The National Science and Technology Library: A Chinese Model of Collaboration
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 (http://www.nstl.gov.cn/).
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.
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
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)
||English and other
|Dissertations and theses
|Measurement and evaluation
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.