Reviewed By: Charlotte Natale, David Hicks, Jillian Zeller, Leslie Pethoud, Michael McClain, Stephanie Murakami
In this article, the author examines the causes of shortcomings in academic library service provided to visiting international scholars, specifically scholars from China. Many of the difficulties faced by these international scholars are similar to the difficulties faced by international students, but much more has been written about student issues. The author identifies several key challenges that visiting Chinese scholars face that prevent those scholars from effectively using library services: a language barrier between scholars and library staff, a mutual lack of awareness between the scholars and the library, differences in previous library experience between Chinese and North American libraries, and the differences in search strategies and citation management between Chinese and English language services. The author then makes recommendations for how to address these challenges in order to provide adequate library service.
This article showcases an international perspective on diversity by emphasizing the differences between Canadian academic libraries and Chinese academic libraries, such as differences in expectations of the services that are provided by library staff. We see that cultural differences must be acknowledged and addressed by library staff in order to provide equal service to visiting international scholars, and that cultural differences affect the library experiences and expectations of scholars as well as students. The author suggests that the lessons learned at the University of Western Ontario can be applied to libraries across North America and beyond.
Core Research Questions
The core research questions of our chosen article are: (1) how are international faculty utilizing the academic library of the University of Western Ontario and (2) what else can be done by academic librarians to support the underserved population of international faculty? (Xie, 2012, p. 1)
The University of Western Ontario in Canada funded a visiting University Scholars Program to attract visiting faculty to the campus. Faculty members apply to the Canadian program to expand their research work beyond their own countries. However, language and culture barriers affected the use of the library by non-English speaking visitors caused by a lack of familiarity with library terms and services. The author hypothesized that there is a significant relationship between library information behaviors of non-English speaking visitors and their lack of familiarity with library jargon and terms outside of their countries, languages, cultures, and library experiences in their home libraries.
The author conducted one-on-one interviews with several Chinese visiting scholars on the campus of the University of Western Ontario. An email was sent to an entire group of Chinese scholars, which included a bilingual Chinese and English questionnaire about their library use and an invitation to a library workshop in which search strategies, information sources, and the interlibrary loan process were introduced. The questionnaire was short and simple and consisted of questions about the scholars’ visits online and in-person to the university library and their preferences for library search tools.
Findings and Conclusions
Xie (2012) identified four themes relating to Chinese visiting scholars’ use of libraries at Western:
Language barrier: Although Chinese scholars have some knowledge and use of the English language, many of them struggle with speaking and listening to English, therefore making it difficult to communicate their needs to campus staff.
Library awareness: There is a lack of awareness of Chinese scholars about academic libraries’ resources and there is also a lack of awareness of library staff about international staff’s information and user needs.
Library experience: The previous experience Chinese scholars had at their home libraries affected the resources they used while at Western. Scholars from small to medium sized libraries that often lacked access to databases were more likely to use web-based searches. Additionally, none of the scholars had used reference services at their home libraries which translated into them not being aware of, and therefore not using, reference services at Western.
Information needs: Scholars need to learn how to formulate a search using English databases because it is different than Chinese databases due to the English language’s use of letters and the Chinese language’s use of characters. Scholars also need help evaluating journals and using citation management software.
Outreach approaches: Work with existing faculty who have connections with visiting faculty and communicate through a key contact person to reach the target user group via outreach efforts. Suggested approaches are to partner with another group on campus to give a library introduction and to create supporting materials like a pamphlet for distribution.
Reference Help: Librarians should be patient and understanding. When verbal communication fails, another option is to have the individual write down their question. Additionally, librarians can consult the “Multilingual Glossary of Terms”created by ACRL-IS or try to refer the individual to another colleague who is proficient in the language.
Copyright and Open Access Information: It is recommended that library staff highlight copyright regulations to international faculty as they may be significantly different from their home country. Additionally, it is helpful to connect the visiting scholars with open access information so they may continue to use these resources when they leave the university.
International visiting faculty are easily overlooked and academic librarians should be more aware of these scholars. Similar to international students, international faculty face challenges in using academic libraries. More research is needed on this particular user group.
What American libraries can learn from global practice about designing services for diverse populations
American libraries have much to learn from this study, since Chinese scholars who visit American universities can be expected to experience many of the same challenges. When designing services for these populations, American academic librarians can follow Xie’s (2012, p. 10) example of building relationships with key members of the visiting scholar community. These direct, personal connections provide a necessary window into the unique information needs of this population, while also serving as a foundation upon which to build strategic partnerships that can enhance the effectiveness of service provision. In order to develop these connections, academic librarians must be made aware of the visiting scholar community on campus. To achieve this, librarians could request to be notified when visiting scholars arrive so that they can reach out to them with library orientation information.
This study also demonstrates the importance of understanding the ways in which visiting scholars perceive the library, which is influenced primarily by their prior experience with libraries in their home countries (Xie, 2012, p. 8). Since library services vary across the world, visiting scholars may have limited knowledge of the services provided by American libraries and would, thus, need to be informed of these (Xie, 2012, p. 8–9). Xie’s (2012, p. 11) suggestion of conducting library orientation seminars specifically for visiting scholars and partnering with other departments on campus to distribute informational pamphlets to them would work well at American universities. Additionally, American academic librarians could establish a network of global colleagues to learn more about libraries around the world and their unique differences.
Xie (2012, p. 6–7) also provides helpful guidance on how to address the language barriers experienced by this population. Since Chinese visiting scholars sometimes have difficulty communicating verbally in English (Xie, 2012, p. 6), providing avenues for them to interact with librarians in writing, such as service request forms, would make it easier for them to communicate their information needs. A simple strategy that American academic libraries could employ to address these language barriers is to display signage in multiple languages throughout the library—either temporarily for the duration of the visiting scholars’ stay, or permanently, if a particular institution hosts international scholars and patrons regularly or has a policy aim of “enhanc[ing] its visibility and involvement in international activities and collaborations” (Xie, 2012, p. 2). Supplying visitors with very detailed instructions for library usage in their language is a direct way to prevent confusion or miscommunication. The institution can also provide training for library staff to develop their cultural knowledge and equip them with a basic level of language proficiency. Contracting translators for the duration of visitors’ stay is also an option.
American libraries should maintain an internal evaluation process to quantitatively and qualitatively measure the success of its programs. The 2011 workshop at Western provided questions alongside instruction (Xie, 2012, p. 5); however, for added clarity, international scholars and similar visitors should be provided an exit survey once they have finished their work at the library location. In-person interviews prior to their leaving, while informal, would also be a useful way to gain data to improve library operation. The exact number of international patrons, the duration of their stay, and for what reason they use the library should be tracked for the further refinement of library programs and preparation for future visits.
Xie, S. (2012). Canadian academic library support for international faculty: Library experience and information needs of Chinese visiting scholars at the University of Western Ontario. Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, 7(2), 1–14.