collaborative space for students and for the Library to make new offerings. It is allowing us to reconceptualize the Library. We still offer quiet, contemplative space; and if alumni visit the redecorated Main Reading Room they will feel at home. But the huge reference desk that dominated the room has gone. Library colleagues tasked with advisory and consultation work can be found roving as much as stationary, to engage students who need their help in new, proactive ways.

We are already working very much in partnership with the Independent Learning Centre, promoting writing skills through a series of Hong Kong authors workshops, all now available on the Library’s Youtube site. I also look forward to dialogue with the Students Union and various student societies with a view to forming workable liaisons—the use of the library for book clubs, workshops, etc., are some of the possibilities, helping the Library play its part in generating a reading culture on campus.

The University Library System has many objects of great historical and cultural value within its collections, but the general public has not had much chance of seeing them.  Are there plans to provide for greater public access to these treasures?

Yes, the new exhibition and Special Collections storage space in the Library Extension will greatly facilitate our education, exhibition and outreach activities. The exhibition of the Treasures of the Library that opened in January at the Art Museum has been very well attended, especially a series of talks we put on at the weekends, and our Special Collections Librarian was even interviewed on local television.

For the Hong Kong Literature Collection, the Library and Department of Chinese Language and Literature devised a workshop for school teachers which was very well received, and for our efforts the Library has received an award from the Library Society of China. We can do more along the line of creating materials that are tailored to the school curriculum, both as a service to the general public and also to raise secondary school children's awareness and understanding of University and what a University Library can offer them if they chose to become University students .

What leisurely pursuits do you wish to continue while you are here in Hong Kong?

In the first place, I love good food, and I am fascinated by the large variety of colourful produce that one finds in the local wet market—I will certainly try to cook some of the seafood that are not found in my part of the world! I am also a keen rugby fan, introduced to the game by my sons, and I’m looking forward to the Sevens next year. I enjoyed gardening very much while I was in England, and I would like to try my hand at tropical plants on my balcony, which for the time being will do as a substitute for my garden at home.