Breaking the glass ceiling – how Outstanding ICT Women Professional Award winner Dr Louisa Lam heads the digital transformation at Lingnan
Dr Louisa Lam, Chief Information Officer and Librarian of Lingnan, never saw herself as a leader in technology, nor did she ever imagine being awarded the Outstanding ICT Women Professional Award 2020 by the Hong Kong Computer Society when she studied for her degree in History and Political Science decades ago.
“We who studied humanities were not that career-driven, and it was really our interests that guided us.” And Dr Lam’s path just came naturally: after graduating she joined the Government working in public libraries. It was the era of technological boom. “I saw libraries transform from only using typewriters to developing and adopting numerous applications, computers and information systems – the whole computerisation process. And this sparked my interest in computerisation and IT.” Then Dr Lam decided to study for a master’s in IT, followed by several other master’s degrees and a PhD with a thesis on knowledge management.
Today, as the head of both IT and the Library at Lingnan, Dr Lam is determined to establish more synergy between them to improve the services and work efficiency in both departments. “Both IT and library work involve data, information and technology, and I am very interested in exploring how to leverage the latest IT technology to improve the management of data and information to support academic research,” she says.
Good examples are digitisation and digital humanities. “The latter is also one of the strategic directions at Lingnan. While arts and humanities research require big data, text analysis, text-mining and even machine-learning technology, digitalisation with OCR (optical character recognition) of the text is the first step to providing a foundation for the application of digital humanities technology to support liberal arts research,” Dr Lam explains.
The successful launch of Lingnan Scholars, a portal to capture all research-related information on output, grants, projects and awards, as well as the impact of scholarly activities undertaken by LU academics, and the widely used LU Mobile, an informative utility app connecting students and stakeholders with the University, are to Dr Lam “the outcome of the marriage of library and IT knowledge, and the smart application of technology to connect people.”
“Ultimately, I would like to facilitate digital transformation for the University to bring about the necessary change to adapt to the new norms of the digital world,” she stresses. “Digital is the future, but the key leading to a bright future is to apply the right digital tools in the right way at the right time. Start from small, have the courage to experiment, learn from failure, keep on reviewing and improving the tools and head for the goal boldly,” she says.
As a leader, Dr Lam believes “there are always more solutions than problems,” and rather than micromanaging, she focuses on task, progress and results. When asked how the gender stereotype in the workplace has changed in Hong Kong, Dr Lam says “It is very interesting that the IT sector was stereotyped as a male industry while library was a female industry. In the past, the leaders in both fields were male, but now four out of eight UGC-funded University Librarians are female, and two out of eight IT Directors are women.
“At Lingnan, many more women are playing directorial and top management roles. I am very grateful to witness this as it symbolises equal opportunities,” says Dr Lam, who is also the current chairperson of the Joint Universities Computer Centre (JUCC) as well as Joint University Librarians Advisory Committee (JULAC).
A more diverse, equal environment also means a more competitive one, as everyone is assessed by their capabilities, knowledge, skills, expertise and achievements. “Success comes from hard work, and luck is only opportunity. You have to keep learning new knowledge, unlearning old knowledge and looking forward to learn future knowledge.”
Dr Lam advises students and young professionals to stay curious to happenings around themselves, acquire knowledge, be prepared to face new challenges and grasp all opportunities firmly when they are presented. “The world is now changing at an unprecedentedly quick pace, and this will only accelerate in the post-COVID-19 era. All of us should prepare for change we cannot even foresee today,” Dr Lam concludes.