It's a brave new world at the Library

Michael Woloschuk

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It has often been said that one of the most effective ways of conducting research is to visit the physical stacks at a library. But with the growing amount of online information available today, books, journals and research papers are only a mouse-click away.

"Libraries these days are no longer warehouses," said Librarian, Dr Paul Poon. "It's a whole new ballgame."

And what a new ballgame it is! With the acquisition of more than 900 e-books this past summer, the Library is fast becoming a true digital library with its growing collection of electronic resources spanning databases, online journals, and books. Apart from the recent addition of e-books, the Library houses some 400 electronic databases, which cover the contents of roughly 9,000 journals. And in addition to the 900 e-books owned by the Library, users have access to more than 20,000 e-book titles that are not owned by the University, but are accessible through an off-campus database.

Dr Poon is the co-chair of the Collaborative Collection Development Steering Committee (CCDSC), comprising eight UGC-funded libraries in Hong Kong, dedicated to looking after collective purchases of library materials. Through Dr Poon's efforts at the CCDSC, the Library acquired a number of electronic resources at discounted prices, saving CityU some $2 million.

Acquiring information electronically
Although the number of electronic resources available appears to be a drop in the bucket compared with the Library's collection of more than 550,000 volumes of "real" books and 130,000 volumes of bound periodicals, the amount of information that is instantly accessible through the University's computer network is staggering. "The essential commodity we are dealing with these days is that all-pervasive word, information," said Dr Poon. "So long as we can somehow get that information to our users, by hook or by crook, then our job is done."

The Library, which provides some 180 sets of workstations for users to access its catalogue and various electronic resources, will continue acquiring new e-books -- when they are relevant to courses taught at CityU. In fact, Dr Poon reckons that the balance between physical and electronic books will eventually tip towards the electronic end. E-book prices, he said, are similar to those of physical books. What's more, there's no chance that an e-book will ever wear out, and they are never overdue, because of a maximum checkout time of eight hours.

Books online
Although library users were at first hesitant to read text on their computer screens, many are now comfortable with the idea, he said.

He also pointed out that the digitization of the Library does not stop with the acquisition of new e-books and electronic journals. It used to be that a library's mission was to stock, in a limited space, as many books, periodicals and other print resources as possible. But now, said Dr Poon, it is the duty of a library to deliver information to users when and where it is needed.

To this end, the Library has put more than half of its electronic resources on the University network so that access to the materials is available around-the-clock, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Many resources are also available via remote access off-campus. "Come rain or shine, you can always use the Library," said Dr Poon. It's not important to stock every single item out there-- what is important is delivering information 'just in time' rather than the old concept of 'just in case'. Why have five million books in your library when only a few of them get used?"

Dr Poon and his colleagues have always recognized the importance of collecting, disseminating and delivering information to the University community, and applaud the appointment of Dr Jerry Yu, Associate Vice-President (Education) and Registrar, as Chief Information Officer. "The Library is really looking forward to working with other IT providers," said Dr Poon. "Under the leadership of the Chief Information Officer, we are poised to move forward and take our place at the vanguard among information providers in Hong Kong. It's a very exciting moment."

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