Building the Bridge and Strengthening the Ties: Experience of Working with a Private Foundation to Promote Global Librarianship

Haipeng Li
Oberlin College Library
148 West College Street
Oberlin, Ohio 44074

I. Introduction

As the world is becoming increasingly globalized, so is the library profession. Since the last several decades, library cooperative activities have been mushrooming worldwide. International conferences, collaborative cataloging, resources sharing, and efforts to develop a global virtue library are just a few examples of international library cooperation. [1] These efforts to enhance library cooperation are indicative of the increased scope of library developments around the world.

Even though library cooperation in the United States went back as early as 1853 when librarians in the country held their first conference, [2] international cooperation among libraries and librarians did not take a center stage on the library scene until recent years. This is demonstrated through a series of international library conferences, particularly between libraries in Asia and the United States. The first U.S-China Library Conference took place in Beijing in August 1996, and the second in New York in August 2001. The 62nd IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) conference entitled: The Challenge of Change: Libraries and Economic Development, was also held in Beijing in 1996. [3] Numerous events have taken place in the last two years, such as conferences, forums, and workshops both in China and in the United States.

It is apparent that librarians, particularly librarians in China and Chinese American librarians in the United States, have made efforts to promote those events. The Chinese American librarians are well aware of the advantages they possess in this cooperative endeavor. They are familiar with both cultures and most of them speak both languages. More importantly, in most cases they know how libraries in both countries work and are able to utilize their expertise.

Private foundations in the United States have been active participants in the efforts of international collaboration. Examples include the Ford Foundation, the Freeman Foundation, the Luce Foundation and the Mellon Foundation. Smaller organizations that deal with issues related to international collaboration among higher educational institutions also play an important part in this endeavor. Such organizations are usually located on university campuses and are able to pull great resources from universities and colleges they are associated with. They include the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association which is based on the Oberlin College campus, Princeton in Asia, located at Princeton University, Volunteers in Asia, based at Stanford University, and the Yale China Association, on the Yale University campus.

The intent of this paper is to explore how librarians and libraries could work with private foundations to foster partnerships in order to promote international librarianship and collaboration and to inform other Chinese American librarians of the existence of such opportunities. Particularly, the author wishes to explore issues with this one organization he has been involved in over the years - the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association - to demonstrate how efforts in promoting international librarianship and collaboration can be achieved.

II. The Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association

The Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association (OSMA) is one of the earliest educational institutions in the United States which focus on both educational and cultural exchanges with Asia. OSMA was founded in 1908 and started its earliest educational exchange with China soon after its establishment, following the footsteps of Oberlin missionaries in Shanxi Province, China, sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). Oberlin College and the ABCFM had sent missionaries to China starting as early as 1890s. After some of the missionaries were killed during the Boxer Rebellion, [4] the ABCFM and the Oberlin College decided to build a memorial arch on the Oberlin campus to commemorate the missionaries. A few years later in 1908, the OSMA was born to "perpetuate the memory of those who suffered martyrdom in 1900 in the Shansi field," "by promoting in every feasible way, and by increasing in every possible extent, the educational work in connection with the Shansi Mission in the Province of Shansi, China." [5] Thus it was clear from the beginning that commemorating the missionaries and continuing their work was a major component in the goal of the Association.

Over the years, the purpose of the OSMA has shifted towards secularization. In 1977, an amendment was made to the Constitution of the Association which reads: the purpose of the Association is to promote international respect and understanding; the corporation's principal work to consist in supporting educational exchange between Asia and America." [6] This process has transformed the Association from an institution with a missionary focus to an organization which promotes mutual respect and understanding, a much-secularized idea, which is demonstrated in its current statement of purpose:

to promote understanding and communication between Asians and Americans through individual and group educational programs and community projects; and the aim of these endeavors is to make constructive and useful contributions to Asian and American institutions, programs, and communities. [7]

III. Examples of Shansi Programs

The Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association sponsors various types of programs with the goal of promoting respect and understanding between Asians and Americans. One of the Association's oldest programs is the Fellowship Program (also known as the Rep Program) in which Oberlin graduates are selected and sent to teach English at institutions in China, India, Indonesia, and Japan. The two institutions in China are Yunnan University in Kunming, Yunnan Province, and the Shanxi Agricultural University in Taigu, Shanxi Province. Each year, two Oberlin graduates are sent to each site where they work with Chinese teachers who teach English at the two institutions.

Another program that the Shansi Association sponsors is the Visiting Scholars Program, which promotes faculty and staff exchange between Oberlin College and its affiliated institutions in Asia. Each year, six to eight faculty/staff members from these Asian institutions are invited to Oberlin to teach, study, or research. Likewise, Oberlin faculty and staff also seize these opportunities to go to these Asian schools to conduct lectures, seminars, and discussion sessions. This is a very vigorous program, which draws much attention and popularity on the Oberlin campus and at the affiliated institutions. Still other programs include the Global Education Program, the Winter Term Program, Distinguished Lectureship, and Sponsored Conferences. [8]

My involvement with OSMA has been a positive experience. I have been serving on the Board of Trustees for six years and have participated in many activities and events sponsored by the Association, including conducting lectures and seminars at Yunnan University and the Shanxi Agricultural University, assisting with educational reforms in a consultant role at Yunnan University, and organizing an international library conference held on the Yunnan University campus in June of 2001. Currently I am serving in the capacity of Vice President of the Board of Trustees of the Association and on a number of committees.

IV. Library Collaboration

When working on cooperation between libraries on the international level, it is important to bring in other non-profit organizations such as churches and associations such as the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association. These organizations can be excellent resources to provide reasonable assistance in financial and administrative manners. A good example is the team efforts to materialize the library conference, held in June 2001 in Kunming, China. The idea of sponsoring an international conference on academic libraries in China was first brought to the attention to the Board of the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association for discussion in the Spring of 2000. After extensive discussions, the Board approved the proposal and a budget for the conference, along with funding from the President's Office, the Dean's Office at Oberlin College, and Yunnan University.

After a long and detailed planning process, thanks to the efforts of the Yunnan University library staff, the conference, entitled "Academic Librarianship in the New Millennium: Roles, Trends, and Global Collaboration," took place from June 3 - 6 on the Yunnan University campus. [9] More than 125 librarians, educators, administrators, and information professionals from universities in China, India, Indonesia, and United States, including several members of Chinese American Librarians Association, attended the conference. [10] The conference proved to be a great success and an excellent example of international collaboration among libraries. In fact, a major component of the conference was devoted to exploring ways and opportunities for further collaboration among participating libraries, a theme, which attracted much attention and generated much enthusiasm from conference participants.

To further promote library cooperative efforts, the Oberlin College Library hosted a librarian from Lady Doak College in India who was also a conference participant. She came as a resident librarian on the Oberlin campus in the Fall of 2001. In June of 2002, Scott Bennett, retired University Librarian at Yale University and a keynote speaker at the conference, went back to Yunnan University to conduct lectures, seminars and to further discuss ways of collaboration, on behalf of Oberlin College Library. Both visits were part of the visiting scholar exchange program between the OSMA and the Oberlin Shansi affiliated institutions. It is clear that much was gained through these exchange visits both for the individuals involved and for the hosting libraries. Plans for more staff exchange visits are underway.

In addition to personnel exchanges, other areas of collaboration are also explored, including material/information exchange, and service exchange. These ideas are being developed on a continuing basis and further documentation on policies and agreements will become available as these programs reach maturity.

V. Conclusion

International collaboration among libraries around the globe has become and will become an indispensable part of our professional life. As Chinese American librarians, we have much to learn and to offer in this meaningful process. These efforts can also provide personal satisfaction as our resources and expertise are utilized and perspectives broadened. Chinese American librarians can play a crucial role in this endeavor and serve as library ambassadors between Chinese and American libraries.


[1] Riggs, Donald E. “International Library Cooperation: We Have Come a Long Way and Have a Long Way to Go,” College & Research Libraries 62:6. (November 2001): 500.
[2] Chao, Sheau-yueh F. “Library Cooperation on Overseas Chinese Studies: from Resource Sharing to the Development of Library Collections,” Collection Building 20:3. (2001): 124.
[3] See website at Last updated: February 18, 1997.
[4] See Nat Brandt's Massacre in Shansi. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1994.
[5] “Contitution of the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association, 1908,” Oberlin College Archives.
[6] "Amendment to the Articles of the Incorporation of OSMA, 1977,” Oberlin College Archives.
[7] "OSMA Statement of Purpose," The Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association website at
[8] To find out more about these programs, please visit the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association's website at
[9] To know more about the content of the conference, see Proceedings of the International Conference on Academic Librarianship in the New Millennium: Roles, Trends, and Global Collaboration, edited by Yang Yong and Haipeng Li. Kunming, China: Yunnan University Press, 2002.
[10] For more information about the conference, see articles by Cynthia Comer and Alison Ricker, “New Roles and Global Collaboration: The Fruits of International Exchange,” College & Research Library News 63:2 (February 2002): 106; and by Min Chou, “CALA Members' Professional Enthusiasm Noticeable in Kunming Conference,” Chinese American Librarians Association Newsletter 83. (September 2001): 8.

Copyright © 2002 Haipeing Li.
Submitted to CLIEJ on 16 August 2002.

Originally presented at the Chinese American Librarians Association Midwest Chapter Annual Program in Chicago on 1 June 2002.