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62nd IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 25-31, 1996

Status Quo and Prospects of the Children's Libraries in China

Zheng Lili
Dept. of Libraries and Information Science
Peking University
Beijing 100871, P.R.China


Today, there are 350 million children in China, and there will be 200 million students in primary and secondary school by 2000. It is very significant to run children's libraries well to prepare 21st century talents and to prompt economic development.

This article is composed of three sections:

The first section passes in review the development of children's libraries in China.

The second section outlines the status quo of children's libraries in China. It introduces the number of various children's libraries, the methods of instructing junior user: conducting early education for children; providing various services for the children at different ages; expanding the area of book circulation outside libraries; launching the mass reading movement known as "Red Flag", etc. The section also talks about the scientific management of children's libraries; the development of networks to improve the interlibrary coordination and to maintain the communication between libraries; the theoretical research to enhance the quality of personnel in children's libraries. The third section covers the prospects of children's libraries in future. This section explains the significan ce to establish the new concept preparing talents for 21st century and to develop children's libraries in the new economic period; appeals for supporting the programs "Source Project" and "Book Collections in Ten Thousands Villages" which will solve the problem of reading books for children in rural areas; expects to strengthen legislation which may guarantee the development of the children's lib rarianship in China without a hitch. Children are the future constructors of a country and will carry out all undertakings in the coming century. Children's libraries are important places to train qualified personnel for the 21st century and play a significant role in the educational project of creating a glorious future for mankind. The social values of the children's libraries have been proved in the development of history. Hence children's libraries in China, similar to those in other countries, have grown out of nothing and developed from a few to a great many ones, along with the younger generation, they will advance towards a splendid future.


1. The development of Children's libraries in China

China has a long history and glorious culture. During the period from the Warring States to the early Han Dynasty there appeared the earliest treatise on education in the world On Schooling, in which there were many discussions about reading. This book points out that students should have outside reading besides their studies at school. Children's libraries in China have gradually developed for more than one century. In 1914, a reading room for children was founded in Jingshi Popular library, Beiping (now called Beijing). In 1917, Tianjin Social Education Office, which was situated in Zhili Province(now called Hebei Province), took the lead in setting up a children's library.[1] School libraries were founded even more earlier in 1884, a library was established in Shanghai Shengfangji Middle School.[2] But the development of Children's libraries in China was rather slow during the first half of the 20th century because of war and poverty. By 1940s, only few children's libraries were established in Tianjin, Shanghai, and other cities .

For the recent hundred years, people of insight in China have paid much attention to the problem of children's reading. Mr. Lu Xun, a famous Chinese writer and educator, attached great importance to the instructive function of books on children. He thought that children should read all types of children's literature, and he himself translated quite a few excellent foreign children's books into Ch inese. Mr. Lu Xun also put forward some important theories concerning guidance on reading.[3] Ms. Song Qingling, a great internationalist and the honored chairman of PRC, devoted all her life to children's cause in China. China Welfare Fund Foundation, established by Ms. Song Qingling, set up some reading rooms for children in Shanghai in 1946. These reading rooms opened to children free. China W elfare Fund Foundation built three Children's Welfare stations, each of which contained a library. The staff at the welfare stations even pushed book wagons to the alleys to serve the children.[4] After the foundation of People's Republic of China, Ms. Song Qingling proposed for several times that children should be provided continually with mental food,[5] and she also required that neces sary facilities should be founded to make children read books. Ms. Songs theories and practice promoted the development of the cause of Children's libraries.

After 1949, in this year PR China was founded, Chinese government devoted much attention to the problem of Childrens reading. In 1952, a movement which aimed at eliminating reactionary, obscene and absurd books was started throughout the country, and this movement guaranteed the childrens health in body and mind. In 1956, the Education Ministry issued the directions of guiding primary school stud ents to read children's books. Since the 1950s', the cause of Children's library has gained a new development. From 1950s' to 60s', seven independent children's libraries were set up respectively in Beijing; Tianjin; Shenyang and Dalian, Liaoning Province; Wuhan, Hubei Province; Lanzhou, Gansu Province. Children's reading rooms were set up in the public libraries of seventy to eighty counties so that children have possessed good facilities to read books.

2. The Status quo of children's libraries in China

2.1 Setting up various types of Children's libraries, enlarging the places for outside school education

Since the foundation of P.R.China, due to the attention of the government, various types of children's libraries have been set up through all kinds of channels.

At the beginning of 1995, there are 77 independent children's libraries and 2,201 reading rooms for children attached to public libraries under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture;[6] more than 300 thousand libraries in schools under the leadership of the Education Commission;[7] near 500 children's reading rooms in children's clubs organized by the Communist Youth League or other educational departments.[8]

Besides the above mentioned libraries run by cultural and educational departments of central and local government, there are libraries and reading rooms for children run by Trade Unions (among the 190,000 libraries built by trade unions, there are many libraries or reading rooms specially serving children's needs). There are also some public libraries run by neighborhood service centers in cities . In the year of 1989, more than 200 children's libraries or reading rooms were set up by the neighborhood service centers in Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai[9] . In addition, libraries run by individual book dealers in small towns and the countryside also serve the children.

2.2 Developing the cause of libraries and instructing the children

2.3 Improving the conditions of the libraries and managing them scientifically.

Since China adopted the policy of economic reform and opening to the outside world, its economy has been flourishing. The economic development has brought about a great advance in the cause of children's libraries. In 1981, the first working conference concerning children's libraries of the country was hold under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Education and the central c ommittee of the Communist Youth League, and a document reporting the conference was issued by the Office of the State Council. In 1980, a report back outline of library work passed by the secretariat of the Party's Central Committee demanded that children's libraries should be set up in medium sized cities and districts of big cities. As a result, the construction of children's libraries becomes the emphasis of librarianship and hitherto a great many libraries serving children have been built. The independent children's libraries under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture in 1995 have increased over ten times than in 1981, and the reading rooms for children in public libraries at county level and above have increased more than twenty times. Both the Children's Library of Hunan Provinc e and that of Shenzhen City, Guangdong Province which is still under construction cover a space of 12 thousand square meters and possess advanced facilities fit for children's characteristics; they both enter the list of large sized children's libraries in the world.

Now children's libraries are generally equipped with TV sets, Video and audio materials, and those with better conditions are even equipped with computers. The staff contrive to manage the libraries by means of modern technology and lay stress on training the children's ability to use computers.

In order to manage the libraries scientifically, the children's libraries and school libraries in many cities have worked out a series of rules and regulations to standardize classification, cataloguing, bibliographic organization and other work. In 1991, the first classification of books concerning children's libraries in China was published The classification of books in China (the editi on on children's libraries and school libraries), and then it began to be practiced throughout the country. The adoption of this classification has promoted the unification and standardization of document indexing and management of library materials. All this has founded a firm basis for the development of automation and networking of libraries and the further realization of resources sharing.

2.4 Reinforcing the construction of networks, improving the interlibrary co operation and communication

In order to use library's collection thoroughly and improve the staff's professional level, children's libraries belonging to different ministries are carrying out all kinds of co operation and communication. Networks of children's libraries have been established in many cities. The children's libraries at province and city level play a key role in their local networks, in charge of the staff tra ining and professional guidance of the small libraries, responsible for the co operation and sharing work experience among the various libraries.

In 1988, three co operation organizations were founded in the country the co operation committee of north, northeast and northwest China, The co operation committee of east China, and the co operation committee of middle south and southwest China, which are in charge of the co operative activities in their local areas.

The first national conference of school library was hold under the auspices of the Education Commission in 1989. In 1991 the first school library regulation in China The Primary and Secondary School Library Regulation was promulgated, and in the same year the national committee of the primary and secondary school libraries was established. By the year of 1995, 24 local committees of scho ol libraries had set up in provinces level all over China.[12] These committees take charge of establishing school libraries' network and conducting co operative activities, such as replenishing books, making union catalogue, carrying out interlibrary loans, organizing itinerant exhibitions, popularizing new technology, planning out and evaluation the development of school libraries. Now the sca le of co operative activities is increasingly expanding.

2.5 Enhancing theoretical research, improving the quality of staff

The development of the librarianship has inevitably promoted the prosperity of academic researches. The Chinese National Association of Library Science set up a special groups were established later in many provinces and municipalities. These groups are responsible for organizing and leading academic research activities. During the 1980s', three national meetings and symposium concerning children 's libraries were held. Since the 1990s', similar meetings have been mainly held by the three local co operation committees above mentioned and the special groups of study for children's library science in many provinces and regions. The staff of children's libraries in various of areas have gathered together to study such theoretical and practical problems as children's reading interest and psyc hological characteristics, the methods and patterns of service to readers, the use of new technology in library management, network construction and staff training etc.

In order to promote academic researches and spread information and advanced experience, the first professional journal Children's Libraries and Primary and Secondary School Libraries was published and issued in China in 1980. Later, The Work of Children's Libraries, Library and Information Service in Primary and Secondary School and some other journals were published.

On the basis of enhancing theoretical researches, from 1980s' to 1990s' a series of textbooks and monographs on children's and school libraries have been successively published. Some kinds of reference materials were compiled in many regions, which have greatly promoted academic researches and satisfied the needs of professional training.

There are large quantity of children's library staff in China. In 1981 and 1983, the Library Bureau affiliated with the Ministry of Culture entrusted Huadong Normal University and Beijing Normal University with holding training courses for Children's library staff in the country. With the publishing and adoption of the classification of books in children's libraries, a seminar was held in 1991 to train teachers of the classification. Many of them have later become teachers and backbones of such courses at provincial and municipal levels.

Most of staff of school libraries participate in some short term, comprehensive or special training courses, which were run by teachers training colleges and normal schools in some provinces and municipalities. Now some normal colleges are planning to establish department of library science so as to cultivate qualified staff for school libraries.

Some staff in children's libraries have received higher or secondary professional education on library and information science; those without professional education have managed to acquire necessary knowledge by studying in correspondence college, TV college, part time or in service school which were run by some departments of library science in universities.

Qualified staff with professional knowledge and skills is the key to run children's libraries well. At present, children's librarians in China should get lifelong learning and constantly renew their knowledge in order to match up to the new situation.

3. The Prospects of Children's Libraries in China

3.1 Having a clear view of the age's characteristics, devoting major efforts to developing children's libraries

The rising and development of the new information technology is accelerating the process of modernization at an unimaginably high speed. The age of information demands the new generation to be fully prepared to face the challenges of the 21st century. Thus children nowadays must have long term knowledge accumulation and continuously acquire new knowledge and information in order to actively and c reatively conquer nature and reform society in the 21st century.

In today's changeable society, new knowledge is emerging endlessly, and therefore we must replace the traditional educational view with the modern one. In the past, students were taught only the knowledge and skill by which to make a living; now the intense competition in market economy requires the students to possess creative thinking and be able to renew themselves constantly in their future s tudies and work, so both in class and out of class, at school and outside school, we should make them establish contact with society, and enlarge their channels of acquiring knowledge and information.

Reading books is a main way by which people obtain new information and know about the world. Without reading the development of human intellect will be unsatisfactory. Hence children's libraries which help to develop children's intellect by means of books and other information carriers will play a more and more important role in children's education; their functions cannot be replaced by other ed ucational institutions.

At present there are over 120 million primary school students and more than 50 million secondary school students in China, and by the year of 2000, the number will account to 200 million.[13] All the students are eager to have access to libraries. Now among the 20 million secondary school graduates, only 600 thousand of them can be enrolled by colleges and universities each year the entrance rat e is only 2 to 3 per cent. The entrance rate of high school is merely 12 per cent.[14] Under these conditions, there are a great many teenagers each year who have to leave school and therefore have an urgent need for libraries to provide them with good places to make further studies.

Today although the number of children's libraries has greatly increased, compared with developed countries, the number is still very limited and can not accord with the demands of the large quantity of children in China.

Thus the whole society must reach a common understanding that children's libraries and school libraries, as information centers, will play a significant part in discovering and cultivation talents. Wide propaganda should be done through such mass media as newspapers, TV and broadcasting to obtain the support of the leaders of the departments concerned and that of the whole society so that they co uld guarantee to help the development of children's libraries in the aspects of fund, equipment and manpower. We hope that children's libraries will be found everywhere in China and become children's schools without walls.

3.2 Extending the programs of Source Project and Book Collections in Ten Thousand Villages, Creating favorable conditions for children in rural areas to read books

China is a multinational country. The agriculture population accounts for 80 per cent of China's whole population, and most of the 350 million children live in the countryside. Hence enhancing the education of children in rural areas is the key to improve the quality of the Chinese nation. We must extend the library cause to the countryside and outlying districts.

As soon as the committee of primary and secondary school libraries under the auspices of the State Education Commission was founded in 1991, it began to carry out the Source Project, presenting a great quantity of books to schools in disaster areas, outlying districts and minority nationality regions and also helping the schools train librarians. This project is to be conducted every year so as t o constantly provide the schools in the above mentioned areas with books.

In 1994, the project of Book Collections in Ten Thousand Villages began to be carried out in China. This project is jointly sponsored by the committee of helping the culturally backward areas, Peasants' Daily and other three departments on the basis of summarizing the experience of peasants' reading activities. The objective of the project is to set up one reading room in each of th e 20,000 poor villages throughout the country and to present each reading room with 100 kinds of popular and practical books which suit the peasants' characteristics and are needed by them. These books will help to enrich the cultural life of the countryside and establish good atmosphere of rural areas. In short this is a long term and strategical program.

Both the Source Project and Book Collections in Ten Thousand Villages Project have shown the utmost solicitude of the government for the peasants and their children in poor, remote and minority nationality regions. The State Education Commission, some foreign friends, patriotic countrymen residing abroad, companies and enterprises have kindly contributed fund, books, magazines and computer s to the peasants. The carrying out of these projects has created a good reading environment for the children in rural areas and greatly improved the reading conditions of pupils. These projects will bring benefit to future generations and therefore should be carried out thoroughly and enduringly.

In addition, the policy of reform and opening up has made many peasants rich, so some of them have begun to invest in the construction of libraries. Some book salers in countryside have set up libraries, reading rooms and lending deposit stations to develop the library cause in the local area. Such libraries and reading rooms are important forces to provide service for rural children. In this sit uation, we hope that the Ministry of Culture, State Education Commission, other departments concerned and libraries at county and township levels will give actual support to these new libraries, help them train librarians, and offer them vocational guidance. We believe that the construction of libraries in the country side will promote the development of rural children's intellect, conduce to the training of qualified personnel, lead a great many peasants to the road of becoming rich by scientific means, and finally make the whole society spiritually more civilized.

3.3 Strengthening legislation and developing the children's libraries in China

China is now at a new historical era. The development of all the undertakings, including that of children's libraries, must be ensured by laws and regulations.

In 1991, the State Education Commission promulgated Primary and Secondary School Libraries Regulation, which has made definite stipulations on the property, task, book collection, facilities and service of school libraries. Although a report on the conference concerning children's libraries of the country was issued by the Office of the State Council in 1981, in which the organizational sy stem, personnel and fund of children's libraries and school libraries were stipulated, the execution of these regulations must have effects. Thus the authority departments concerned should strengthen supervision so as to ensure the implementation of these regulations.

Now children's libraries in China have possessed a fairly large scale, and a law on libraries is urgently needed to guarantee their further development. Legislation is the key to the prosperity of the library cause. In the future we should strengthen macro management, and network construction promote the coordination among children's libraries under different auspices, study the patter of the ma nagement and service of children's libraries, gradually extend the use of computer and other advanced technology, and further push forward the coordination and communication among children's libraries in the world so as to use the successful experience from other countries and promote the development of children's libraries in China. We believe that our unremitting efforts will enable children's libraries in China to shoulder the great responsibilities of training qualified personnel for the forthcoming century.


  1. Zheng Lili. Outline of the Children's Library work. Changsha: the Children's Press of Hunan Province, 1990

  2. Zhang Shuhua. The developing history of primary and secondary school libraries in China (1884 1949). Children's Libraries and Primary and Secondary School Libraries, No.2,1991

  3. Zheng Lili. Lu Xun and the guidance on children's reading. Library Work in Jiangsu Province, No.4,1981

  4. Song Qingling's opinions on children's education and children work. Compiled by Chinese Welfare Society. Shanghai educational press, 1992

  5. see [4]

  6. Statistical materials by the Library Bureau affiliated with the Ministry of Culture.

  7. Statistical materials by the Library and Information Bureau, Equipment Department, State Education Commission.

  8. Statistical materials by the Bureau of After School Activities, State Education Commission

  9. Huang Zongzhong. Outline of Children's Library Work. Children's Libraries and Primary and Secondary School Libraries, No.1,1995

  10. Zheng Lili. The development of school libraries in China. See: edited by Jean E. Lowpie and Mieko Nagakura. School Libraries: International Development. Metuchen, N.J. & London: the Scarecrow Press, 1991

  11. see [9]

  12. see [7]

  13. Gao Bingzhang. Running well primary and secondary school libraries, making contributions to the training of talents for the 21st century. College Journal of Library Science, a supplementary issue:4, 1992

  14. Lieu Bin. Speech at the 1st Book Presenting Ceremony for the Carrying out of The Source Project by the working Committee of Library Science, State Education Commission. College Journal of Library Science, a supplementary issue:2, 1992