As of 22 April 2009 this website is 'frozen' in time — see the current IFLA websites

This old website and all of its content will stay on as archive – http://archive.ifla.org

IFLANET home - International Federation of Library Associations and InstitutionsAnnual ConferenceSearchContacts

62nd IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 25-31, 1996

The Selecting and Training of Successors for Medical Library Directors in China

Dizhi Xiong and Li Ma
Library, China Medical University



The experience of selecting and training successors for medical library director positions in China from the 1950's to the present is summarized. Candidates with medical backgrounds have been of first priority. Most directors were selected from outside of the library. Successors from within are increasing, as medical library education is developing in China. Strengths and weaknesses of these tw o ways are analyzed. These two methods will continue to coexist for the foreseeable future. Supplementary courses on special topics have been and will be offered.


Historical Perspective

Modern medical librarianship began in China in the early years of this century. About twenty libraries are more influential in medical community, because they are better staffed and equipped. Careful and thoughtful selection of the leaders has been decisive factor for their development. Up to the mid-eighties, most of the directors of these libraries had medical degrees. Less than one third of them were graduated from general university library schools in the thirties or later. Through decades of experience, Chinese administrators at larger medical institutions reached the consensus that a competent medical library director should have a satisfactory background in medicine, foreign languages(English in particular), and an improved knowledge of library management.(1). These have been regarded as routine criteria for selecting directors at medical school libraries.

By the late eighties, library directors at 17 national medical universities and academies were graduated from medical schools. Some changes occurred in the nineties. In 1995, three directors had background in humanities, while 14 held medical degrees.

The Selecting of Library Directors at Larger Medical Settings from the Eighties to Date

The transition began in the mid-eighties, when college librarians were being asked to deliver more quality services for the faculty, libraries were beginning computerization, and many senior directors were to retire. The selection of successful candidates became crucial for the development of medical librarianship. The choices were as follows:

1) Some medical professors were persuaded to take the position,or at least to be a concurrent director with an assistant one accompanied;

2) More managerial division heads, such as the managers for teaching or research affairs, were assigned as library directors;

3) A few experienced successors of middle age were selected from within;

4) A few young librarians with background in medicine or medical information science who had been working in the library were appointed to associate directors from late eighties on;

5) A small number of associate directors were invited from larger institutions to smaller ones to be the full directors.

Discussion: Advantages Vs. Disadvantages

In a developing country where libraries must strengthen their functions of instruction and information, and they are relatively poorly staffed, not only is senior professional "transplantation" necessary, but also it is inevitable. Since medical library education in China is just in its childhood(2) and the administrators do not intend to give up their criteria,most of the leading memb ers will be imported in a certain longer period of time. Obvious achievements have been made in many influential libraries since the new directors came. Their contributions are:

1) raising the visibility of the library thus gaining more opportunities for the library both onthe campus and outside;

2) accelerating the development of the staff;

3) widening the horizon of the librarians on staff;

4) enhancing the automation of library management;

5) improving the information services in particular;

6) bettering the academic atmosphere of the library.

Disadvantages always coexist with their counterparts. Professors and administrative heads are usually reluctant to accept the new position with which they were unfamiliar, or they only promise to stay at the library for several years before their retirement. Over the past decade, three changes in director at an individual library happened in nearly half those institutions mentioned above. The tenure of office for these directors tended to be too short. Instability of the leadership affects the morale unfavourably and retards the advances of the library.

Some experienced successors selected from within have demonstrated successful performance. The prerequisites for this choice should be an existing staff strong enough for selection, and a rather longer tenure of office for the candidate. Although this is an ideal choice, it may not be universally feasible. Because the "cultural revolution" caused a serious age gap in library staff, t he number of qualified experienced candidates is smaller than desirable in these large libraries, let alone in smaller ones. Sufficient learning time is essential for the successors. Some dedicated successors could have had a better performance, but had to retire at the age of 60 and were unable to make their fullest contribution.

A farsighted approach is to appoint young librarians with medical subject backgrounds to the leading positions. In early eighties, administrators at some medical schools, foreseeing various kinds of possibilities, assigned medical graduates to their affiliated libraries. They took advanced courses in library science, foreign language medical literature and retrieval, and then worked in the libr ary. Gradually some devoted young people became experienced and were appointed to the leading positions, though many left the library for other jobs. At some medium sized medical schools young graduates from medical library schools are now assistant directors. These promising young people have displayed their dynamic and aggressive spirit.

The decisive factor for such a choice is a foresighted administrators and tutor capable of training the candidate. As a rule, successful candidates cannot grow up spontaneously. In the presence of colleagues of the same age or even older, these young directors are facing problems: how to establish their image and credibility? how to organize team work without jealousy? As is the Chinese tradit ion, age is both their potential and shortcoming. They must find their optimal solution.

Transplanting directors from larger libraries may be feasible in some speedily progressing districts, such as Hainan and Shenzhen. In less attractive provinces, it may be problematic.

The Future

In the era when the information superhighway is rapidly advancing, the senior administrators at Chinese medical libraries will be increasingly specialized. Not only should they have a better knowledge of health sciences, foreign languages, and library management, but they also must be skilful in information technology. The requirements of a competent medical library director will be increasingl y sophisticated.

Authorities at medical schools are more and more convinced by the trend, that they will find it more difficult to persuade a professor or managerial head to accept a new position which will be even more complicated to control. The needs for successors will be met mainly in two ways:

By way of Training at Medical Library School

With the passing of time, programs for undergraduates and postgraduates will develop in medical library schools, as these are desired by medical administrators at a higher and higher level. As mature graduate students become available, the need for directors will be naturally satisfied by their own specialty. Perhaps this will be the case in the next decade in most medical school libraries.

By Way of "Transplantation"

Age and experience are important factors for a director to gain esteem of colleagues. When young people with equal qualifications are crowded together in a library, an external honourable professor or division head is often invited to be the chief. This is true particularly in some larger organizations. In some institutions middle-aged faculty members, who are willing to take the position, hav e exerted their successful influence as library directors. The spectrum of background for choice may spread even wider, from medicine to natural sciences or computer science. This kind of choice perhaps will last rather long under certain conditions.

Supplementary Training Courses

In the eighties, two national courses for training teachers of medical bibliographic instruction were organized in Nanjing and Shenyang respectively(3). Consecutive courses for training librarians with subject background were held later. These were all successful. Some of the trainees became leading library practitioners later. Past experience is of value for the future, though training topic s will vary with time. Larger libraries with more qualified staff have played their educational role and will contribute more to the training of future directors. On-the-job training and the exchange of interns are also of assistance, which we have

experienced on the basis of mutual agreement.

The Required Personality of a Young Successor

Directors in the future will be younger. Problems facing them are similar to those faced by their predecessors. As compared with the older generation in China, because of the open policy and high technology, there are and will be more competition and temptation for the young. As we know, discrepancies and conflicts may produce a poor image. An empty boaster may damage a highly modernized lib rary, whereas a practical director works miracles. We must learn useful lessons from those tragedies. Devotion, fairness, compatibility, and practicality are values necessary for all directors old or young at home or abroad. We must re-emphasize their importance. These should be our guidelines in selecting young successors.


1) Xiong DZ. The Present Status of Professionals at Chinese Medical School

Libraries and Proposals for the Future. Med Inf Serv 1986;(2):11-13(in Chinese)

2) Xiong DZ,Ma L. Education of Health Information Professionals in the People's

Republic of China. in Health Information for the Global Village--Proc. of the

7th International Congress on Medical Librarianship.Washington D.C.1995 p.298-301

3) Xiong DZ. The Present and Future of the Medical Information Services in China

J Japan Med Lib Asso 1995;42(4):394-399.