A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

Li Makes the Leap from Literature to Library Services

August 28, 2015

Haipeng Li joined UC Merced as the campus's new university librarian.On June 22, Haipeng Li joined UC Merced as the new university librarian.

He previously served as university librarian at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) for four years. While there, he led the library’s strategic planning and development, managed the oversight of its overall operations — including its $8 million annual budget — and led the effort to develop the library’s vision, in alignment with the university’s strategic plan, which coincidentally was called the 2020 vision.

Li started his career in library services in 1992 as a reference librarian at Arizona State University and continued to hone his skills at the University of Arizona, Oberlin College and Rutgers University before taking the helm at HKBU.

Before his career as a librarian, Li taught courses in American literature. He holds a Master of Library Science degree from the University of Arizona, along with two other master’s degrees — one in southern studies from the University of Mississippi and the other in American literature from Northeast Normal University in Changchun, China.

Li recently spoke with Panorama and shared his thoughts about his new community, his vision for the UC Merced Library and what he wants to accomplish.

What are your thoughts so far about Merced?

My wife Xiaoping and I like it. We really enjoy being here, and we’re loving the town. This is quite a contrast to my previous institution. Hong Kong is a very urban, metropolitan environment. It is densely populated with lots of stuff happening on a daily basis. Here, you have this vast, open land. In Hong Kong, pretty much all you see are all these tall skyscrapers. We’re pleased to be close to Yosemite National Park. We love to hike.

We like the small-town feel. We lived in Oberlin, Ohio, for 16 years. It’s small and rural. Merced brings back some of those memories. There’s a close relationship between people and a lot of intimacy. We think this is a good place for us.

Tell us about your early experience with libraries and what sparked your interest in library science.

I grew up in the northern part of China, in the area formerly known as Manchuria, and started my schooling during the period known as the Cultural Revolution. It was a difficult time for intellectuals. A lot of teachers and professors were persecuted; education was devalued and a lot of books were banned or burned, so I didn’t have access to a lot of books. But I was an avid reader. Whatever books I could get my hands on, I read.

During that time, after graduating from high school, kids were sent to farms to work. I worked on a farm for three years and (at age 17) started to teach myself English. At the farm, I met a medical school professor and doctor. Every morning, he would get up and read his (English language) medical book. I was fascinated by it. I thought, “I should learn this language.” So I started to learn English, and he helped me. After the Cultural Revolution was over, opportunities came to young people. I was one of the lucky ones. I became a first-generation college student and majored in English.

During my graduate studies at the University of Mississippi, I got so much help from the librarians there. They were so helpful and that really triggered my interest in library sciences. They encouraged me to think about this option. The librarians also told me that librarianship is very interdisciplinary, so I was able to keep my literature interests and that’s how I made the transition.

What attracted you to UC Merced?

We were in Hong Kong for four years and thought it was a good time to return. Then this opportunity came. I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about UC Merced. I started looking into the campus and discovered it would be an amazing university that would offer even more opportunities. I found similarities between UC Merced and HKBU.

What are your top priorities for your first six months?

I was fascinated by the chancellor’s presentation to the Regents (in July) about the 2020 Project. As I watched, I thought about the rapid growth of this university. In order to get to 2020 with this ambitious plan to accommodate 4,000 more students and 150 to 200 faculty hires, that’s a huge deal.

My immediate plan is to really look into the 2020 Project and see how the library will be a part of that. If the university is moving forward rapidly but the library does not, then that’s a disconnect and it would be difficult for the library to adequately support the university in these important areas of teaching, research and service. So the library has to be part of the process. I am also working with my staff and senior administration to address some of the immediate needs. Then we can embark on a longer-term plan.

What is your vision for the UC Merced Library?

I appreciate institutions that are forward-thinking — 2020 is visionary; it’s looking to the future. I want the library to be fully aligned with UC Merced’s vision. The library is the heart of the university. We need to be fully aligned with the strategic areas of teaching, research and service. If we’re going to be one of the best research universities in the future, we have to be able to build infrastructure that supports this level of research. The role of academic libraries has changed over the years. While we’re still collecting books, we also do a whole host of other things — such as data management, support for digital humanities, and open-access publishing, just to give a few examples — that will keep us fully aligned with the future of the university.

What are some of the challenges facing the library?

At this point, the short-term plan is designed to address immediate needs. The library right now is not in a good position to move forward with its current resources, and I know the university recognizes that. Our way to address it is to fold those needs into a short-term, strategic, two- or three-year plan that will address immediate issues to increase capacity and the level of performance needed to support the current curriculum, teaching and research.

We need to really develop a user-centered institution. The library is a service provider, but it’s also a partner in higher education. We’re here not to simply provide support, we’re here to develop collaborative partnerships with campus constituencies. There’s a real opportunity to turn the library into an intellectual hub that supports dynamic academic interactions between students, faculty and staff.

Do you have any parting thoughts you’d like to share?

UC Merced has so much potential. We have an opportunity to make our mark globally, to reach out and bring in diverse scholars, students and a dynamic culture.