Xin Li, MBA '05 (E): Connecting the Libraries of the World
By Mark Rader, MFA ’02
Though some people would have you believe that anything worth knowing can be found on the Internet, huge stores of digital and analog information are still accessible only through centuries-old libraries. This is especially the case in Asia, says Xin Li, assistant librarian, Cornell University Library. Li would know: Since 2005, she has been working to improve the networks between Chinese and Cornell libraries.
For five years Li’s projects were conducted from Ithaca. But in the summer of 2010, when her husband accepted an overseas assignment and her family relocated in Taipei, Taiwan, Li got the opportunity to continue her work and develop relationships with other East Asian libraries from a base much closer to her Asian partners. This physical proximity brings significant advantages, Li says. “I get to meet with people face-to-face, work in their time zone. It helps us build relationships and build trust faster.”
The goal, she says, is to identify opportunities that benefit both parties and create collaborative initiatives. To deepen Cornell researchers’ connections with their Chinese peers, Cornell trained a visiting fellow from the Chinese National Science Library to use VIVO, a Cornell-developed software that enables researchers to locate each other and network. In exchange for access to rare Chinese documents on history, architecture, science, and technology, Cornell trained staff and provided operational consultancy to Tsinghua University Library. The stronger and more beneficial the collaborations, Li says, the greater the likelihood that these libraries will continue to allow Cornell researchers to “go behind the inner doors to see the best treasures.”
Conducting business in China and Taiwan is different than it is in the U.S., Li says. The pace is slower, people are less direct, and organizations are hierarchical, not team-based. But Li says she’s getting used to it. The Taiwanese people, she says, are some of the most friendly she’s ever met. On a personal blog Like Coffee, Like Tea, which she keeps to stay in touch with friends and family back home, Li writes of her love of the local dates and guavas, her sons’ valiant efforts to learn Mandarin Chinese, and experiences of local culture.
Li’s family will return to the U.S. in 2013. By then, Li hopes to have created bonds with the libraries in Asia that will continue for years to come.