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

Public Libraries And Economic Development In China

LIU Xiaoqin
Library Department
Ministry of Culture


This article presents the methods and experiences of the Chinese public libraries in their services for the nationís economic development,describes the efforts they have made in public librarianship and in their self-adjustment in Chinaís socialist market economy, points out the weak links in widening their services to Chinaís economic construction and looks into the future of the Chinese Librari anship in serving the economic development.


Since 1980s, with the overall promotion of socialist modernization in China, great changes have taken place in Chinese public libraries under-takings. Public libraries at all levels regard serving national economic construction as the focal point of the work, further developing and enrich-ing their original functions and roles. Practices demonstrate that public libraries can make great contributions to the development of national economy. While serving economic development, public libraries also promote the development of themselves.

1. Main practices and experiences of serving economic development

1.1 Enlarging the delivery of economic and scientific documents

In order to enhance serving economic construction, public libraries devote much attention to the delivery of economic and scientific docu-ments, try every means to enlarge this kind of delivery and improve the utilization ratio of documents. Public libraries at all levels carry out widely the service of sending books to the door-step of a customer, which is enthusiastically welcomed by pea sants. In accordance with the requirements of local agricultural development, public libraries at different areas collect applicable materials from their collections, collate and publish lots of brochures on the production technology of planting and breeding, finally send them to peasants. These services receive very fine effects. Guizhou Province Library organized some staff to investigate in X ingren county of Guizhou province, found out local resources and the requirements of economic development, and provided a lot of practical materials for planting and processing konjak. This project made more than 2000 peasants lift out of poverty and backwardness, and the output value of the whole county newly add more than 0.5 million RMB yuan.Because peasants live dispersely and regrad famil ies as the centers of production, the common way to enlarge services and ensure service effects is: selecting some peasants with higher educational level and rich experiences as key readers in a region, establishing close contacts with them, providing materials they need at all times, directing them to apply production knowledge in practice. After these peasants gain successful production ex periences, librarians will spread them to more peasants. When peasants go to market, libraries hold simultaneously information release, providing materials on production and Sci-Tech and making numerous peasants acquire conveniently documentary information they need. This kind of service is warmly welcomed by peasants.

In order to increase circulation ratio of documents, public libraries often send books to service points by using mobile book car or mobile book store. In 1994 public libraries at and above county level set up 17788 service points for circulating books, nearly 7 times of the number of public libraries at and above county level. The number of books and materials circulated in above mentione d service points was considerable, and circulation ratio of documents in some service points approached that in their parent libraries. This kind of service increased greatly the utilization ratio of library collections.

To enforce serving economic construction, some large public libraries establish reading rooms for special subjects, such as reading room for economic documents, which concentrates books, periodicals and newspapers on economy in library collection, providing such services as reading, lending, searching and reference etc..

1.2 Developing SDI service and compiling secondary and tertiary literatures

SDI service and Project-tracing service refer that a library provides timely, accurately and systematically documents and materials for a certain project until this project achieves success or stage results. The objects of SDI are generally problems with higher research values and production projects with higher economic values. Since 1985 Guizhou Province Library , for example, had success ively signed SDI agreements with Guizhou Province Institute of Economy. In 1993 Guizhou Province Library provided SDI services for 5 research projects , such as Study on the relationship among population, economy and ecology in mountain area, Study on the development of economy in 10 provinces and autonomous regions of South China, Guizhou Province toward 21st century---study on industry deve lopment and industry coordination. SDI service puts forward higher requirements for documentary information provided by public libraries, requiring that libraries deliver the latest information to end users as soon as possible without any important omission so that scientific researches and production activities can go on smoothly. Users are willing to pay service fees to libraries because th ey acknowledge the importance and value of SDI service for their activities. The quantity of service fees paid by users will be confirmed according to the degree of difficulty, quantity and time of document services.

To make better use of information contained in documents, all public libraries have enforced the compilation and publication of secondary and tertiary literatures. Besides bibliographies and indexes on special subjects, public libraries publish various Selected Information Journals which extract contents concerned from books , periodicals and newspapers in accordance with the require ments of different users. Most of these journals are informal publications with long or short publication cycle. These journals with high reference values are warmly welcomed by users because they reflect quickly new information, have very wide information source and save usersí time for searching and reading materials. According to their scopes and contents, these journals can be divided into tw o categories:

  1. those orient to governmental policy-making departments, including mainly such contents as analyzing situation, introducing theoretical viewpoints, reflecting social trends and putting forward opinions on reform etc.. This kind of journal is typically named as Policy-Making Reference.

  2. those reflect comprehensively or specially the latest information and trends in the fields of Sci-Tech, production and economy. Some journals are published by special subjects, such as Drink Information, Financial Information, Information on Production, Supply and Marketing. Selected Information on Science and Technology is a comprehensive information journal. Most of the journals a re independently published by libraries, but some of them are jointly published by libraries and enterprises.

All types of Public libraries publish some bibliographies and indexes on special topics in accordance with the focal points of service determined by libraries, such as Tea-leaves Processing Bibliography published by libraries in regions producing tea-leaves. These bibliographies and indexes are warmly welcomed by users.

1.3 Initiating various information services

Public libraries in China have shifted from providing purely documentary information service to providing various information service. Various information refers to various non-documentary information. For example , on 29 October 1992, Jinling Library in Nanjing held the First Auction for Sci-Tech Achievements and Economic and Trade Information in cooperation with Administration O ffice for Technology Market of Nanjing City. Four Sci-Tech achievements and three economic and trade information were auctioned off with the total volume of trade 0.927 million RMB yuan. In 1994, Dalian City Library and Dalian City Council for the Promotion of International Trade held jointly Trade Talks for Production Accessories and Repairs of Foreign Trade Enterprises. 23 enterprises took part in the trade talks, and signed 107 agreements with their customers during the two days of exhibition.

More libraries combine documentary information services with non-documentary information services to create more satisfactory service effects. For example, carrying documentary materials , video tapes and slide shows on scientific planting, librarians invite experts on planting technology to go to countrysides to hold information release. On the spots experts give lessons and answer question s, librarians provide materials and demonstrate vividly, even take charge of providing high quality seed.This kind of service is certainly welcomed by users because its service effect is better than that of pure documentary service.

To develop various information service, public libraries need experts in various fields. It is impossible for a library to own so many kinds of experts, so libraries have to rely on experts outside libraries and develop cooperation with departments concerned in the society. In this regard Readers Association initiated in the mid of 1980s have played important role. Readers Associat ion is not a tie between library and reader , but also an intellectual base for developing various services. When a reader meets problems, librarian can ask experts from readers to help. And experts are often willing to provide help. By this way , public libraries can enlarge their service fields, enhance their capabilities of providing service and improve service effects.

Developing various information service has profound and lasting significance. Firstly, it strengthens the social image of public library as information center; secondly, it promotes the development of library document resources, enriches the social functions of public libraries. At the same time, this kind of service is the result of changing ideas.

Public libraries have not only rich information resources, but also reserve human resources which are composed of professionals among readers. The combination of the two resources form special superiority for developing various information service. The prospect of development in this aspect should be very broad.

1.4 Exploring new mechanism of developing information service

The shift from planning economy to market economy has made impacts on Chinese public libraries, including:

  1. Independent operational institutions with the characteristics of enterprise engaged in information consulting business came out. When this kind of institution was established, library was responsible for providing fund and staff. Although these institutions depend on the document resources of libraries while doing businesses, they are independent operation and assume sole responsibility for their profits or losses. Their service contents are the extension and enlargement of librariesí reference works. While engaged in information consultant service and document exploitation, these institutions are still engaged in other economic activities. The basic difference between this kind of institution and the original reference department of library is that the former has the characterist ics of enterprise and all of its services is fee-based. Part of economic incomes of these institutions should be turned over to their parent libraries.

  2. Fee-based information services were developed. Shenzhen Library , for example, set up Newspaper Cutting Center in 1992, gaining lots of subscribers by providing various information in the fields of general merchandise, real estate and finance and stock, with the revenue of about 0.4 million RMB yuan for three years in succession. Shanghai Library established Centre for Reading Newspape rs On Behalf of Users which subscribed more than 18000 newspapers and periodicals published at home and abroad. After establishing, the centre has undertaken more than 300 projects at home and abroad.

  3. The libraries with the form of membership system came out. In 1994, Shenzhen Library set up a Fashionable Dress Library by using the form of membership system, where the memberships could use various information on fashionable dress and enjoy personnel training services on the basis of paying membership dues. In Shanghai some libraries at village and town level contacted enterprises by using the form of membership system.

1.5 Establishing information service networks and functioning the superiority of groups

Large, middle and small-sized public libraries in China have widely developed to serve economic construction. Public libraries at county, village and town and residential district levels often face the difficulties arising from insufficient document resources. In order to solve this problem and function the superiority of unification and coordination, public libraries at different areas se t up regional information service networks. Having the aid of document resources and intellectual supports of large and middle-sized libraries, through the networks, small libraries can improve their service level and effects. In 1986,for example, public libraries in Liaoning province set up a coordinating network ,developing mutual aid and cooperation relationship for retrieval, consultancy, i nter-library loans , duplication, translation and collecting the effects of service, which improved greatly the beneficial results of service.

Recently the construction of information service networks have new developments. In some regions the demarcation line between different library systems has been broken down, the coordinating organizations among public libraries, university/college libraries and Sci-Tech libraries have been set up and document resources sharing has been realized. Libraries in some areas adopt commonly-used readerís card. If a reader gets a card, he can borrow books from all public libraries in this area.

Nanjing Library and public libraries at city and county levels held jointly Publications and Materials on Sci-Tech Mobile Exhibition which had been insisted for several years. In accordance with the demands of production in different areas, libraries exhibited professional publications and materials that areas needed urgently, and won very fine service effects.

1.6 Developing vocational staff training and reeducation .

The rapid development of economy requires increasingly improvement of the quality of working staff and needs new types of professionals. The more rapidly the economy develops, the more urgent this kind of requirement is. The function of public library makes it naturally become a base for vocational staff training and reeducation. Public libraries start training courses on computer knowle dge and account knowledge which have a large number of demands. Due to reliable training quality and regular conditions for running a school, some libraries are designated as formal training base by authority concerned. For example, Jinling Library in Nanjing city was designated as one of the Examination and Training Points for Cadreís Capability of Computer Application of Nanjing. The Lab or Bureau of a certain city in Guangdong province designated this cityís library as a training point for technology workers taking up posts . Only can those have received qualified training certificates be employed.

1.7 Developing contests and appraisals for service works and rewarding high-quality service achievements

In order to encourage public libraries to do better service works, governmental departments develop such activities as contests, appraisals and awards. There are two kinds of contests and appraisals which have notable impacts, that is, the contest and appraisal activities of creating civilization libraries organized by Ministry of Culture which are concentrated on high quality service; the comparison and assessment activities for high quality service achievements organized by cultural administration departments at provincial level. The comparison and assessment for high quality service achievement is based on the comprehensive considerations on the degree of difficulty, the amount of work, effects and beneficial results of service.This activity makes various services compa rable and provides operable tool for measuring the value of library service. The process of comparing and assessing makes it conveniently for library to exchange service experiences. Many libraries pay attention to collecting the feedback of reading effects from readers, for example , in 1995 Ningbo City Library collected more than 700 sheets of feedback tables reflecting the reading effects of readers.

From 1987 to 1993 Liaoning Province held four times public appraisals for high quality service achievements with the total number of candidates 7970. The selected 5494 high quality service achievements during 1987 to 1989 created indirectly 1.02 billion RMB yuan revenue.

On the other hand, in order to improve the readersí enthusiasms for reading books , and propagate the readerís experiences for utilizing documentary resources, public libraries develop activities of selecting outstanding readers and excellent reading achievements. In 1994, Dalian City library held two times Commendation Meeting for Key Readers. 150 readers outstanding achievements were awarded, among them there were 22 books, 86 articles, 4 patents and 5 R&D achievements.

2. Taking powerful measures to improve self-construction and self-adjustment.

Keeping abreast of the demands of the economic development, the public library system has taken several steps indicated as follows in order to improve self-construction and self-adjustment:

2.1 Adjusting the composition of library holdings and strengthening the development of Sci-Tech and economic collections

The public library of all size, especially the municipal and county library which has tight budget to purchase books and has to solve the very practical problem of how to allot the money rationally as to acquire suitable and useful materials, has paid much attention to and strengthened the development of Sci-Tech and economic collections. For example, entrusted by the Fujian Provincial Autho rity in charge of culture, the Provincial Library has formulated a Guiding Bibliography for Acquisition in Municipal and County Libraries, which contained both required and selective lists of publications. This bibliography benefited the municipal and county libraries a lot in the enhancement of the quality and suitability of their collections.

It is feasible for all types of libraries to decide what is the special features of its holdings according to the characteristic of the local economic development and of the overall distribution of regional library collections. On the basis of investigations and negotiations, the cultural authority of Hubei Province has determined the stress of collection development of many municipal and county libraries in the province since 1992. These libraries are either the holding center or the cataloguing centre for holding the literatures concerning certain subjects. For instance, as an information centre of fresh aquatics, the Hanchuan County Library compiled and published the 1st index in China on this subject which listed most of the classic literatures published between 1949 to 1993.

2.2 Improving the quality and efficiency of services through automation

Ever since mid 1980s, China has made great progress in the research and application of information technology to the public library services. Now there has been more than 120 libraries involved in the implementation of library automation. Nearly 100 software systems covering the major aspects of library work, and over 6.5 million records in various bibliographic databases have been successi vely introduced. Some databases are fairly large, such as CNMARC (developed by the National Library of China, Shanghai Library, Zhongshan Library of Guangdong Province and Shenzhen Library). Some regional library automative networks are still under development. The application of automation to the public library has made its service more efficient and satisfied.

2.3 Rearranging the internal structure of organization and composition of professional personnel

Very different from the situation before 1980s when the public library was basically the same in its internal structure of organization, it is now diversified. The rearrangement of organizational structure is subjected to the variation in contents of work, composition of collections, structure of personnel and pattern of management. Such departments as information retrieval, reference and s elective dissemination of information are reinforced. Reading rooms are rearranged according to the facilities for users and characteristics of holdings.

In order to rationalize the composition of personnel and form a team of professional staff made up of modern library managers and specialists, majoring in various disciplines, the public library has been carrying out many on-service training programs and enrolling middle- and high-rank professionals.

3. Unfavorable conditions for the enhancement of services

3.1 Scale and quality of library collections falling behind the needs of users

In short of Sci-Tech and economic collections, some medium- and small-sized public libraries find it difficult to meet the needs of users because their holdings previously collected are very limited and increased only little by little at the same time.

From the view of overall situation, there is both duplication and blank space in the information resource development in public libraries without powerful macro-control and coordination.

3.2 Automation lagging behind

Most of the public libraries in China have not yet established automation systems, and their daily routine is still operated by hand instead of computers. Owing to the backwardness in the means of information retrieving and slow-footed dissemination of information, the quality and efficiency of library services are therefore seriously impaired.

The fact that the library automation and networking is not popular does limit the joint exploitation of library resources and squander much manual labor and time due to result of duplication and repetition.

3.3 Lack of high- and middle-rank professionals

Some libraries,especially that at the primary level, are fairly in short of high- and middle-rank professionals who are knowledgeable and experienced for information services. In some large libraries, the number of capable professionals is dwindling.

4. Future development in perspective

The public administration and the decision-making departments would pay more attention to the great function of the public library as an institution of gathering, transmitting and exploiting bibliographic resources so as to promote the national economic development. Research organizations and academic societies would also carry on more studies and academic exchanges on the basis of experie nce and practice, and accerlate the further development of public library.

The information services offered by libraries would develop in the directions of deepening its levels and improving its quality and effects. The public library would continue to foster the relationship of help-each-other with the users, seek cooperation actively which concentrate on the exploitation of library resources. There would be many kinds of information services and products. The p atterns of library information services would be rendered free of charge or provided in the form of paid services, and parts of these information services and products would become commercialized and put into the competition in markets.

The public library in China has come to a conclusion from practice in the last 10 years that only when it actively involved itself in and serves the economic development would it be valued by the society. The bibliographic information exploitation and services are the essence of library work. The more the positive results of library information services have accomplished, the better the p opularity and prestige of library services would enjoy in the society.


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  3. 2. Li Xiaolin. Shenzhen Library promoting self-development through serving the society. Chinese Culture (Newspaper), 1996.5.1:(1)