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In a Google age, library not in groove

APR . 06 2011

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Peking University, Apr. 6, 2011: Sun Wei, a graduate student at Peking University (PKU), went to the main library on the morning of a spring day - as usual. He went straight to the Loan Desk and handed in the names of books he wanted.


"I often sat with nothing to do but waited for my books. It was a little bit tedious because I could go nowhere, especially when I had to borrow a lot of books," said Sun.


However, this time, something was different. "I've discovered something new, so I no longer felt bored during the waiting time," said Sun. "I enjoy it, since it helps me learn more about current events."


Sun was referring to a newly-built digital newspaper reader, located right beside the Loan Desk.


"I was surprised and happy when I saw the new touch-screen reader," said Chen Xueting (Class of 2014), an undergraduate from the Department of Information Management. "It covers some 30 kinds of newspapers, saving me a lot of trouble of buying one. I also learnt from its website that the library has bought a digital newspaper database offering more than 120 kinds of newspapers, which is equally convenient."


There are two digital newspaper touch-screen readers in the library. The other one is located on the third floor, next to the Theses and Dissertations section.


A digital newspaper reader (File photo)


Digital newspaper readers are only one of the new changes in Peking University Library this semester to catch the attention from teachers and students. Apart from the electronic news service, PKU Library is endeavoring to provide its readers with its palmtop version - the Mobile Library System. Right after the application of Mobile Phone Library technology designed by PKU Library last year, the updated Mobile Library system, already in place, will offer more possibilities.


Nie Hua, vice director of PKU Library, described the idea of Mobile Library in detail during an interview after a recent national conference on mobile library. "Actually, the idea of Mobile Library is based on the rapid development of information technology in recent years. Libraries are no longer what they used to be, and both the function and the idea of libraries should be redesigned and diversified. PKU Library always says yes to exploration and development whenever needed."


Back in November 2008, PKU Library launched the Mobile Phone Library service. The SMS platform enables readers to receive information quickly. Readers can be automatically informed of the date to return books or borrow books they have earlier reserved. Readers are also able to sign in the home page of PKU Library through smart phones and check books or journals they want.


However, unlike the Mobile Phone Library which mainly served smart phone users, the latest system was specially designed for general cell phones, MP4 players, PSPs and any portable facilities with Wi-Fi. That means even the most basic cell phone can guarantee the application, which allows readers to have access to the full text of the resource, according to Vice Director Nie. Still, this technology is under improvement, and multi-media resources will also be available in the near future.


Not all the students are enthusiastic about the service. Wang Liang ('14) from the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science had doubts about its popularity among students. "After all, the internet access through computers is more convenient."


Shi Ruixue ('14) from the School of International Studies admitted that little change will take place regarding essentials of library resources. Whether the service is as well stable in various mobile networks and terminals is still to be confirmed, said Shi during a PKU Youth interview.


On March 30, the 2011 National Conference on the Tendency of the Need of Mobile Library was held at PKU. Scholars, librarians from more than 130 libraries all over the country attended the conference, where the PKU Mobile Library system was officially launched. A series of more  high-tech, multi-variant service will be presented in the near future, according to the conference.


Moreover, Vice Director Nie spoke of PKU Library's following plans during a later interview. "The project we are developing this year is even more important than the palmtop service - a Discovery Service."


"As one of the leading research libraries in China, we keep up with overseas libraries. In addition, we hope to keep an active and creative mind. Therefore, we decided to make it," said Nie.


The "Discovery Service" that Vice Director Nie mentioned was a new kind of search engine based on all the databases and catalogs of PKU Library. Usually, when readers want to search something from the library, they are only allowed to use no more than 15 databases because the technology has not reached the level to combine all the information together - over 480 databases, 1.6 million electronic books, 50,000 electronic journals, and the largest book collection (over 8 million by 2009) among libraries of Asian universities.


"The current function is restricted. Readers are dissatisfied because the search is incomplete. But under the idea of metadata, we are going to develop a system with which just a single search is OK," Nie explained. "All the databases and catalogs will be put into one search engine, which means it won't be necessary any more for readers to search books or electronic resources one by one, and they won't need to find out the exact website the information is located. All they need to do is to type what they want." 


Based on the technology of integration, metadata is preserved in data storage in the library's hundreds of servers so that readers are able to get direct access to all the electronic resources without searching separated digital contents. It will be a leap of the library research, which is also a step towards an "E-Only" library. 


The idea and the technology are the latest at home, according to Nie. "We aim to develop a library search engine as good as Google."


"PKU Library has been trying to explore the future with innovations. We hope to offer readers the best service," added Nie.



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Reported by: Qian Xin
Edited by: Chen Miaojuan