No. 101, March 2023
This article is based on the presentation made by Mr. Xiong Yuanming, Director of the National Library of China, at the 28th CDNLAO General Conference on October 25, 2022.
The COVID-19 pandemic and profound changes unseen in a century have brought unprecedented pressure and challenges to the development of libraries in different countries, and have also deeply affected the exchanges among the library community. In times of uncertainty and complexity, this conference focuses on the reform and innovation of library services, which is both timely and significant. Some ideas based on the exploration and practices of libraries in China will be shared in this paper.
I. Use Modern Technologies to Rebuild Library Space
Since the beginning of the new century, with the rapid development of librarianship in China, a large number of new library buildings that can be regarded as urban landmarks have been emerging. In communities, shopping malls, parks and other areas with dense populations and convenient transportation, various small but exquisite new public reading spaces have also been built and opened, as urban studies, cultural stations and reading houses for the people. Libraries have increasingly become more and more popular among the public as the venue for people to feel and experience diverse cultures, exchange ideas and share knowledge with others. According to statistics, in the past decade, the number of visitors to public libraries above the county level in China has increased by almost 80%, and the number of participants in cultural exchange and reading promotion activities such as lectures, exhibitions and training has increased nearly twofold.
At the same time, with the adoption of modern intelligent technologies, the scope of library services has been further expanded. The integration of online/offline and virtual/physical activities has become a major direction of innovation for library services. For example, the NLC has built a new reading space covered with a 5G network, and designed new functions such as a smart reading tree, a digital magic wall, and 270-degree panoramic VR videos to provide an immersive reading experience for readers; the University of Macau Library has offered a 360-degree VR tour, which enables users to visit the internal stacks, reading space, lecture hall, exhibition hall and the ancient books library from various perspectives through mobile devices; and the Pudong branch of Shanghai Library has built a smart full reservation system and an online book loan platform called Enjoy Books-lending, integrating the reservation of resources, spaces and activities, and promoting people-people, people-resource, and people-space interconnections.
< New reading space empowered by 5G >
Today, modern information technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, Big Data, VR, and Digital Twin continue to develop. As a new technology ecology, the metaverse is growing rapidly, which also brings new opportunities and challenges to the innovation of online and offline service spaces of libraries in the new era. The library community will continue to tap the potential of digital intelligent technologies in the innovation of library services. Based on the intelligent upgrading of offline venues, the library community should focus on promoting the interconnection of smart space facilities and the management application systems of libraries at all levels with smart devices of users and create reading and learning spaces, communication and sharing spaces, and collaborative innovation spaces that integrate knowledge content, facilities, equipment, and technical tools to continuously improve the management of the physical environment and service efficiency of the library.
II. Strengthen Core Advantages and Capabilities of Knowledge Service
With the expanded spread and coverage of information and networks, especially the extensive application of intelligent technologies in recent years, a profound transformation has taken place in the supply and demand of knowledge services: on the one hand, the production, presentation and transmission of knowledge have undergone major changes, and in particular, the extensive application of Big Data and intelligent algorithms to online platforms has made the supply of information and knowledge more active and efficient; on the other hand, in the face of massive fragmented resources, the needs of users have gradually changed from seeking a book or an article to seeking a specific piece of knowledge. In contrast, however, the original document processing and knowledge service approaches of the library have lagged far behind the development of the knowledge environment in terms of depth and efficiency. As the hub of social knowledge, the library is subject to severe risks with its core values and advantages.
In order to better cope with these challenges, the academia and the library community are seeking innovative changes, actively exploring and promoting the transformation and upgrading of knowledge services with new technologies. For example, the Open Lab on Digital Humanities of Peking University applies such technologies as OCR, AI and knowledge graphs to the digital services of ancient books to realize automatic sentence reading, entity recognition, simple and traditional Chinese character conversion and related knowledge retrieval; the National Science Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences uses Big Data and deep learning to build the core AI component for text mining, enabling the in-depth mining and utilization of scientific and technological materials; and the NLC is attempting to apply such intelligent technologies as entity recognition, semantic analysis and semantic relation to enable automatic extraction, multi-dimensional display, scenario sharing and interactive experience of many historical figures, mystical beasts and magical plants, as well as myths and legends from our well-known collection - Classic of Mountains and Rivers.
In the future, the knowledge services of libraries will further transform from providing literature and information to providing solutions, and libraries will be more deeply involved in the whole process of knowledge discovery, acquisition, and conversion of users. With that in mind, the NLC will build a network-wide knowledge warehouse and a multi-dimensional knowledge service platform based on the National Smart Library System, to fully associate the existing collections of libraries at all levels, and in the meantime, further include network resources, scientific data, open access resources and even individual creations into library collections to build a more diversified resource system. On that basis, the NLC will also produce fine granularity label indexing on these resources, create knowledge graphs based on semantic relation, and provide users with more accurate and diversified knowledge discovery services.
III. Actively Reach Out to Society and Promote Sustainable Development
In all countries around the world, the library, especially the public library, is a living force for education, culture, inclusion and information, as an essential agent for sustainable development, and for individual fulfillment of peace and spiritual welfare through the minds of all individuals. In the recently updated IFLA-UNESCO Public Library Manifesto, it is emphasized that public libraries should ensure access for all people to all sorts of community information and opportunities for community organizing, and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals and the construction of more equitable, humane, and sustainable societies.
In China, the value and role of libraries in promoting social civilization as well as economic and social development have also been positively commented on by all sectors of society. The Chinese government attaches great importance to the development of librarianship. Public libraries have been built in 31 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities, nearly 400 prefecture-level cities, and over 2,700 counties across the country; over 2,600 counties (cities/districts) have built central-branch library systems; branch libraries and grass-roots service outlets in rural and urban areas are set up to provide local users with resources and services of the library through mobile carts and self-service equipment.
As a result, libraries at all levels can provide multi-level reading and learning services based on the literature and information resources in their collections to meet the diverse social needs for knowledge information, and fully demonstrate their social value. For example, the NLC launched the Care for the Elderly series of lectures to help the older generation in the application of digital intelligent technologies, with nearly 300 sessions offered in total; Chongqing Library has established a special database on COVID-19 to widely publicize effective prevention measures, in order to meet the needs of society for knowledge on health and disease prevention during the pandemic and effectively fight against the infodemic; Guangzhou Library has established the Guangzhou Documentary Research and Exhibition Center to collect and curate historical materials about China and Guangzhou city, in an effort to inherit local cultural memory; Hunan Provincial Library has built the Chinese Corner for organizing cultural activities on Peking Opera, traditional folk music or other elements of the Chinese culture, so as to provide a communication platform for international friends and overseas students to learn and experience the excellent traditional culture of China, and promote multicultural exchanges; Gansu Provincial Library provides targeted assistance to local villages in mountainous areas, such as promoting scientific farming, exploring characteristic industries and using literature resources to help farmers solve practical problems, with the aim of boosting the revitalization of rural areas.
< National Library of China Care for the Elderly lecture series >
In the future, society will still be full of complexity and uncertainty. It is more crucial than ever to ensure that everyone can fully, timely and accurately access and use information. In active response to the IFLA initiative on libraries and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the UN, the library community in China will give full play to the professional role of libraries, continue to innovate and enrich services, and constantly provide the public with high-quality knowledge and information services to build people-oriented libraries. The National Library of China would like to carry out further communication and exchanges with libraries around the world based on cooperation mechanisms such as the CDNLAO, and to jointly promote the innovative development of library services worldwide.
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