With Ulaanbaatar Book Day around the corner, it is the perfect time to talk about books and libraries.
Ts.Munkhchimeg, a librarian in charge of digital services at the Vancouver Public Library, delves into the library specialty, comparing Mongolia's libraries with those in developed countries in the following interview. She worked as a foreign relations specialist at the National Library of Mongolia before earning her master’s degree in library and information science in 2018 at the UBC School of Information of the University of British Columbia. In addition to her current job, she’s working as a digital project specialist at the University of British Columbia.
She underscored that extensive knowledge and training are required to be a librarian but Mongolia is yet to provide adequate training opportunity locally.
You completed your master’s degree in library and information science. Can you tell us about this profession?
The study of library and information science has a very broad range, teaching how to create, acquire, organize and archive information. A library is essential to human kind for obtaining, organizing, storing and disseminating information, so librarians need to create good databases. Starting in the 1970s, libraries started to get readers besides just collecting books. Since then, libraries began to take interest in their readers and conducted studies in many fields in fun ways. For example, they researched how doctors acquire information, which method engineers use and like so they would study their readers in groups. Libraries are, in a way, a research institution that not only stores books but also researches efficient ways to disseminate information and books to the public, increase access to their services, and better outreach readers. The role of a librarian isn’t limited to sitting behind a desk and getting books that are asked for.
How do libraries in developed countries operate?
The operations and services of modern libraries are now defining the development of developed countries. Well-developed countries have libraries much different from Mongolia's, starting from their service attitude to principles. Canadian libraries, especially the public ones, are known for being open, accessible, safe, and non-discriminative.
At the Vancouver Public Library, we get many people who live with disabilities, autism, Down syndrome, unable to speak in English and are new immigrants. A library should be open to everyone. Besides reading, many people go to the library because it is a comfortable space. Some people come and just sleep on our comfortable chairs. If someone is sleeping, we have a rule to softly knock on the chair or table next to them, show our concern for their health and wellness, and politely ask if they need any help. Librarians have to be sensible, prioritize customers’ needs before regulations and policies, and be flexible. This indicates that the Canadian society considers people’s needs.
Most Canadian and Americans students say that their fondest childhood memories were going to the library with their parents since age two or three and joining various clubs such as singing and reading clubs. The children’s programs at our library can be attended even shortly after being born. It basically means that librarians help everyone get knowledge from an early age. Under Canada’s standards, public libraries are required to be located at a 15-minute walking distance from people’s home. It take 10 minutes to reach most public libraries from home and to get to another library, it takes 15 minutes by bus. Doors, elevators, exits and corridors are all wheelchair accessible. There’s a reason as to why Canada pays so much attention to libraries. To nurture knowledgeable and educated personnel, they understand that it’s necessary to improve libraries, which are the closest place for obtaining and disseminating knowledge.
What should Mongolia do to reach the same library standard as developed countries?
One of the first things that we need to do is increase branches of the public library – even in ger areas on the outskirts of the city. Instead of making children think of libraries as a boring place designed for only reading, libraries should be attracting more customers and readers by regularly organizing programs for children and teenagers.
The Vancouver Public Library has 21 branches though the city population is around 700,000 people. On the other hand, Ulaanbaatar has 1.2 million people but how many libraries does it have? The Vancouver Public Library’s operate the same way to allow librarians to work at more branches on flexible hours without having to undergo training again. It saves time and money as well. Up to 1,500 people visit each library a day and seven to nine staff are able to service them. Canadian librarians don’t have four hands and two heads. The system has been well-developed after many tests, research and discussions. Mongolia needs to do the same and develop a special policy for libraries. The children’s and central libraries are separate, so who would go there? It means that parents who brought their children to read books will just sit by and watch them. But if these two libraries are located under the same roof, everyone can learn and develop themselves.
You’re one of the founding members of the Mongolian Library Association. What does this association do?
The person who first initiated and founded the Mongolian Library Association is the current executive director, M.Davaasuren. I’m one of the people who supported his initiative. M.Davaasuren holds a master’s degree in library and information technology from the University of South Australia. He is one of the best young specialists in Mongolia. We worked together at the National Library of Mongolia and collaborated on many projects to enforce new, innovative ideas in this field.
After studying in developed countries, we both wanted to introduce some of the latest library trends and practices in Mongolia and share them with our colleagues. Moreover, we thought it was necessary to have an association that pays special attention to uniting librarians, enhancing their knowledge, keeping them updated with the latest standards and technology, initiate partnerships with local and foreign libraries, and expand operations of libraries. And so, the association was established. Since I live in Canada, I’m not able to take part in all association-related activities.
You seemed to read a lot of academic papers besides reading books. Can you recommend some ways your colleagues can development themselves?
If people working in the library field don’t read or develop themselves, they will be left behind and become outdated. They will go rusty. This is an information sector that rapidly changes and renews all the time. Besides reading professional books and materials, I try to observe the new findings and events happening in the library and information sector, and adopt them into my daily life. When I first came to Canada, I felt that the education system and learning environment were different to Mongolia’s. Students’ learning methods were also different; they had much more responsibilities. Since I was doing my master’s, I had so much workload with heaps of things to read and write. I had advanced my English skills prior to going to Canada and that really helped a lot. Therefore, I would recommend fellow librarians to learn English very well. I’m sure they know it all too well without me having to tell them.
As a student, I conducted a small, independent study. It focused on how women fighting against breast cancer obtain information about their disease. I found relevant sources, collected data and analyzed them. Before starting my study, I went to my school’s library to look at similar studies. When I typed the simplest keyword into the library system, almost 900,000 results came out. Information on cancer patients had already been studied this much in such a large scope. I reckon that very few results would come out if I were to search in Mongolian. I’m not criticizing my mother language or anything. It’s just that there are so many more studies and academic papers written in English than in Mongolian. Therefore, if you improve your English, you can access information from larger database.
The American Library Association has many branches and they all conduct webinars, seminars, and training all the time. The top specialists in the world teach them. Webinars are placed on the online archive six months after and are open to the public for free. By viewing them, it’s possible to specialize in fields such as catalog, which are needed to develop the Mongolian library sector. If our sector gets more skilled personnel, we can then localize the best global practices, modern technology and more.