On October 23, 2002, Peking University Library, the

Full text



The Academic Library Development in China

by Jianzhong Wu and Ruhua Huang


n October 23, 2002, Peking University Library, the biggest university library in Asia, celebrated its cen-tennial anniversary. The library epitomizes Chinese academic library movement in the past 100 years and its celebration causes us to review the past and look forward to the future. This article gives an overview of the academic library movement in Mainland China in general, with em-phasis on some major developments and programs.


Modern academic libraries came into being in China at the start of the 20th century.1Academic libraries established in this period were: St. John’s University Library (1894), Tian-jin West School Library (1895), Nanyang Normal College Library (1897), Peking University Library (1902), Nanjing University Library (1902), Southeast University Library (1902), Lanzhou University Library (1909), Tsinghua Uni-versity Library (1912), Wuhan UniUni-versity Library (1917), Fudan University Library (1918), Nankai University Library (1919), and Zhongshan University Library (1924). It is widely accepted that Peking University Library was the ear-liest national academic library in China.2In 1936, the num-ber of national university libraries rose to 20 (with an aver-age collection of 87,426 volumes), while the number of missionary university libraries and private university libraries totaled 28.3

During the war against Japanese invasion (1937–1945) many universities moved to the hinterland, carrying with them only a small number of collections. Many academic libraries were badly destroyed. By the founding of the Peo-ple’s Republic of China in 1949 there were 132 academic libraries with a total collection of 7,940,000 volumes.4

Libraries developed in a stable manner from 1949 on. With the nationwide adjustment of universities and colleges in 1952, newly established and combined universities, col-leges and their libraries opened. In 1957, the State Council issued its “National Plan for Library Coordination” to en-courage resource sharing and to boost academic library de-velopment. In 1957, there were 229 university libraries with collections of 14 million items.4

During the Cultural Revolution (1966 –1976), the budget of all libraries was deeply cut. Some university libraries

stopped buying or subscribing to many important books and periodicals. Construction of academic libraries almost ceased; some were destroyed.

The Reform and Opening-up Policy gave rise to renewed library development. The last two decades have seen a great leap in academic libraries (as shown in Table 1). A number of universities, such as Peking University Library and Tsing-hua University Library, have had their newly built library buildings opened to the public. The total building area of the former amounts to 51,000 square meters5and of the latter 28,000 square meters.6A few other universities are expand-ing or rebuildexpand-ing their libraries. The number of staff workexpand-ing in academic libraries, who play an important role in scien-tific research and higher education in the country, has reached 40,000.7

CURRENTSITUATION AND MAINDEVELOPMENTS Social Background and Development Strategy China’s rapid rate of economic growth over the past two decades has greatly contributed to the academic library de-velopment. Table 2 and Table 3 show similarities in devel-opments in the national economy, higher education, and aca-demic libraries in China.

As an administrative office for academic libraries in China, the Teaching Facilities Section under the Ministry of Education’s Higher Education Bureau is set up to promote the provision of information and library services in Chinese universities. Its duties include the provision of guidelines and standards, coordinating collection development and re-sources sharing, and guiding short-term training for librari-ans and information workers in university libraries. Also within the Ministry, a Committee for Academic Libraries of China was founded in 1981 and was renamed the Steering Committee for Academic Libraries of China (SCAL), which is a specialist organization providing coordination, consulta-tion, research and guidance among university libraries and among regional committees for academic libraries.

On December 24, 1998, the Ministry of Education formu-lated its Action Scheme for Invigorating Education Towards the 21st Century. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has enacted a series of regulations and laws related to higher education, for example, the Law on Higher Education.

Remarkable progress has been achieved in the reform of higher education, particularly in the merging of universities. Since the reform in higher education was carried out in 1992, 556 institutions of higher learning have been merged into 232, a cut of 324.13 The mergers have helped relocate Jianzhong Wu is Director, Shanghai Library, 1555 Huai Hai

Zhong Lu, Shanghai, P. R. China 200031

⬍jzwu@libnet.sh.cn⬎; Ruhua Huang is Associate Dean, School

of Information Management, Wuhan University, Wuhan, P. R. China 430072⬍hongys@whu.edu.cn⬎.


significant educational resources and improve the quality of teaching and resources.

Supported by the former State Commission for Education, China launched the ‘211 Project’ in 1995. One of its two goals is to turn 101 universities into hubs for high-level re-search and specialization to aid national economic develop-ment in the 21st century in China. The project, which has involved the investment of more than 11 billion yuan (US$1.3 billion), is the largest higher education project to be implemented since 1949. The Ministry selected 101 target universities in 1995, 96 of which have been approved by the State Development Planning Commission, to benefit from

governmental funds to improve academic standards and re-search facilities. In line with the project, China has built two service networks, China Education and Research Network (CERNET) and China Academic Library and Information System (CALIS), to help the 96 universities exchange re-search information. The project will be further developed in the 10th Five-Year Plan period (2001–2005) to mobilize other colleges and universities throughout China to contrib-ute more to regional economic and social development. Ma-jor forthcoming schemes are likely to include equipping the 101 universities with advanced research facilities and build-ing higher speed computer networks for teachbuild-ing and re-search to help the universities improve academic standards.

In May 1998, as one of the two public service systems of ‘Project 211,’ the CALIS project was approved by the State Development and Planning Commission of China after a two-year feasibility study by experts from academic libraries across the country.

CALIS is a nationwide academic library consortium with members throughout 27 provinces, cities, and autonomous regions in China. Funded primarily by the Chinese govern-ment, it is intended to serve multiple resource-sharing func-tions among the participating libraries—including online searching, interlibrary loan, document delivery, and coordi-nated purchasing and cataloguing— by digitizing resources and developing an information service network.

Table 1

Academic Library Development in Mainland China

Year Number of Libraries Collections (thousand) Floor Space (sq. m., thousand) 1980 670 193,620 1,320 1987 1,053 345,000 2,900 1989 1,075 382,000 4,110 1994 2,080 418,000 5,500 1997 1,162 468,179 6,278 Table 2

Developments in Economy and Education in Mainland China

Year National GDP (billion yuan) Number of Universities and Colleges New Undergraduate Enrollment (thousand) New Graduate Enrollment 1985 8989.1 1016 619 46,871 1990 18598.4 1075 609 29,649 1995 57494.9 1054 926 51,053 1998 76967.1 1022 1,084 72,508 1999 80422.8 1071 1,597 92,225 Table 3

Increase in Expenditures for Collection Development in Academic Libraries in Mainland China

Year 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997

Expenditures (thousand

yuan RMB) 212,849 222,581 235,615 256,672 310,888 374,765 414,762 461,503

Table 4

Five National Information Centers

Areas of Specialization Location

Humanities, Social Science and Science Peking University, Beijing Engineering and Technology Tsinghua University, Beijing

Agriculture and Forestry China Agricultural University, Beijing Medicine Beijing Medical University, Beijing


CALIS is organized in a three-tier structure, comprising one national administrative center (which also serves as the North Regional Center), five national information centers by areas of specialization (see Table 4) and seven regional in-formation centers (see Table 5). The thirteen centers are maintained by full-time staff members provided by the li-braries in which these centers are located. The National Ad-ministrative Center (located in Peking University)— overseen by officials from the concerned office at the Ministry of Ed-ucation and the presidents of Peking and Tsinghua Universi-ties, and advised by an advisory committee consisting of experts from major member libraries—is responsible for the construction and management of CALIS, makes policies and regulations, and prepares resource-sharing agreements. The center has an office handling routine management needs and there are also several specialized work groups overseeing CALIS’ national projects, such as those for the development of databases for union catalogues, current Chinese periodi-cals, and CALIS’ service software.

AUTOMATION, NETWORKING, ANDDIGITALIZATION Automation and networking in academic libraries can be divided into three stages. The first stage (late 1970s to mid 1980s) is a starting period towards library automation; the second stage (mid 1980s to early 1990s) is a period of inte-gration of automation systems and local resources networks, and the third stage (from early 1990s on) is the period of networking and digitalization, with an emphasis on nation-wide resource sharing.7

Most academic libraries have adopted integrated library management systems so far. Hundreds of them are using such domestic systems as Wenjin (National Library of Chi-na), ILAS (Shenzhen City Library Co.), Xiyang (Beijing Xiyang Electronic Information Research Institute), Data Trans-1000 (Beijing Dancheng Co.), and so forth. Other well-off libraries such as Tsinghua University, Peking Uni-versity, Shanghai Jiaotong UniUni-versity, and Zhejiang Univer-sity are using foreign systems (customized for Chinese us-ers) such as INNOPAC, UNICORN, and Horizon, and so forth.

Several digital library projects have been launched. In September 1999, the Peking University Institute of Digital Library was established. The Institute has finished several projects on Chinese metadata programs. Tsinghua University

Library has finished its Architecture Digital Library

(THADL). Zhejiang University Library has signed a cooper-ation contract with such American universities as Simmons College and CMU for building the China-U.S. Million Books Digital Library Project. Under the guidance of the CALIS Administration Center, 22 academic libraries formed a China University Digital Library Consortium in May 2002 so as to facilitate their cooperation in digital library con-struction and resource sharing.

Resource Sharing

While facing severe budget constraints, Chinese academic libraries pay attention to resource sharing. They have formed local, regional, national, international, and specialty library networks to improve library cooperation, services, and re-source sharing to meet a variety of needs from their users.

CALIS is a nationwide academic library consortium and a resource sharing network based on the CERNET (Chinese Education and Research Network). It has become the most important consortium in Mainland China, with 152 academic libraries as its members. CALIS has already made a signifi-cant impact in library cooperation and resource sharing. It has also organized group purchases of foreign online data-bases such as EBSCO, OCLC FirstSearch, and ProQuest Digital Dissertations for the academic libraries.14

The Shanghai Information Resources Network (SIRN) is well known for resource sharing among universities, research institutes, and public libraries in the city of Shanghai. The Shanghai Library plays a major role in the consortium.

Further examples of large-scale resource-sharing projects can readily be instanced from other regions. Fifty-three aca-demic libraries in Hubei Province signed a joint contract allowing users of each member library to borrow and return books to any of the contracted libraries. Others like Net Li-brary of Universities in Beijing (27 universities and colleges) and Jiangsu Academic Library and Information System (for all the university and college libraries in the province of Jiangsu) play important roles in local resource sharing activi-ties.

Information Services

Generally speaking, academic libraries are now more open and enlightened than used to be the case. They are open more hours than public libraries. Most libraries are

Table 5

Regional Information Centers and Areas of Their Jurisdiction

Name Location Areas of Jurisdiction

Administrative Center Beijing Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, and Inner Mongolia Southeast (South) Regional Center Shanghai Shanghai, Zhejiang, Fujian, and Jiangxi

Southeast (North) Regional Center Nanjing Jiangsu, Anhui, and Shandong Central Regional Center Wuhan Hubei, Hunan, and Henan South Regional Center Guanzhou Guangdong, Hainan, and Guangxi

Southwest Regional Center Chengdu Sichuan, Chongqing, Yunnan, and Guizhou Northwest Regional Center Xi’an Shanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, and Xinjiang Northeast Regional Center Jilin Jilin, Liaoning, and Heilongjiang


open every day and some remain open until midnight. Some have developed inspiring projects including Video on De-mand in Peking University Library, a current contents ser-vice in Nankai University Library, ‘novelty search’ (database service for patent registration checks) in Tsinghua University Library, a virtual reference service in Shanghai Jiaotong University, and a new resource alert service in Wuhan Uni-versity Library.

To improve the quality of reference service, new posi-tions like “subject librarian” and “reference librarian” have been created in Tsinghua University Library and Wuhan University Library, and soon this may be widespread in many academic libraries in China. Reference service has become a top priority. Some libraries have started offering virtual reference. For instance, six academic and research libraries, together with the Shanghai Library, started ‘Coop-erative Knowledge Navigation’ in June 2001, with 16 se-lected senior reference librarians answering questions on the Internet.15 Some academic libraries provide digital reference service to patrons both on and off campus by e-mail, BBS, the virtual reference desk, and call centers. Web-based user-guides, freshman training, and project consultation are also popular in academic libraries.

Online navigation services to databases, electronic jour-nals, and access to Web resources sorted by title or subject for customers to browse or search conveniently are provided in most academic libraries.

With the widespread use of the Internet in Chinese uni-versities and colleges, the Web for Users’ Information Liter-acy Education and Research in Beijing16has been estab-lished to assist customers’ self-learning.

China’s academic libraries are also active in information service cooperation with other types of libraries. Such aca-demic libraries as Shanghai Jiaotong University Library and Fudan University Library are members of the Cooperative Knowledge Navigation in Shanghai. Some academic libraries have joined the National Library Information Consultation Cooperation Network initiated by the National Library of China in 1998.


Library orientation is organized for new students at the beginning of the academic year in most universities. Infor-mation literacy has become a nationwide issue in many edu-cational institutions. Every university library offers the in-structional course “Literature Searching and Utilization,” which is a required and elective course for undergraduates and graduates, respectively, to foster information-seeking skills among students through teaching and practice.

Distance learning is now common in academic libraries. Tsinghua University, providing courses like “Introduction to Internet,” “Introduction to HTML,” and “Network Technolo-gy,” developed the first Internet classrooms. The courses attracted not only teachers and students but also netizens from outside the universities and colleges. Shanghai Jiaotong University Library started a distance learning course called “Document Retrieval.” Zhongshan University Library is ac-tive in building network-based courseware for teachers. This trend will increase as the need for distance teaching becomes ever more apparent.


Academic libraries in China emphasize academic research in the library field. Professional journals produced by Chi-na’s academic universities or regional Steering Committee for Academic Libraries include Journal of Academic

Librar-ies (Peking University Library), Library Work in Colleges and Universities (Hunan Provincial Steering Committee for

Academic Libraries), and Journal of Academic Library and

Information Science (Anhui Provincial Steering Committee

for Academic Libraries). Some produce newsletters for uni-versity librarians.

China academic libraries take an active part in research in both LIS and related areas, co-research in the university’s major discipline development, as well as local and national projects, and as a result they have achieved much in the study of library and information science, modern Chinese literature, and ancient Chinese books. In the China Aca-demic Journal Database, the number of articles written by academic librarians since 1994 totals 15,700.17Some full-text databases developed by academic librarians can be ac-cessed online.18

Several international conferences have been hosted by China’s university libraries in recent years. For example, New Missions of Academic Libraries in the 21st Century, on October 25–28, 1998 in Peking University Library, and the 12th International Conference on New Information Technol-ogy: Global Digital Library Development in the New Mil-lennium and Fertile Ground for Distributed Cross-Disciplin-ary Collaboration, on 29 –31 May, 2001 in Tsinghua University Library.

International Exchange and Cooperation Chinese university libraries give great emphasis to estab-lishing exchange and cooperative relationships with overseas libraries. For instance, Peking University Library exchanges materials with more than 500 foreign libraries, schools, and research institutions. Tsinghua University Library is active in cooperation with several overseas information institutions. It started a joint venture with OCLC and opened the OCLC Chinese Service Center in the Library in August 1996.

ISSUES AND PROBLEMS Uneven Development

Generally speaking, the scale and service quality of aca-demic libraries in the developed areas and large cities is higher than that in the economically backward areas and rural areas. For example, among the 152 CALIS member libraries, only 12 are located in the poor northwestern region while there are 38 in the city of Beijing alone.

Limited Resources

Attributed principally to the 1999 government policy per-mitting greater access to tertiary education for more students, average available resources (collection, space, and utility) for each user have decreased since then. In 2001, university en-rollment was 4,640,000, 3.4 times the number in 1998, and new graduates in the same year totaled 165,200, 5 times that of 1988.19In 2002, college enrollment stood at 11.75 mil-lion, which is 8.02 million more than that in 1990. Post-graduate enrollment in 2001 stood at 393,200, three times more than in 1990.20China will increase the number of


uni-versity students to 16 million in the next five years, com-pared with an enrollment of over 11 million in 2000,21 which will tighten the availability of resources in tertiary education even more.

Management Issues

With the merging of universities, some problems have arisen, especially issues of network connection among differ-ent campuses, standardizing cataloging rules, reengineering of organizations and processes, and integration of human resources and information resources.

Continuing Education

The percentage of academic librarians with Masters and Doctoral degrees is quite low. There are 203 staff in Peking University Library, among whom only two have Doctoral degrees, and 31 have Masters degrees.8In some small librar-ies, no one has an MLS or equivalent degree. So, greater attention has to be attached to the continuing education and training of librarians to improve staff competency and qual-ity, and it is also important to recruit new LIS graduates.

The senior managers in China academic libraries may have on-the-job education for MLS and Doctoral degrees from domestic LIS programs in Wuhan University and Pe-king University. They may also get retraining by such forms as collaborative projects, sister library programs, library vis-its, and visiting scholars in foreign libraries or institutions. These programs are granted by the Ministry of Education of China, Fulbright Programs, United Board of Christian Higher Education in Asia and Lingnan Foundation of Amer-ica. To gain first-hand material in library management in developed countries, the Ministry of Education organized senior managers from 16 academic libraries to visit and sur-vey some national libraries and academic libraries in Europe.


The last two decades saw a steady growth in Chinese aca-demic libraries, at a pace that coincided with the overall de-velopment of the society. The quality of resources and ser-vices has been highly improved and hardware including buildings and automation greatly modernized. In the new century, academic libraries in China will surely play a more important role in assisting the educational modernization and globalization of the country.


1. Chinese Encyclopedia: Library Science, Information Science and

Archives (Beijing: Chinese Encyclopedia Press, 1993), p. 128.

2. W. S. Zhao. “Keynote Address at the Centennial Anniversary of Peking University Library” [Online]. Available: http://www.lib. pku.edu.cn/xuebao/html/126beidaguanqing.htm#126yuangr (ac-cessed November 16, 2002).

3. J. G. Chen & Y.X. Zhai, “History of Chinese Missionary Uni-versity Libraries,” Tushu Yu Qingbao [Library and Information] 2 (1999): 254.

4. China Library Yearbook (Beijing: Beijing Library Press, 2001), p. 36.

5. Peking University Library [Online]. Available: http://www.lib. pku.edu.cn/enhtml/introduction.htm (accessed December 12, 2002).

6. Tsinghua University Library [Online]. Available: http://www. lib.tsinghua.edu.cn/english/about.html (accessed December 12, 2002).

7. Y. F. Song & T. X. Ge, “Research on Development of Networks for Resources Sharing in China Academic Libraries. Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference Crimea 2001, Sudak, Ukraine, June 9-17” [Online]. Available: http://www.gpntb.ru/ win/inter-events/crimea2001/tom/sec1/Doc13.HTML (accessed November 16, 2002).

8. “Fact Database of National Academic Libraries” [Online]. Avail-able: (accessed December 26, 2002).

9. X. M. Li & Y. L. Jiang, “Academic Libraries: History Review,”

Daxue Tushuguan Xuebao [Journal of Academic Libraries] 4

(1994): 41.

10. “Statistics on GDP from China’s National Bureau of Statistics” [Online]. Available: http://www.stats.gov.cn/ndsj/zgnj/2000/ C01c.htm (accessed December 26, 2002).

11. “Statistics on Graduates and Foreign Students from China’s Na-tional Bureau of Statistics” [Online]. Available: http://www.stats. gov.cn/ndsj/zgnj/2000/T02c.htm (accessed December 26, 2002). 12. “Basic Statistics on Education from China’s National Bureau of Statistics” [Online]. Available: http://www.stats.gov.cn/ndsj/ zgnj/2000/T01c.htm (accessed December 26, 2002).

13. “Breakthrough Made in University Merging” [Online]. Available: http://www.cernet.edu.cn/20010101/21834.shtml (accessed De-cember 26, 2002).

14. China Academic Library and Information System [Online]. Available: http://www.calis.edu.cn (accessed November 15, 2002).

15. Shanghai Library [Online]. Available: http://www.library.sh.cn (accessed December 16, 2002).

16. Tsinghua University [Online]. Available: http://www.tsinghua. edu.cn (accessed January 30, 2003).

17. Chinese Periodical Net [Online]. Available: http://www.cnki.net/ index4.htm (accessed January 30, 2003).

18. China Academic Library and Information System [Online]. Available: http://www.calis.edu.cn/reference.asp?fid⫽4 (access-ed January 30, 2003).

19. “Increasing Enrollment Higher Education Entering into a Popular Age,” Guangming Ribao [Guangming Daily], November 12, 2002.

20. “Growing Numbers of Chinese Have Access to Education,”

China Daily, October 28, 2002.

21. “Chinese University Students to Top 16 Million” [Online]. Avail-able: http://www.cernet.edu.cn/20010903/200991.shtml (access-ed November 27, 2002).

22. H. P. Zhou, “China’s Library Undertakings: Present Status and Future Development. The Proceedings of the Annual Program of the International Relations Round Table and the International Relations Committee of the American Library Association” [On-line]. Available: http://www.ala.org/work/international/intlpprs/ zhou.html (accessed November 16, 2002).





Related subjects :