An International Exchange of Ideas

Librarian Bella Wu, posing in front of a poster of traditional Chinese script.

Bella Wu, a librarian from China's Northeast Normal University, has spent 2019 at GW researching the challenges shared by U.S. and Chinese academic libraries.

(photo: William Atkins/the George Washington University)

“American students aren’t afraid to ask questions,” Bella Wu, a visiting librarian from China's Northeast Normal University (NENU), replies to a question about the differences between students in the U.S. and China. “Chinese students work with one another to find answers. Our education systems have a lot to learn from one another.”

As a truly global university, GW has long recognized the importance of learning from other cultures and of bringing multiple viewpoints together to discuss and solve problems. GW Libraries and Academic Innovation (GWLAI) are in conversation with institutions all over the world, but the most robust is our partnership with NENU, located in Jilin Province of the People’s Republic of China. Although named a “normal” (teaching) university, NENU is a comprehensive public institution with a student body size equivalent to GW.
Chinese and U.S. academic research libraries share many challenges. Both are working to support students as creators, users, and informed consumers of information in all its forms. Chinese libraries have been very successful in using technology to promote information literacy and improve efficiency. American libraries are leaders in promoting and communicating services directly to students and in helping to build a community of self-regulated learners — students equipped to evaluate and control their own learning.

A book of scanned traditional Chinese manuscripts, being inspected by Bella Wu.

(photo: William Atkins/the George Washington University)

Over the past several years, Geneva Henry, dean of Libraries and Academic Innovation, has led a delegation to visit NENU and other Chinese universities. Her many invited speaking engagements in China have focused on sharing GWLAI’s work with data and specialized collections.
“It has been a real privilege to visit Northeast Normal University these past few years,” Dean Henry says. “But I wanted the chance to share what I was learning at NENU with everyone at GW. Since I couldn’t send the entire staff to China, I invited Bella to come to D.C.”
NENU librarian Changhong “Bella” Wu had been looking for an opportunity for a deeper dive into U.S. library practice and accepted the invitation to conduct research at GW for a year. Bella’s research investigates how the units of GWLAI work together to support a holistic academic experience for students.
While conducting interviews and observations, she has also worked with international graduate students, and has even lent a hand in cataloging Chinese language materials. “I hope more librarians from both institutions will take advantage of this excellent program,” says Yan He, GW China Documentation Center librarian and an architect of the NENU partnership. “We look forward to sending a GW librarian to China soon to continue this important exchange of knowledge and ideas to improve library services for all of our students.”