Exhibit highlights community informatics in China

Abdul Alkalimat (McWorter)
Abdul Alkalimat (McWorter), Professor Emeritus
Kate Williams
Kate Williams, Associate Professor

GSLIS has enjoyed a long history of scholarly engagement with China, and a new exhibit currently on display in the GSLIS building highlights the work of faculty members Kate Williams and Abdul Alkalimat. Complete with photographs as well as publications and artifacts, the exhibit displays the impact of the School’s research, teaching, and service in community informatics in the country. The exhibit was organized by Assistant Professor Kate Williams.

“GSLIS has been traveling to China and welcoming Chinese scholars, librarians, and students for many years,” said Williams. “Now our expertise in community informatics is attracting special attention and energy.”

In 2010, Williams and Professor Alkalimat led an Illinois delegation to China and gave presentations at a number of campuses and libraries. During 2011 and 2012, the professors taught a community informatics summer course at Peking University to almost 100 students and librarians; the course collected and analyzed data about public computing and the digital divide, focusing on Beijing libraries and communities. The Chinese students also piloted a “cybernavigating” or technology support service in cooperating libraries, similar to services initiated by Williams and GSLIS students at the Urbana Free Library.

Williams said:

Community informatics (CI) asks how local communities can and will fare in the digital age. It focuses on the extent to which the community is navigator of its own life, especially by using technology. CI recognizes that there are multiple, sometimes conflicting, interests in all communities. China is going through wrenching change—rural migration to the cities creating a low-income second class citizenry, great wealth and power alongside persistent underdevelopment, and a booming and active netizenry. There are big differences but also remarkable parallels with the U.S.

This is why it is terrific to be able to link our expertise in CI with the concerns of Chinese scholars. In addition to library and information science, they have two related fields, community informatization and rural informatization, where our ideas can cross-fertilize. Public libraries are also undergoing an opening up of their own, well after the Reform and Opening Up in 1978. So there is more and more fee-free public access to print materials, databases, and Web 2.0 services and especially public access computing on a grand scale. We’re learning a lot.

Along with scholarly journal publications, these efforts resulted in a National Libraries of China publication edited by Williams, Han Shenglong of Peking University, Yan Hui of Nankai University, and Alkalimat. This publication, a bilingual anthology of CI, is now used in courses at GSLIS and in China. In addition, this summer Library Trends will publish a “Community Informatics in China” issue edited by Williams that includes work from mainland China and Hong Kong.

The exhibit is located in the east foyer of the GSLIS building and will be on display throughout March.