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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2005

[Board accepted]

The National Science and Technology Library: A Chinese Model of Collaboration

Xue-Ming Bao
Digital Librarian/Associate Professor
Seton Hall University Libraries
South Orange, NJ

As exchange librarians, my colleague Beth Bloom and I visited the Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, China for two weeks in May 2004. We made presentations on such topics as academic library web sites and information literacy. We had opportunities to meet in small groups to listen to Chinese librarians about their programs and activities. Our host also arranged for us to visit such major libraries in Beijing as Tsinghua University Library, Beijing University Library, Beijing Capital Library, and the National Science and Technology Library (NSTL). I was impressed with many of our Chinese colleagues' achievements. Their library buildings are modern and spacious, their collections are huge and comprehensive, and their librarians are enthusiastic and up to date with new developments in the international library field. I was most fascinated by the NSTL, a virtual library created through the collaboration of major national level libraries and information research institutions. It is a unique Chinese model that may be of interest to libraries around the world. I would like to present the way I see this Chinese collaborative venture, based on the knowledge gained from talking with the NSTL staff in Beijing and on exploring the NSTL web site (

[Screen shot]

A Collaborative Model

Academic and research libraries around the world are facing two major problems: 1) a rising cost of science and technology journals and 2) the uncontrollable nature of commercial databases in terms of needed journals. The NSTL was formed by using a collaborative model to avoid duplicate purchasing among its academic and research institutions, and to prevent non-availability of needed journals and back issues. The NSTL is a virtual library established by State Council of China on June 12, 2000 as a government-funded joint library database venture. It consists of the libraries of 1) the Chinese Academy of Sciences, 2) the Chinese Science and Technology Information Research Institute, 3) the Machinery Industry Information Research Institute, 4) the Metallurgical Industry Information and Standards Research Institute, 5) the Chinese Chemical Industry Information Center, 6) the Chinese Agricultural Institute, and 7) the Chinese Medical Science Institute. The NSTL is governed by a steering committee with representatives from well-known scientists and the collaborating libraries. Its routine operation is administered by a director appointed by Ministry of Science and Technology which provides about 200 million Chinese yuan (or $25 million US) for this project. The Steering Committee's responsibilities are to develop policies, make decisions, and supervise implementation for joint information purchase, organization, coordination, and management, in order to assure the guaranteed availability of needed literature. The NSTL develops and maintains its own database servers located in the Chinese Science and Technology Information Research Institute. It has developed a web system to allow collaborating libraries to input data and library users to search and retrieve data.

Operation Flow

The NSTL's web service system opened to the public on December 26, 2000. The NSTL upgraded its system in 2002 with 1000 Mbps optical broadband connections between the collaborating libraries. The collaborating libraries acquire funds allocated by the NSTL's Steering Committee to purchase print journals, conference proceedings, and other science and technology literature in their respective fields. Purchases are coordinated to avoid duplication. The collaborating libraries input the content list of each publication and the abstract of each article into a standard and unified data entry form, as created by the NSTL. A user can search and browse the records through the NSTL's web site. It offers union catalog searching, a full-text request option, journal title browsing, and online reference.

Collection Scope

The NSTL purchases, collects, and develops literature resources in the fields of science and technology, engineering, agriculture, and medicine from both China and around the world. It aims to become a comprehensive and reliable science and technology information collection and service center. As of August 16, 2004, the NSTL's web site showed that it had a total of 15,744,614 abstract items, dating back as early as 1979 and covering 11,000 English and other foreign journals, 2,500 conference proceedings and scientific reports, and over 6,000 Chinese language journals, conference proceedings, dissertations and theses. Of all the items, 44.9% are in Chinese, 54.9% in English and other western languages, and rest in Japanese and Russian. Table 1 shows the item source type, language and item number in the collection:

Table 1. NSTL Collection Statistics of Abstract Items (as of 8-16-04)

Source Type Chinese English and other
Western Languages
Japanese Russian
Conference proceedings 463,267 2,078,805    
Dissertations and theses 500,361 46,667    
Journals 6,078,933 5,648,485 21,256 16,918
Measurement and evaluation 1,665      
Scientific reports   761,908    
Standards 20,344 106,005    
Total (15,744,614) 7,064,570 8,641,870 21,256 16,918

Target Users

The NSTL's main target users are science and technology professionals in Beijing and other areas of mainland China as evidenced by its user registration form. Its web site and search interface are in Chinese. A user can search abstracts without registration but must register in order to request a full-text item. Once a user makes a full-text request, the library holding that article will copy or scan the article from its print source. The NSTL promises to deliver a regular full-text request in two working days or urgent requests in one working day. The NSTL charges mailing, expediting, and copying fees. The fees are nominal for a user in China. For users from other countries, the service can be very expensive. The author attempted to request a one page article but had to give up because the NSTL's web billing showed 60 Chinese yuan (about $7.50 US) via e-mail delivery. The NSTL includes a copyright disclaimer that its full-text delivery is for fair use only.


The NSTL, a library collaborative model funded by the Chinese national government, reflects China's commitment to the development of science and technology. One of the NSTL missions is to become a window of exchange between science and technology libraries around the world. However, the NSTL needs to develop an English web version and search interface in order to allow non-Chinese librarians to discover this innovation in scholarly communication and allow non-Chinese scientists to access its rich and comprehensive databases as well.


The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of the following people for their critical reviews and helpful comments on the draft: Jingli Chu, Professor/Head of Education and Research Development at the Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in Beijing, China, and Beth Bloom, Reference Librarian/Associate professor at Seton Hall University Libraries.


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