Community libraries to support community needs
Module 1: Library associations in society
Topic 1: Professional associations, the role of libraries, and librarians
For some years, the Library Society of China (LSC) has had a strong focus on building the infrastructure and professional support required for good quality library services. The case study outlines a number of initiatives that have sought to strengthen the association’s influence on government, improve professional standards and increase awareness about the value of libraries to the community. The programs coordinated by the LSC ensured that the association was in a position to demonstrate leadership in difficult times.
As you read the case study, think about the following issues:
- The importance of information access in contemporary communities
- The contribution a library association can make to modern society
- The role a library association can play to support its members and to engage different stakeholder groups
- The benefits of being a member of a library association
The Library Society of China (LSC) is a non-government, non-profit and national organisation for libraries, information institutions, librarians and professions. Established in 1979 (its predecessor was the Chinese Library Association, dating back to 1925), it currently has 10,000 individual members and 215 institutional members. One of the LSC's strategic objectives is to communicate with government agencies, in particular to deliver advice to the government about library issues and to encourage the development of policies that will benefit libraries and their users. A strong program of advocacy on the part of the LSC led to the implementation of three national standards for the library profession in China (2003-2004). Since then, further legislation and library standards have been introduced, encompassing the construction of public libraries, library staffing, professional ethics, copyright etc. The LSC has also worked with the government to raise the profile of libraries and to encourage research and practice. Significantly, the leadership shown by the LSC has helped establish a platform of trust between the LSC, its members and the government.
It is fair to say that libraries in China have had an uneven development, primarily due to the geographical, cultural and economic differences in such a vast country. It is estimated that nearly a third of the county libraries have failed to adequately perform the social functions of modern libraries, for example through the provision of services designed to enhance social, cultural and economic conditions in the local community. Historically, the overall status of libraries in China has reflected the lack of funding, quality staff, management skills and an overall vision for the sector.
However, the LSC has worked with the government to develop a series of cultural policies to help build more cohesive services and programs that will be of benefit to the whole community. Research activities have informed both policy and practice, with the LSC working to engage government, industry, the community and the profession in issues associated with libraries. In 2005 the association published two reports on the development and sustainability of regional public libraries, which attracted considerable attention in the media. Several new programs were developed and implemented as a result of the association’s advocacy activities.
In 2005, the society hosted a symposium to examine the role played by grass-roots libraries in society, in order to inform the development of a plan to work with the government to construct a network of libraries across the nation. Proposals, developed through a process of consultation with international LIS professional bodies, LIS professionals and local researchers, were delivered to the Ministry of Culture. The media attention ensured that the level of awareness amongst the general public about library services was greatly increased. The opportunities for collaboration between local government authorities, the national government and the LSC led to a positive working environment that has supported further policy development to advance public libraries.
From 2006 to 2008, the LSC coordinated a training program for grass-roots librarians, recruiting professionals and academics to serve in a volunteer capacity to develop the curriculum and learning resources, and to teach the courses. A total of 82 volunteers from 43 institutions (including libraries, university schools and community organisations) have contributed to the program, which has produced 1636 new grass-roots librarians in 15 provinces.
Alongside the building of community libraries and the development of grass-roots librarians, the LSC set goals to increase the levels of literacy. The association sought to rejuvenate a project that had originally run in 1995, working with a number of different government authorities to support and promote a ‘Nationwide Reading’ program. As the revitalised program attracted widespread media coverage through television, radio, magazines and the Internet, there was a strong level of public interest. Publishers and libraries have clearly benefitted from the focus on reading; libraries are central to the various reading programs as they can organise a wide variety of community activities to promote reading and can partner with a broad spectrum of agencies, including cultural, educational, scientific and technological organisations.
Over time, by aligning initiatives with national strategic priorities and by ensuring that research and evidence-based practice is used to inform decisions about the construction of library buildings, the training of library staff and the development of community literacy, the LSC has won the respect and trust of the government.
On May 12, 2008, Wenchuan County in China was struck by a major earthquake, which affected many provinces and killed over 80,000 people. Sichuan Province was the most severely affected. 37 libraries were destroyed or damaged, 13,000 pieces of library equipment were ruined and almost 2 million books were destroyed, amounting to economic losses of around US $59 million. The reconstruction program would inevitably be a long-term task that would require the efforts of local librarians, domestic and foreign colleagues, the government and the wider community.
The LSC worked quickly to consult with its members and to launch an appeal, with recommendations for the post-disaster reconstruction. Donations were sought from Chinese and international librarians, LIS institutions and funding agencies. Only one week after the earthquake, an official website, Disaster Relief and Reconstruction, was set up by the LSC to serve as the official information channel about the reconstruction program. The LSC worked quickly to draft standards that would guide the rebuilding and restocking of libraries across the Sichuan province.
Over a number of years, the LSC has established strong relationships with its members, the library sector, the government and the media. The program of advocacy which has involved consultation with the different stakeholder groups about the issues impacting on libraries, library services and library professionals, allowed the LSC to adopt a strong position of leadership when disaster struck in May 2008. The association was able to quickly rally support from many corners and to provide authoritative advice to guide the reconstruction efforts.
The LSC has demonstrated its capacity to enact the association’s goals:
- To be a ‘bridge’: the LSC aims to connect libraries and the public, libraries and society, libraries and the government
- To be a ‘mouthpiece’: the LSC aims to be the mouthpiece for protecting the social rights of all library professionals and the mouthpiece for protecting the reading rights of the nation’s citizens.
- In what ways do you think this association has made a significant contribution to libraries and to society? Why?
- Who benefits from the work of the LSC? How do they benefit?
- How might the experience of this association relate to your own situation? What lessons can be learned?
- Imagine you are on the board of a library association striving to build/rebuild its influence. Outline some of the key strategies that the board could consider.
- Can you identify any other strategies that you feel have been beneficial or successful? Explain why.
- Has this case study changed your perception of library associations?
Resource: Case study
Region: Asia & Oceania
Agency: Library Society of China (LSC)
Topic: The role and importance of libraries and librarians
Keywords: society, community libraries, information access, reading programs, professional standards, stakeholder engagement, disaster relief
Tang, G. & Wu, Y. (2009). To influence the government policy: The experience from the Library Society of China. Paper presented at the 75th IFLA World Library and Information Congress held in Milan, Italy, 23-27 August 2009. Available as an online resource at http://conference.ifla.org/past/ifla75
Last update: 21 October 2012