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

East Meets West: A Decade of Partnership in Library Education between McGill University and China Medical University

Frances Groen
Deputy Director of Libraries
McGill University
Montreal, Quebec Canada


The paper is based upon the author's two earlier visits to China Medical University, Shenyang as an Honorary Consulting Librarian. The first part of the paper describes the program of exchange between the Medical Library of China Medical University and the Health Sciences Library of McGill University. In the second half of the paper, the author contrasts education for medical librarianship in C hina and North America. The changing role of the medical librarian as a result of technology and Internet availability is briefly reviewed. The presentation is illustrated by slides.

Frances Groen is immediate past chair of the Section on Medical and Biological Sciences Libraries of IFLA, and is a member of the Section. Her undergraduate and library science degrees are from the University of Toronto, and she holds a Masters degree in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Pittsburgh. She has held professional appointments at the University of Toronto, Stanford University, the University of Pittsburgh and McGill University where she is currently Deputy Director of Libraries. She is a past-president of the Medical Library Association (1990) and a past vice-president of ASTED (Association pour l'avancement des sciences et des techniques de la documentation). She is a Distinguished Member of the Academy of Health Information Professionals, and c haired the Contributed Paper Sessions at the 7th International Congress on Medical Librarianship held in Washington in 1995.



Since its inception in 1986, the cooperative program between China Medical University and its Library and McGill University and its Health Sciences Library has been characterized by commitment to a sustained project and concern for the mutual benefits of each of the libraries. Staff at both institutions were equally committed to the personal enrichment of their colleagues, and the results of thi s ten year cooperation have been beneficial for all concerned. To quote Dr. Xiong, Dizhi who is both Dean of the Faculty of the Medical Library and Information Science Program at China Medical University and Director of the Library, "Without understanding and recognition of each others needs, there is no cooperation. Recognition is the synonym of respect."1

Development of the Project

In 1986, an exchange program between China Medical University (CMU) and McGill University was established with the following objectives:

1. an exchange of library and other university publications;

2. the exchange of photocopies of requested inter-library loans, provided that national library resources are unable to provide the materials needed;

3. cooperation in responding to difficult reference questions;

4. cooperation in the selection and acquisition of Canadian and Chinese medical publications and in completing collections;

5. the exchange of information of mutual interest such as library statistics and cooperative research projects;

6. the provision of training at the McGill Health Sciences library to staff of the library of the China Medical University;

7. further visits by McGill Health Sciences Library staff to the China Medical University.

Dr. Xiong Dizhi, visited McGill University in the spring of 1988. Medline had very recently become available on CD-ROM and was a priority for Mr. Xiong, as were issues of professional development, staff evaluation, and medical library education. Most importantly, Mr. Xiong was able to guide staff of the Health Sciences Library regarding the next important stage of the project, the training at the McGill Health Sciences Library of interns from China Medical University. The two selected interns arrived together in October, 1988 and followed parallel but somewhat independent paths. Mr. Liu, Shuchun, Assistant Acquisitions Head at CMU, wished to develop his competency in the acquisition of monographs and serials and in general microcomputer applications in libraries. Mrs. Cheng, Yumin, Head of Reference, arrived with an excellent knowledge of MeSH headings, and spent much of her three months in acquiring skills in MEDLINE searching on CD-ROM. A highlight of her visit occurred when the President of Beijing Medical University visited McGill University, and Mrs. Cheng was able to demonstrate this technology to him.

In August, 1989, David Crawford, Project Director at McGill, visited to China Medical University to review the success of Mrs. Cheng and Mr. Liu and to lecture to students of the recently established Faculty of Medical Library and Information Science at CMU. In the fall of 1990, the Computer Services Librarian, Angella Lambrou spent one month at China Medical University. Miss Lambrou concentrat ed on the theory of online searching and CD-ROM technology with emphasis on practical sessions. In the spring, 1993, one of CMU's young teachers, Zhao, Yuhong, visited McGill for a three month internship. In the fall of 1993, Anneli Lukka, cataloguing supervisor in the Health Sciences Library of McGill University taught cataloguing. During all these visits, personal friendships as well as prof essional expertise were developed.

During the author's two previous visits to China, in 1991 and 1994, I have been involved in teaching the students in the medical library program and the staff of the Library. Seminars and lectures were given to staff and students on collection development, history of medicine, medical library management and resource sharing. The staff of the Library were particularly interested in performance appraisal, a decidedly North American phenomenon, and related management issues. All library staff and all students in the library studies program were able to attend most courses.

Medical Library Education Contrasted

During my first visit, a unique opportunity was given to me by Dr. Xiong when he arranged a colloquium with the Deans of the Medical Library programs in Northeast China. This invaluable learning experience provided the basis for the second part of this paper in which education for medical librarianship in China and in North America are contrasted.

The foundations of education for librarianship in China predate the beginning of the People's Republic of China, but it was not until the Cultural Revolution ended that more systematic attention began to be paid to the education and manpower needs for librarians in general and for medical librarians in particular. In 1986, the State Education Committee (SEC) of the People's Republic of China app ointed a special committee composed of prominent practising medical librarians to meet the necessary manpower needs of the future by formulating a curriculum for the training of medical librarians. Four schools met the qualifications for training in this specialty and were accredited by the Ministry of Public Health and the SEC. This initial accreditation signifies the approval of the agency re sponsible for the supervision of national medical schools, the Ministry of Public Health, and the State Education Commission. These agencies also recommended that, with the establishment of these four schools, no new schools in medical librarianship be created.

Education for medical library practice in China has been formalized through these four programs offered by medical schools in northeast China: the Faculty of Medical Library and Information Science at China Medical University, Shenyang, P.R. China; Tong ji Medical University Library School, Wuhan; Bethune Medical University Library School, Chanchun; and Hunan Medical University Library School, C hansha. In 1987 the State Education Commission of the People's Republic of China increased the length of the program from four to five years, paralleling other medical education programs. During the initial three years, students follow a common curriculum in the basic and clinical sciences. The remaining two years provide intensive career training in the clinical sciences, or medical library an d information science. Course offerings in medical information include collection development, medical information retrieval, classification, microcomputer applications, technology and library management as well medical writing, editing, statistics and research methods. Upon completion of the five year program, the graduate will have spent approximately 2,500 hours in the pursuit of medical kn owledge and another 1,150 hours in learning related to medical library and information science. (China Medical University graduated their first class in Summer 1992.)

Education for medical librarianship in North America has taken a different road. This may be attributed to the absence of a hierarchy of the professions in China where the medical librarian is not necessarily viewed as holding a less prestigious position than the physician. This contrast may also be attributed to the lack of significant differences in salaries between members of these professio ns in China. For whatever reason, social, economic or cultural, the programs are in marked contrast. North American medical librarianship has developed historically within the overall context of graduate education for librarianship in general. It has traditionally taken the form of one or several courses in medical librarianship and medical bibliography offered as an optional course in the mas ters program. Historically the view has been that specialization could only be undertaken once a basic, general education in librarianship had been obtained. In contrast, the Chinese program requires basic medical training before the student embarks on training in medical librarianship; the North American practice requires basic education in library and information science, before proceeding wi th training in medical librarianship.

The Changing Role of the Medical Librarian

Progress in the biomedical sciences and advancements in information technology have combined to redefine the role of the medical librarian in North America. Reform in the medical curriculum in recognition of a new philosophy of cognition based upon problem solving, rather than the accumulation of facts has also had an impact on the medical library. The librarian is becoming a part of the medica l curriculum through an increasing involvement in the education of students in information retrieval and the management and evaluation of medical information. Formal teaching is a comparatively new role for the medical librarian, but the need for this expanded role is growing as more sophisticated medical information systems are becoming available.

The experience in the People's Republic of China is both similar and different. The rapid advances in scientific medicine and technology have not had the same accelerated impact upon the Chinese medical librarians. Yet, with the greater and ever-increasing exchange between Western and Chinese health and information professionals and the development of a Chinese Internet, the development of techn ological applications in the library are accelerated. Most importantly, the implementation of a coordinated regional medical library program for all China is resulting in increased cooperation and the need for more technology to support information sharing amongst medical libraries. Any improvement in the telecommunications infrastructure is likely to impact on the delivery of medical informati on in future. The availability of a well-trained cadre of highly skilled medical librarians, educated in both medicine and information science will provide a rich reservoir of skilled professional talent for Chinese medical librarianship, as these new graduates assume leadership roles in the Chinese medical library of the future.

Chinese medical librarianship provides the profession with insight into an emerging outlet for the knowledge and skills of medical librarians. With their skills in medicine and computers as well as their knowledge of foreign languages, in particular, English, graduates of programs in medical librarianship are assuming new roles in medical publishing, as medical editors and in research. Their in dexing knowledge is an added contribution to their work in medical publishing. In the medical librarianship programs in northeast China, in 1995, six recent graduates from China Medical University, assumed roles in this area, principally as junior medical editors. Editors of medical journals are invited to teach students the basics of medical editing as preparation for this specialization.

Evaluation and Conclusion

The China Medical University-McGill University joint venture has proven successful in the effectiveness of human resources development, project continuity, transfer of information technology and the vital strengthening of library collections and services. In particular, the following achievements are identified.

1. Staff members of both institutions have been exposed to new ideas through the exchange of staff.

2. China Medical University was the first Chinese medical library to provide CD-ROM Medline. McGill advised on a CD-ROM vendor, training, and file mounting. Joint purchasing occurs through the two institutions.

3. McGill staff have been exposed to a different culture and have had the chance to learn to teach in a new environment.

4. Publication exchange has provided McGill with useful medical and history of medicine publications and China Medical University has received many gifts of missing serials volumes from McGill.

The "twinning" of libraries is familiar and one reason twinning is successful is the personal commitment of people. Staff at both China Medical University and McGill have wanted this program to be successful. They have devoted large amounts of personal energy to making it succeed.


Groen, Frances and Xiong, Dizhi. "Education for Medical Librarianship: A Comparative Review of Education for a Profession in Transition." Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 1994, v. 35:1, pp 1-9.

Groen, Frances and Crawford, David S. "Shenyang to Montreal: A Venture in Library Cooperation between China Medical University and McGill University." Paper presented at the Sixth International Congress on Medical Librarianship, New Delhi, India, August, 1990.

Xiong, Dizhi and Ma, Li. "Education of Health Information Professionals in the People's Republic of China." in Health Information for the Global Village; Proceedings of the 7th International Congress on Medical Librarianship, Washington, D.C., May 10-12, 1995, pp. 298-301.

1 Conversation between Xiong, Dizhi and the author during his visit to McGill University, October, 1995