epixtech's Bob Claxton visits China more often than most people visit their favorite aunt in Dubuque. When asked how his trip to China was, Bob is stumped for a minute. "Well, which of the past 40 trips do you want to know about?" he asks. Bob's not being glib with his audience, either. He just travels to China often.
Bob is the Director of Sales and Marketing for the Asia/Pacific division of epixtech, inc., and epixtech is the leading provider of automation technologies, solutions and services for more than 7,600 libraries worldwide. These systems include Horizons/Sunrise library automation, Remote Patron Authentication (RPA), Universal Resource Sharing Application (URSA), along with ConnectLib solutions for patron self-services.
As libraries around the world become more and more technical and automated along with many other industries, their need for library automations systems comes into play. China and its libraries are no exception.
This is where Bob Claxton steps in—or to be more exact, where he steps on the plane. From his home in the Adelaide area of South Australia, it's at least a 20-hour plane ride to most of the cities in China for Bob. His most recent visit was to Shanghai, where he was working on automated library systems for three Shanghai-area universities and one public library, was no exception. "I usually stay a week or two, just to make the trip worth the time it takes to get there," Bob explains.
Shanghai is a city of 14 million people, and its public library is the size of New York City's public library. At 24 stories, it would seem to be a place that the citizens of Shanghai could go to sit down, curl up with a good book, and spend a few hours. "It's different in China," explains Bob. "It's not the same as it is in the United States or Australia, where people often go to libraries to get away from people. In China you'll see a large group of people queuing up just to get into the library. Once they're inside, along with books, there will be exhibits of public interest such as the history of Chinese stone masonry or a huge collection of memorabilia or gramophones."
Along with the public library in Shanghai, there are also three university libraries in the area. Although the universities are enormous—two of them have student populations of around 60,000 students and the other, Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, has a student population of 120,000 students.
However, in spite of the size of the universities, Bob explains that the libraries themselves are not monumental in size. "The teaching style in China is different than in the United States. There isn't as much emphasis on research, but there is more emphasis on the teacher as a master who imparts his wisdom to his students—a very different method of teaching from the Socratic method often adopted by western universities. And, because students, even graduate students, aren't required to do research, the need for large collections isn't as great. This is changing, however. I think some day the Chinese universities will teach in a way that is a blend of East and West. Right now, Gi Jan University, which is the largest University in China, has a large research center for ongoing research in tea and silk."
There would seem to be a language barrier in putting a library automation system which originates in the United States, where English is spoken, and sold by a man from Australia where English is also the language, into a library in a country with not only a different language, but a different and complicated alphabet. "That's really not a problem," Bob laughs, "Although most people don't know it's not a problem. In Nanjing, where Johns Hopkins has a branch of their university, we were getting ready to put in a system, and very few people—even a few of our own—realized it was no problem to put an English/Chinese library automation system into the library. When the school administrators found out they could have a system that worked in Chinese also, they were thrilled."
Bob Claxton has worked with epixtech, inc., which was previously Ameritech Library Services, since 1993. His territory goes from the International Dateline to the western border of India. In addition to libraries in Mainland China, Bob has helped automate libraries throughout the Far East. This includes libraries in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore, to name only a few of the places. "I think I cover a territory that has two-thirds of the world's population. Not two-thirds of the world's libraries, though," Bob explains. He was on his way to Singapore after this interview, and would be returning to China in a little over a month. It's a big job to automate library systems in more than half the world. But somebody's got to do it.