Provenance the Web Magazine ISSN 1203-8954 - Vol.1, No.3 - July 1996

Teamwork on the Internet: the National Chinese, Japanese, Korean Project

Linda Groom, National CJK Project Manager, the National Library of Australia

Originally published in National Library of Australia News, 6 (7), April 1996, pp 9-12


The Internet has brought a new kind of teamwork to the National Library. The members of a project team need no longer be on the same floor, or in the same building, or even in the same country. Using the electronic mail and file transfer facilities of the Internet, a work team's 'office' can cross international boundaries.

One example of this way of working is the National CJK (Chinese Japanese Korean) Project, a cooperative project which will establish a shared online catalogue of Chinese, Japanese and Korean material held in Australian and New Zealand libraries, with full support for input and display of CJK characters. It is due to be implemented in seven Australian universities and the National Library in the first half of 1996.

In managing the CJK Project, the National Library has brought together software and people from many countries. Both the software and the people communicate through the Internet.

Research associate Ho Yean Fee and software engineer Chong Chiah Jen are at the Institute of Systems Science, National University of Singapore. Their contribution to the CJK Project has been the Multilingual Application Support Service software which has been purchased by the libraries involved in the project to allow input and display of CJK characters. Chiah Jen has made many improvements to the software at the National Library's request. The requests for changes, and the changed software, have all been transmitted through the Internet.

Like most of the people involved in the CJK Project, Chiah Jen has a multicultural background. Born in Malaysia, he speaks three Chinese dialects-Hakka, Hokkien and Cantonese-as well as English and Malay. His curriculum vitae is a sign of things to come. Almost every line includes an Internet address at which more information can be found-for instance, his birthplace of Muar in Johor (http://jupiter.sas.ntu.ac.ag:8000/muar.html); the high school he attended (http://sushi.iss.nus.sg:8000/chunghwa); and the university where he attained his degree (http://www.nus.sg). Chiah Jen describes himself as an Internet 'geek', which he defines as someone who, when applying for a driver's licence, gives their Internet address, or someone who describes their children as 'client applications'.

When Chiah Jen delivered the MASS software through the Internet to the National Library, the person at the receiving end was Murthy Manchella. Murthy has been the CJK Project Systems Officer since late 1994. He was born in Ongole, India, and received a Master of Science degree from Andrha University. As well as speaking English, he is fluent in Hindi and Telagu and so is familiar with the frustration many people feel when they deal with systems that support only roman script. When Murthy recently took three months' long service leave to visit his family in India, his place on the CJK Project was temporarily filled by another Asian-born Australian, Tien Dao. Tien is a systems officer at the National Library. He came to Australia from Vietnam in 1979 and speaks English, French and Vietnamese.

Two other staff working on the CJK Project at the National Library also have rich cultural backgrounds. Yumiko Tsuji joined the project team in June 1995, bringing with her a unique combination of librarianship, programming and Japanese language skills. Born in Kagoshima, Japan, Yumiko completed three years of tertiary education at Tsuda College and was on the path to becoming a traditional Japanese wife when she decided she wanted a different kind of life. She came to Australia as a student in 1973. She is now married to an Australian of German descent and, to top off this rich cultural mix, is taking classes in Malaysian cooking.

Yumiko shares the work of software testing, data loading and user liaison with Ching-Ping Tang. Ching-Ping, known to his colleagues as CP, joined the project in November 1994. CP spent most of his childhood days planting rice and raising pigs and ducks on his parents' farm in Hong Kong. Books and study were a privilege to be squeezed in at night. CP persisted with the books and study however, and was awarded a Bachelor's degree from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and, after emigrating, a Master's degree from the Australian National University and a Diploma of Librarianship from the University of Canberra.

Another important contributor to the CJK Project lives in San Diego, California. Karl Lo, who heads the International Relations and Pacific Studies Library at University of California San Diego, is also a consultant to the CJK Project. Karl was born in Zhongshan in southern China and educated in Hong Kong and the United States. An expert in the representation of the Chinese language on computers, he has been advising CP Tang and Murthy Manchella while they have developed a computer program that converts library data using the 'Wade-Giles' standard for Chinese to 'Pinyin', which is the standard used in China. The program will be used in building the National CJK Database, and has attracted international attention. During an intensive two months of program development in mid-1995, Karl sent CP at least 12 versions of software he had written, using the Internet's file transfer facility. If these 12 versions had been airmailed instead of sent through the Internet, the process would have taken months longer.

Karl has never met fellow Californian Lydia Motyka, who has also played a crucial role in the CJK Project. Lydia lives in San Francisco, and works for Innovative Interfaces, the Californian company which won the tender to supply the library software for the CJK System. Lydia's electronic correspondence with the CJK Project staff at the National Library has sometimes included several messages in a single day as she has guided them through the process of choosing software options and testing data loads. Lydia adds yet another cultural dimension to the CJK Project. Born in Rochester, New York, to Lithuanian immigrants, she spoke Lithuanian as her first language. Lydia learned English at primary school, while continuing to absorb Lithuanian language and culture through activities in the Lithuanian community and at Saturday school. Lydia also speaks German, having spent a year as an exchange student at the Mozart Gymnasium in Wurzburg, Germany.

Does communication breakdown ever occur, with people from such different backgrounds communicating by electronic mail, in English? The only case of genuine misunderstanding occurred in late 1995, when the CJK Project team at the National Library received a surprising message from Chong Chiah Jen in Singapore. The message, as we read it at our end, said that Chiah Jen would deliver a particular enhancement which we had requested in 2096. In 2096? We were puzzled-was this a polite Singaporean way of telling us that what we had requested was impossible? Or a sarcastic put-down? Or did the Institute of Systems Science engage in long-term planning beyond the imagination of Australian planners? Politely, we sent a return email message querying the date. Chiah Jen's reply asked us to look more closely at the original message. He had in fact typed 2Q96, meaning a delivery date in the second quarter of 1996, which on our email display looked very like 2096. Chiah Jen was not at all offended by the misunderstanding; in fact he speculated cheerfully on how old he would be in 2096. In terms of job security, it would have been a record.

As manager of the CJK Project, I can lay claim only to a very ordinary Brisbane background, and no language skills apart from English and some French. It has been a wonderful experience working with people from all over the world with such rich cultural backgrounds, and I am very grateful to the Australian immigration policy which welcomed Yumiko, CP, Murthy and Tien to Australia-without them, there would have been no CJK Project. I am also grateful for the existence of the Internet, which has allowed this international team to work so efficiently to implement a project of international significance.

Linda Groom has been the Project Manager of the CJK Project at the National Library since 1993.


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