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CDNLAO Newsletter

No. 82, May 2015


Cooperation between the National Library of China and its counterparts in East Asia and ASEAN Countries:Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

By LIU Yuanhong, CHEN Ning, National Library of China

NOTE: This article is based on the perspective of the National Library of China.

This article is based on the special presentation given in the Session 82 "Re-defining
international relations — National Organizations and International Relations Special Interest
Group" at the IFLA World Library and Information Congress held in 2013 in Singapore.



With the emergence of such concepts as the Clash of Civilizations, and the Cultural Soft Power, libraries, as carriers of culture and centres for information dissemination, are playing an increasingly important role in facilitating government decision-making, preserving cultural heritage, cultivating citizens' scientific literacy, and promoting socio-economic development. In today's library community, exchanges, cooperation and resources sharing have become libraries' definite choice for development. With the rapid development of the era, more frequent and in-depth cooperation and exchanges between libraries at the international, regional and global level have become the trend for libraries worldwide.

In an Internet-based and digitalized world, without exchanges and cooperation on resources, service and management, a single library's functions and influence would be quite limited. Increasingly, more libraries have realized that they need to enhance their core competitiveness through collaboration, and give prominence to libraries' unique role in inheriting and disseminating culture and knowledge. The future prospects of libraries' development are therefore closely related to the extent of libraries' exchanges and cooperation.

The establishment of China-ASEAN Centre 1 in 2009 and the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat of the People's Republic of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea 2 in 2011 reflects a strong tendency towards closer political, economic and cultural ties in this region. In this context, it is expected that exchanges and cooperation of the library community in this region will follow this trend and yield more concrete results.

1. An Overview of Cooperation between the National Library of China (NLC) and its counterpart in Japan, Korea and ASEAN Countries

1.1 Cooperation among the National Libraries in China, Japan and Korea

The past decades have witnessed the development of cooperation among the NLC, the National Diet Library of Japan (NDL), and the National Library of Korea (NLK). As the three major national libraries in East Asia, their enhanced relations have exerted positive influence on the overall progress of library undertakings in this region.

1.1.1 Bilateral Cooperation between the NLC and the NDL

The rapid economic development of China in the 1980s brought opportunities for the development of libraries in China. With the increased financial allocation from the government, the NLC started to establish institutionalized cooperation ties with libraries in the developed countries, aiming to draw advanced management and technological experience from them, and narrowing the gap with world leading national libraries. The exchanges and cooperation with the NDL is one of the exemplars in this regard.

In 1981, the NDL delegation's visit to the NLC marked the beginning of institutionalized exchanges between the two libraries. The mutual exchange visit model has been established since then and continued until today. The two sides have conducted various forms of exchanges, including business meetings, mutual visits, exchanged librarians program, joint initiatives in proposing multi-lateral projects, etc. For each business meeting held during the mutual visits, the two libraries will decide one or more themes and have specific and in-depth discussions on special reports prepared by both sides. The themes are quite comprehensive, having covered almost all the major business areas of library operation.

Since 1981, the two libraries have held 33 themed business meetings with 166 people attending the mutual visit programs. A total of seven librarians have attended the exchanged librarians program.

1.1.2 Bilateral Cooperation between the NLC and the NLK

Established in 1997, the NLC and NLK's exchanges mechanism has been built on the basis of geographical proximity, close cultural relations, and enhanced economic ties. Similar to the exchange model with the NDL, the NLC and NLK's exchanges mechanism is developed out of the mutual visits program, with business meetings on a certain theme held during the visits. So far, the two libraries have held 17themed business meetings with 72 people attending the mutual visit programs, and sent a total of five librarians for training through exchanged librarians programs. Additionally, other forms of collaboration are introduced in recent years, including Window on China Book Donation Program conducted by the NLC, and Cultural Partnership Initiative Program proposed by the NLK.
The Window on China Book Donation Program is jointly implemented by the State Council Information Office of the People's Republic of China and the NLC. The Program donates books to over 100 libraries overseas and establishes special reading rooms or bookshelves for books donated. As one of the first batch of libraries to receive books donated through this Program, the NLK received 2273 books in 2006.
Since 2005, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Korea has implemented the long-term cultural exchange project named, ‘Cultural Partnership Initiative (CPI)' in order to promote intercultural ties and understanding among overseas countries. As part of CPI program, the NLK has operated ‘Education and Training Program for Overseas Librarians' since 2006. In 2013, one librarian from the NLC participated in this 6-month program.

1.1.3 Trends for Regional Multilateral Cooperation of National Libraries

Through signing agreement with the NDL and the NLK respectively, the NLC's exchanges model with the two libraries has become institutionalized and regular. In the meantime, the NDL and the NLK also started annual mutual visit program in 1998. This marks the prototype for regional cooperation of libraries in East Asia, and provides a solid foundation for multilateral cooperation projects in this region.

1.2 Bilateral Cooperation between the NLC and National Libraries in the ASEAN Countries

The NLC's cooperation with the National Library Board (NLB) Singapore is one typical example of the NLC's engagement with national libraries from the ASEAN countries. Singapore, with its large number of Chinese community, shares many cultural traditions with China. The NLC and the NLB signed the Letter of Intent on the Cooperation between the National Library of China and the National Library Board of Singapore in 1997, thus established a framework for institutionalized exchanges, which ranges from regular exchange of high-level visits, staff attachment program, joint exhibitions, exchange of publications, lectures, etc. The two libraries have so far held 11 exchanges of visits, with 40 participants in total. In particular, through the staff attachments program, the two libraries have exchanged 67 librarians, offering a precious opportunity for librarians working in various fields to exchange experience and improve their expertise in professional practices.

Apart from institutionalized exchange mechanism with the NLB, the NLC has also established mutual visits programs with the National Library of Vietnam, the National Library of Thailand, the National Library of Cambodia, etc., and built up ties for publication exchanges. Potential is expected to be tapped in terms of more concrete collaboration and long-term exchange mechanism between the NLC and national libraries in the ASEAN countries.

2. Regional Cooperation of National Libraries in Recent Years

The following two examples are typical ones that fully demonstrate the trend of deepened regional multilateral cooperation.

2.1 China-ASEAN Cultural Forum on Libraries Cooperation

The NLC acted as a co-organizer of the China-ASEAN Cultural Forum which was held in Nanning, Guangxi in September 2012. Focusing on the library community, this Forum for the first time gathered national libraries from the ASEAN countries, and invited participation of national libraries of Japan and Korea. With the theme of "Asian Libraries: Resource Sharing, Cooperation and Development", this Forum held discussions on joint development and sharing of documentary resources, as well as the development and cooperation of digital libraries.

< China-ASEAN Cultural Forum on Libraries Cooperation >

The Forum passed the Nanning Initiative of East Asian National Libraries that was jointly proposed by the NLC and NLB. This Initiative expressed the aspiration of national libraries in East Asia and the ASEAN countries for common development and progress. The theme of this Forum is in line with the trends of international librarianship, and can serve as a platform for national libraries in this region to share best practices, broaden collaboration channels and improve librarians' information literacy.

2.2 China-Japan-Korea Digital Library Initiative (CJKDLI)

The CJKDLI is a typical project demonstrating the evolvement of regional cooperation from bilateral to multilateral. Based on the existing bilateral cooperation ties, the NLC, the NDL and the NLK all expressed wishes to build up multilateral cooperation. In 2007, the NDL put forward a proposal on the international cooperation of digital archiving, which aims to address the common challenges in digital archiving through libraries in East Asia, promote the information sharing on digital resources and relevant technologies, and share the results of cooperation in Asia and the entire world.

The NLC, the NDL and the NLK reached preliminary consensus on digital libraries cooperation in 2008. The NLK proposed Asian Eyes Project on digital libraries in 2009, which echoed the principle of NDL's idea on digital library collaboration. In 2010, incorporating the proposals from the NDL and the NLK, the NLC drafted the text of CJKDLI Agreement, which set the objectives of the CJKDLI as "to enrich oriental culture, promote the cultural diversity of Asia and contribute to the Asia and world civilization," as well as "to provide easy integrated access on the Internet to the cultural and scientific heritage of the three countries, to enable people to discover rich multilingual and culturally diverse contents and to contribute to the academic world." Upon detailed discussions on the text of the document, the CJKDLI Agreement was finally signed in August 2010 during the IFLA annual conference by directors of the three libraries.

< Signing of the CJKDLI Agreement, August 2010, IFLA WLIC 2010 >

The Agreement provides a new platform and channel for cooperation among the three libraries, which will play a unique role in promoting the cultural exchanges in Asia.

The three libraries have held annual business meetings to discuss specific issues in the implementation of the project. Although the project is still in its preliminary stage and there remains much work to be done, the project plays an exemplary role in fostering multilateral collaboration in regional library community, offers a platform for showcasing regional culture features, and brings new vitality to the diversified development of digital libraries.

3. Plans and Prospects for Future Multilateral Cooperation

With regard to cooperation with its counterparts in East Asia and the ASEAN countries, the NLC has formulated short-term and long-term plans.

3.1 Short-term Plans: Training Programs for Librarians in Asia

The 2012 China-ASEAN Cultural Forum which focused on the development of libraries marks a good start for multilateral cooperation and exchanges among national libraries in Asia. In the spirit of the Nanning Initiative of East Asian National Libraries, the NLC organized the 2013 Forum of Directors of National Libraries in Asia in November in Kunming, Yunnan province. At the Forum, Yunnan Declaration of Libraries in Asia was passed, which broadened the scope of cooperation to the entire Asian region, and even to include partners from the US, New Zealand. In this way, more national libraries are able to get involved in the establishment and interaction of this cooperation platform.

In terms of delivering on the concrete cooperation programs, the NLC has launched training courses for librarians in Asia, offering systematic study and experience-sharing sessions on ancient books preservation, digital resources development, etc. A 10-day training program was held in 2014 for librarians from the Grand People's Study House, Democratic People's Republic of Korea. And in 2015, another training program will be organized for South Asian librarians.

3.2 Long-term Vision: To Initiate Concrete Collaboration for Promoting Common Progress

3.2.1. Tentative Steps in the Development and Cooperation on Digital Libraries

The development and cooperation on digital libraries is in line with the current trends of library undertakings. As an important information content and service provider, libraries have long been aware of their important mission in digital resources building and sharing. Libraries in East Asia and the ASEAN countries are facing common challenges and opportunities in the development of digital libraries. Efforts should be made to seize the development opportunities and promote the exchanges and dissemination of different cultures through multilateral cooperation on digital libraries. Adoption of common technological standards (such as metadata) and specifications (such as RDA) will facilitate processing and retrieving of digital resources, as well as easier access of digital resources from different countries. On the basis of intent and framework for cooperation, there still requires further negotiations on details in order to achieve more tangible and effective results.

3.2.2 Sustainable Development of Training Programs for Librarians

Asian libraries share common needs in terms of establishing a platform for human resources training. Making use of the strength in specific areas of librarianship, training programs can be developed to meet the needs of librarians in different countries. It is planned that, under the financial support from China's Ministry of Culture, systematic training programs will be offered by the NLC for librarians from different Asian countries in the coming years.

Additionally, exchanged librarians program has become an effective way for librarians' further education and training. Through such programs, librarians can not only broaden their horizon, but also improve their professional expertise in a certain area of work.

The NLC has achieved some preliminary results in the international cooperation of librarians' training programs. However, a more systematic and long-term planning should be in place in order to ensure the sustainable development of training programs for librarians in Asia.


The cooperation between the NLC and its counterparts in East Asia and the ASEAN countries is based on profound historical tradition and favourable current conditions. A typical example for regional cooperation, the bilateral and multilateral cooperation in this region has demonstrated diversified cooperation channels and broad prospects for future development. Through such a cooperation model, it is expected that libraries in this region will further join hands to improve librarians' information literacy, face common challenges and opportunities, and promote the common development of library undertakings in East Asia and the ASEAN nations.

1 As an intergovernmental organization, the ASEAN-China Centre is a one-stop information and activities centre that aims to promote ASEAN-China cooperation in trade, investment, tourism, education and culture, with active involvement of the private sector. Representatives from the Centre attended the 2012 China-ASEAN Cultural Forum.

2 Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat of the People's Republic of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea is the first international organization established by the three countries, aiming to promote peace and common prosperity among the three countries.

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