Librarian John Hickok’s Sabbatical in Asia
Hickok looks back on his travels to Asia

October 10, 2006

By Gail Matsunaga

In July 2005, librarian John Hickok set out across the Pacific for a yearlong sabbatical in Asia to visit libraries in an effort to better understand the research needs of international students and help Cal State Fullerton students negotiate libraries in their studies abroad.

During his travels, Hickok kept the university abreast of his observations and experiences through monthly correspondence and photos — posted online.

He assessed more than 200 libraries in 14 countries, including most of the universities partnered with CSUF. His travels took him to Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

“The whole year was absolutely fantastic,” Hickok says. “In some ways, it seemed so long, but it flew by — probably because I moved around from country to country.”
From the beginning, Hickok’s goal during his journey and upon his return was twofold. One is to create brochures for international students attending CSUF and American students studying abroad. For the international student, the brochure would be a how-to guide to using our library — explaining cultural differences, features and expectations of American libraries.

For Titans going abroad, the brochure will aim to tell them what and what not to expect. “For example,” Hickok explains, “some libraries have open and browsable shelves, but others have closed shelves, where items must be requested from staff.”
His second goal is to publish his research in professional journals and in a book.

Among his many observations, the biggest difference between libraries here and in Asia, Hickok noticed, is that “U.S. libraries tend to be more actively involved in workshops and training — not just serve as a study hall.

“Also, the curriculum here demands that students use library research. In Asia, there’s not as much independent research or independent study. It’s the nature of the curriculum — it does not promote or lend itself to active library research to the degree that U.S. universities do.”

Hickok noted that in such industrialized countries as Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and pockets of China, including Beijing and Shanghai, libraries have strong resources. In Japan and South Korea, students can sign in to the library using their mobile phones, and use touch screen reservation systems in the lobby for study carrels and group study rooms.

Of all the challenges of living and working abroad, Hickok says, “the hardest part was the logistics of getting around. For example, taking the train from Beijing to Ulan Batar. There was no signage in English and I didn’t know any Chinese. Thank goodness for the Lonely Planet phrase books.”
Interestingly, he says, when his train reached the Mongolian border, it stopped and one by one, each car’s wheels were removed and replaced with those that would accommodate the narrow gauge tracks of the now Trans-Mongolian Railroad tracks.

Among the best experiences, Hickok said, “was working with the U.S. Embassies — their public affairs divisions — to offer outreach and goodwill. For example, in Vietnam, the embassy organized a lecture/training session for me to address dozens of librarians from all over Ho Chi Minh City. This was such a wonderful experience, because it represented the first time many of these librarians had ever heard ideas directly from a foreigner. They were so eager and interested to hear new ideas. The appreciation I saw on their faces was incredibly heartwarming. Because of the U.S. Embassies, I had the opportunity to give similar lecture/trainings sessions to audiences in Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, China, Mongolia and others.”


John Hickok
Librarian John Hickok