Chinese Information Market

Building Chinese Bibliographic Information Networks

by Foster Jia Zhang and Qiang Zhu

A significant phenomenon of Chinese economic reform is the rapid growth of publications. The economic reform policies brought a loosened press and expression atmosphere. Published statistics on international book production show that China, with a 271% increase between 1980 and 1990, as recorded in Chinese statistical yearbooks, experienced the world's most significant growth in publications. About 80,000 new book titles were produced in 1990 (the United Kingdom, by comparison, produced a little more than 60,000 titles and Japan, about 40,000). In 1993, over 100,000 new book titles were added. Among the total number of new titles published worldwide, every one out of seven to eight books is published in China. Officially registered periodical and newspaper titles are also growing at a steady pace. In 1983, serials titles were 3415, and newspaper titles were 340. In 1993, these numbers changed to 6700 and 900, respectively, doubling or tripling during the last decade.

A National New Bibliography is published monthly in printed version, and the national library has been trying to do the central cataloging for books published in Chinese. However, there is no online bibliographic utility at the national level for comprehensive bibliographic control over these large number of publications.

In contrast, online bibliographic databases for Chinese publications are available in the United States. RLIN and OCLC hold the world's major bibliographic databases for titles published in China; however, they have never been comprehensive. Records in these databases are based on limited import books cataloged by the institutions of North America. Although the size of the databases has increased, a gap between the number of publications and the number of cataloged records available in North America is getting larger quickly.

During 1980 and 1989, the total number of books published in China was 453,323, while the RLIN database held only 120,421 records (21% of the published books). From 1990 to April 1994, the ratio of cataloged books in the RLIN database (42,360) to published books in China (401,987) was 8%. The RLIN data also included LC and OCLC cataloging data, which may have some duplicate records; the data was collected based on the duplication country code and the date of publications.

Historically, books imported into East Asia libraries in the United States concentrate primarily on social sciences (politics, law, economics) and humanities (i.e., linguistics, art, anthropology, music), and very few focus on science and technology. In contrast, scientific research and development in China are rapidly growing areas with significant numbers of high quality publications, with notable examples in such fields as super-conductor materials, nuclear applications, Chinese medicines for treating cancer and AIDS, biomedical sciences and agriculture. Because of the vast potential of the Chinese market, the country's business information and frequently changed legal and regulatory documents are also in great demand by Americans; however, these documents are often difficult to locate in the United States, due in part to limited bibliographic information.

Local/Regional MARC and Bibliographic Services in China

Recently in China, information professionals have made great efforts in establishing Chinese national and regional bibliographic utilities to provide access to this rich and precious intellectual resource through international telecommunication networks and cooperative library services. By linking with regional online bibliographic utilities, exchanging MARC files and establishing standards, a nationwide online bibliographic utility will become reality. The following are some of the MARC databases that are being created, based on the types of materials they contain:

For current published books:

CN MARC was produced by Beijing Library, the National Library of China. Testing records were issued in 1988. Since 1989, CN MARC records have been officially distributed to all the libraries in China. The records are issued on floppy disks monthly, presently four disks (1.2 mb) per month, with approximately 1200 records per disk, creating about 50,000 - 55,000 records per year.

SL MARC was produced by Shen Lian Academic Library Services in Shanghai. The organization, located in Shanghai Jiaotong University Library, was created by several university and college libraries in 1989. With a membership that has increased to about 80, the group has expanded to other cities nearby. Approximately 60,000 records have been accumulated; floppy disks are used for delivery.

Guangdong MARC was produced by a company run by Shenzhen University Library. Started from 1991, data can be transmitted both on disks and through dial-in access. About 50 libraries (mostly academic) are sharing the database, which contains about 30,000-35,000 records.

TL MARC belongs to the Tu Lian Company, which is a cooperative acquisition group formed by over 30 academic libraries. Data has been produced by Peking University Library (PUL) and Tsinghua University Library (TUL) since early 1994. PUL is in charge of the books in social sciences and humanities, while TUL handles those in natural sciences and technologies. About 5000 records are now available on disks or through phone line access. For books published before the MARC database projects had started, four major retrospective conversion projects are underway:

Books published between 1978 and 1987 are processed through a cooperative project of 29 university libraries. More than 50,000 titles have been converted and stored in the database. Peking University Library has been the coordinator and leader of this project.

Another project covering a similar time period of publications is underway by three public libraries (Shenzhen, Nanjing, and Hunan public libraries). The size of the database is not clear.

For books published from 1911 to 1949, The National Library of China is in charge of their cataloging, with support from OCLC.

For rare books printed in ancient China, a major project has been conducted. The participants include Peking University Library, the Library of China Academy of Sciences, and Liaoning Public Library. This is a cooperative project with the Research Libraries Group (RLG).

For journals:

The National Library of China currently has about 13,000 MARC records for both natural science and social science journal titles. Shanghai Library has about 11,000 MARC records for social science journals. Institute of Sci/Tech Information of China (ISTIC) has about 10,021 MARC records for science & technical journals. The ISDS Center of China has about 6000 MARC records for both natural and social science current journals. In addition, many Chinese libraries have their local MARC databases which include some journal titles.

Future Outlook

Academic libraries have planned the following two projects for implementation in the near future.

APTLIN (Academy of Sciences, Peking University and Tsinghua University Library & Information Network) is supported by the Committee of Science Foundation of China. It is one of four major projects of NCFC (National Computing and Networking Facilities of China). Plans call for a common OPAC interface, online cooperative cataloging and online interlibrary loan, all to be functioning by the end of 1995 within the Zhongguncun Area where the three units reside.

ALINet (Academic Library and Information Network) is one of three networks planned to promote better public service in Chinese academic and research communities subordinating to "211 Project." ALINet will be based on CERNET (China Education and Research Network), a computing and communication network that is also subordinate to "211 Project." ALINet will establish about 30 information centers as nodes, and link about 100 academic libraries (through their campus networks) at the preliminary stage by the year of 2000. ALINet will connect to other domestic information systems through CN-PAC as well as to some foreign libraries and information centers through Internet. Some 30-50 databases, including nationwide MARC databases, will be set up and be accessed on ALINet. A series of CD-ROMs containing databases focused on Chinese culture and science or achievements made by the Chinese universities will be produced and issued. Online searching and document delivering will be served through ALINet.

Significant progress in creating Chinese MARC databases has been made in recent years. Yet we must face some shortcomings and difficulties, such as incomplete standards, limited capacity in online transmitting and downloading, unnecessary repetition in cataloging, shortage of financial support, etc. However, the situation is changing rapidly. We have confidence that all of the shortcomings will be dealt with and overcome in pace with the development of the Chinese information superhighway. It can be predicted that apart from the National Library, the three cooperative cataloging services will become regional bibliographic utilities. The establishment of the ALINet will make these utilities available to libraries and end users in China and in other countries.


Foster Jia Zhang is a database manager at Dialog Information Services, Inc., in Palo Alto, California. Qiang Zhu is deputy director and associate professor at Peking University Library in Beijing, P.R.China.