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At Our University in China, The Library Takes a Leading Role in Enriching Students' International Learning Experience

Lin Zongyong, University of Nottingham Ningbo | May 01, 2010

As China is opening its doors to foreign higher-education providers, international educational cooperation programs of various levels have been approved by the Chinese government. The most historic one was the opening of a Sino-Foreign cooperative university, the University of Nottingham Ningbo, China, in 2004, which was the first of its kind approved by the Chinese Ministry of Education since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Internationalization has always been at the heart of the development of the university. One of the university’s key priorities is to enrich students’ international experience. To provide students with more opportunities to interact with an international environment, the university offers exchange and study abroad programs. Of our university’s total of 4,380 students during this academic year, over 300 are studying at our UK campus, our Malaysia campus and other international partnership universities. Also, currently some 200 students are spending their last two study years at the University of Nottingham UK. Further, the university now has 236 international students from all over the world, 88 of which are from our UK and Malaysia campuses and other partner universities. The academic divisions established at our university’s initial stage include International Business, International Communications and International Studies, and now include more science and engineering programs.

Our university’s mission is "Academic Excellence in the Service of Global Citizenship." This means that the University of Nottingham Ningbo, China is committed to achieving internationally ranked teaching and research excellence while helping meet Chinese needs for internationalization and globalization.

To help support the university priority of enriching students’ international experience, our library has introduced innovations in how we handle collection development, led the creation of an internationalized learning environment for all the university’s students and paid attention to cultural differences during the delivery of customer service.

We’ve shaped our collection development to reflect an international program

As we are adopting the British education system, all the instructional programs we provide and all the textbooks students use are in English, which means the library must provide adequate English-language resources. For electronic resources, our counterparts at the home university in the UK, the University of Nottingham, help us build up the eLibrary Gateway (which is available 24/7 worldwide) for our local readers. For print resources, we buy through book agencies in China which are authorized to import foreign books. Also, a certain portion of books we acquire are donated by the University of Nottingham’s UK campus, foundations and international publishers.

For an international university in China, the acquisition of foreign books is not as easy as that of domestic books. Through years of cooperation with publishers and book agencies, we have reduced to the minimum the amount of time needed to acquire a book. And we have developed a book-suggesting system allowing users to track the availability of newly ordered books. Different from other academic libraries in China, almost all books we acquire have been suggested by faculties, a strategy which has helped maximize the impact of budget.

Almost all books we acquire have been suggested by faculties, a strategy which has helped maximize the impact of budget.

We’ve created virtual and physical learning environments to support an international program

WebCT, EndNote and Turnitin are virtual learning environment and information tools used by many international universities. We use these tools, too. With promotion provided by our library’s e-learning team, our university’s usage of these tools is very high, and students and staff benefit from using these e-learning tools for their teaching, learning and research.

Since western education requires students to learn how to cooperate in teams, we’ve set up a learning hub to facilitate group study at our library. Within the learning hub, there are large high-definition screens, big tables and long sofa chairs which all facilitate presentations, discussion and brainstorming.

We pay attention to cultural differences as we deliver customer service

Our staff and students are from various countries and cultural backgrounds. It is interesting when we observe encounters between persons from different cultures. For example, I’ve observed that when a new staff person from an English-speaking country first comes to the library, he or she might ask, “May I join the library, please?” However, Chinese customers would say, “

” (“Could I make a library card, please?”). From these two ways of asking about library membership, we can see that English speakers view the library as a community, while most Chinese view the library as a place to borrow books. This example can help remind librarians to be aware of cultural differences when helping customers.

... remind librarians to be aware of cultural differences when helping customers.

Also, when providing customer service, the selection of the language to use is very important. Some Chinese students may want to practice their English as long as there is the chance, so we should speak English to them and thus not just help them but help support the university’s aim to develop students’ English skills. For those who only wish to speak Chinese, speaking a foreign language to them may not only lower the efficiency of problem solving but may create a mental barrier between these customers and librarians. Also, if a customer is not fluent in English, if you try your best to speak in her or his native language, even trying to speak in her or his home accent, then the customer will feel closer to you, which is a good start between you and your customers.