Global Collaboration:
The Case of Oberlin College and Yunnan University Libraries [1]

Haipeng Li
Oberlin College
Yang Yong
Yunnan University

I. Overview

With the advancement of technologies and the advent of the enormous variety of means of communications, the world of information is "shrinking" very rapidly. Simultaneous transmittal of information from one place in the world could be obtained from another part of the world in seconds. The development of world economy is also mandating information dissemination in a much more organized and speedy fashion. As a result, the information profession, including libraries worldwide, is facing challenges in regards to how to best communicate, organize, and collaborate in order to meet these challenges.

The world of librarianship, including librarians and libraries, has undergone tremendous changes in the past several decades. One of the major issues libraries face is global collaboration. Libraries and library associations have made attempts to collaborate globally on various levels. Examples include the cross-border agreement between the Canadian Association of College and University Libraries (CACUL) and the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) to reaffirm a mutual commitment to promote international activities among academic and research librarians and educators.[2] A similar agreement was signed with the National Council of Higher Education Libraries in Mexico in March 2003.[3] The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), which holds its annual conference at different locations in the world, is a good example of efforts made to connect world libraries and exchange program among library and information professionals.

Collaboration between Chinese and American libraries is particular notable in recent years as a result of the rapid development in libraries worldwide. For example, library conferences are mushrooming, including the China-US library conferences with the 1st one in Beijing in 1996 and the 2nd one in New York and Washington, DC in 2001, the Shanghai Library Forums, and the Kunming Library Conference in 2001. Digital projects are another area where such collaboration flourishes. A good example is the "Gateway Service Center of Chinese Academic Journals", a joint effort by the University of Pittsburgh, Beijing University and Qinghua University.[4] Other library enterprises such as the Mortenson Center for International Library Programs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the American Library Association (ALA) have built in place mechanisms to train librarians from other counties with a view to promoting international library exchanges.

II. Foundation Support

This article is to describe, in the midst of global library collaboration activities, how the Oberlin College Library in Ohio and the Yunnan University Library in China work together to establish a program that promotes collaborations between the two libraries. At the core of the program is the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association, which plays a pivotal role in this collaborative process.

The Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association, also known as the Oberlin Shansi Association, a private foundation located on the Oberlin College campus in Ohio, is a non-profit organization that promotes educational and cultural understanding and exchanges between Asians and Americans through individual and group educational programs and community projects. The purpose of the Association is to make constructive and useful contributions to Asian and American institutions, programs, and communities. The Shansi Association currently has exchange programs with academic institutions in several countries in Asia. These are:

III. Oberlin College and Yunnan University

Oberlin College is a small liberal arts college located in Oberlin, Ohio, with its enrollment of about 2,700 students. It is ranked one of the top colleges in the country, with vigorous academic programs, including East Asian Studies/Chinese Studies, which is one of the oldest and strongest undergraduate area studies programs in the United States. Interest levels in issues related to China are high on campus from both students and faculty.

Yunnan University, located in Kunming, China, Yunnan Province, is a comprehensive research university, and one of the top academic institutions in China. There are more than 10,000 students attending Yunnan University, with strong academic programs in many areas, including minority studies, anthropology, and biology. In recent year, Yunnan University is making efforts in exploring ways to collaborate with other colleges and universities at home and abroad.

IV. Major Collaborative Projects

With the support from the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association, particularly the Visiting Scholars Program which supports visits by Asian faculty to Oberlin and of Oberlin faculty and staff to Asia, "in order to expand and inform the perspectives of scholars, and enrich the education of their home institutions,"[5] the Oberlin College Library is able to take advantage of opportunities the Shansi Association provides to promote library exchanges. Visits of scholars in the program are planned carefully with specific objectives in mind, taking into account the interests and goals of the institutions in Asia and that of Oberlin College. One of the strong areas in the program is personnel exchange where faculty and staff from participating institutions conduct lectures, seminars, presentations, and projects. The following is a list of exchange visits by librarians from participating institutions:

Most of these visits from Oberlin College to Yunnan University took place in the form of lectures, discussion sessions, and presentations to students, faculty and library staff. Topics cover a wide range of issues, from cataloging to reference, preservation to digitization, and space planning to high level management. Visits by librarians from other countries to Oberlin included many discussion sessions with various departments and their staff, visits of various types of libraries, and presentations on library development in their home countries.

It is of particular note that the international library conference entitled, "Academic Librarianship in the New Millennium: Roles, Trends, and Global Collaboration," held in June of 2001 on the Yunnan University campus, was a great success.[6] 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 (CALA), attended the conference. Feedback from participants was very positive.[7] The conference was a truly collaborative effort between Oberlin College and Yunnan University in many areas, from detailed planning in the beginning to the publishing of the conference proceedings long after the conference was over.

Material exchange has also been a very important part of the program. Librarians from both institutions spend time identifying areas where collection is week and have received from the other institution book donations to fill the gaps in their collections. For example, Oberlin received books from Yunnan University in areas of Chinese literature and minority studies, whereas Yunnan University was sent materials in biology, English, and many other areas.

V. Exchange Experience

For Oberlin, there are many benefits involved with the exchange program. With the coming of visiting librarians from Asia, staff at the Oberlin College Library has been exposed to different cultures, something that would not have happened without such a program. Through discussions and other interactions, they are able to develop a somewhat deeper understanding of the visiting librarians and their cultures, which is something of great value. They also learn what library practice is like in other countries, thus developing a global perspective of librarianship.

For Yunnan University, the experience is also invaluable. As China is undergoing its reforms in almost every field, Chinese librarianship is no exception. Many libraries in China are exploring options and seeking ways to improve their practices and operations. Yunnan University Library is among those that are taking substantially large steps in this direction. Over the years, many library professionals are provided training opportunities both at home and abroad. This collaborative relationship between Oberlin College and Yunnan University Library has brought many American librarians to Kunming to conduct lectures and seminars. As a result, Yunnan University Library staff have greatly benefited from this cooperative effort.

VI. Future

Many discussions have taken place in regards to the future direction of library collaboration between Oberlin College and Yunnan University. In addition to personnel and material exchange, discussions have focused on online reference exchange, which would build on the online reference services that already exist at the Oberlin College Library. Discussions were also held on exploring collaborative research projects.

VII. Role of CALA Members

In the process of collaboration between libraries in China and the U.S., it is important for us as Chinese American librarians to realize the importance of our own resources and the role we can play. We are the bridge builders between the two cultures and libraries, with the knowledge we have and the languages we speak. It is imperative for us to actively take part in these programs when opportunities arise. Thus we will be able to not only seek opportunities for ourselves but also create opportunities for others.


[1] This article is based on a presentation delivered at the Chinese American Librarians Association Midwest Chapter Annual Program held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on May 1, 2004. [The original presentation is availabe online at:]

[2] Stephanie Orphan, "News from the Field," C&RL News, 64, no. 8 (September 2003): 504. [Availabe URL:]

[3] ibid.

[4] Zheng Liren, "New Development in Electronic and Print Resources on East Asia," a presentation given at the 2004 Chinese American Librarians Association Midwest Chapter Annual Program held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on May 1, 2004. {The original presentation is available online at:]

[5] Shansi Visiting Scholar Program at:

[6] For more information on the conference, please visit the conference website at:, or read conference proceedings published by the Yunnan University Press in 2002, entitled: Proceedings of the International Conference on Academic Librarianship in the New Millennium: Roles, Trends, and Global Collaboration, edited by Yang Yong and Haipeng Li.

[7] For more information about the conference, see also 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 2004 Haipeng Li and Yang Yong.