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SISU students interview Library Dean Zhang Shali

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By CHEN XIOLING, LU NAN AND JIANG YIYUN

Zhang Shali, the Chinese dean and professor of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library at the University of Montana, has been developing libraries for 26 years in the United States.

Although she has worked at UM for just two years, Zhang has rich experience in library administration, including time at University of North Carolina at Greensboro/Spartanburg, Wichita State University, Ohio Wesleyan University and the University of Kentucky.

Her efforts were recognized this year when she received the American Library Association International Relations Committee’s John Ames/Humphry/OCLC/Forest Press Award for significant contributions to international librarianship.

Qualified for the job

After graduating from Lanzhou University in 1982 and working for Lazhou University Library for four years, Zhang came to the U.S to further her studies in library science.

According to Zhang, she enjoys working in American libraries. She insisted on getting a master’s degree in library studies from the University of Tennessee.

As a Chinese dean of American university library, says she has worked hard to overcome the cultural differences that  many immigrants face.

“Our pioneers said if Americans work 100 percent, we (Chinese) should work 200 percent,” she said. “By the time of my generation, people are more aware of multicultural diversity. I feel that I don’t have to work 200 percent. I probably work 120 percent.”

Zhang said that when she first came to UM, some people where surprised that she was Chinese. But that changed as she and her employees begin to work together. They know she got the job because she is fully qualified, “not because I am Chinese.”

She said the interview process was very competitive. She had to be interviewed three times. But in the end, she said, “Everybody voted for me.”

She enjoys the job and said the challenges are exciting, and not just on the UM campus.

“This job give me opportunities not only to lead this library, but other libraries,” she said. “We have a lot of cooperation and opportunities with other libraries in the states. It is my opportunity.”

Keep learning

Zhang came America in 1986, the peak time for Chinese undergraduates coming to the U.S. to further their studies. Today, China’s fever to study in the U.S. is rising again, with the number of Chinese students climbing to, 157,558 in 2011, according to The Institute of International Education.

Zhang attributes this to China’s economic strength. She said few Chinese students need part-time jobs in U.S. universities, which allows them to focus more on their studies. “Chinese parents have enough money to support them,” she said.

Studying abroad is a choice that depends on opportunity, Zhang said. She added that if she had come to the U.S. at a younger age, her views and perspective toward the world would be different because she would see things exactly with her own eyes rather than through the media or others’ opinions.

“I am hoping that more Chinese students are coming, and when they go back, they will help make change, even if they say that I am not going to go back and work for my dad’s company. Even if they do, the changes can be small, like not running a red light,” Zhang said. “With these small changes, our society will be better, step by step.”

She said small and continuous changes are powered by an essential and widely acknowledged concept in America: lifelong learning.

“Americans believe there is no challenging job, as long as you can learn,” she said. “If you don’t keep learning all the time, you will be out of date.”

She said many American employers encourage their workers to learn and practice new skills, and many offer help in terms of money and time. For instance, UM’s librarians may take two optional courses in the University of Montana. Zhang allows her employees to be absent during work time if they are taking a class.

“The lifelong learning attitude of Americans really impressed me a lot and I should always learn from them,” said Zhang.

For example, she said has continued to study French so she can use it during upcoming business trip.

“To keep learning is an enjoyable lifestyle,” she said.

Changes at the library

For UM’s librarians, serving the students and faculty with books and multimedia materials is just one part of the job. Some librarians also curate the papers of famous Montanans and make them accessible to the public.

In early July, the library held a small exhibition of correspondence and documents donated by former U.S. Sen. Mike Mansfield, who graduated from the University of Montana and became U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1977 to 1988.

Recently, the library’s archives and special collections group began sorting materials donated by former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, a Montanan who was recently appointed U.S. ambassador to China.

The library also provides a variety of copying, printing, and scanning services.

According to Zhang, the differences in library management concepts between China and America are few.

“The Americans tend to put action first,” she said. “They hold the view that if you want it, just go for it.”

For example, Zhang said, the leader of UM’s copy center decided last semester that the library needed a 3D printer. So he started to make plans for the supervisor to consider.

“Now, the 3D printer is on the way to the library!” Zhang said.

Zhang said libraries must always be thinking about the future of information.

“I still believe that the library service model will change, but the service ideal concept will stay the same,” she said. “The library will be here, but different.”

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