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Beijing’s Oasis of Knowledge: The National Library of China

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The China National Library has a worldwide reputation. It is the largest library in Asia and the 3rdh largest library in the world. It also holds the largest collection of Chinese literature and historical sources in the world. Its prestigious, worldwide reputation makes it one of the central, landmark attractions in the west of the city.

The National Library is the perfect place to visit for any foreigner or expat seeking to immerse himself/herself in Chinese history and culture, as it has artefacts dating back to the 11th Century BC as well as score of books detailing China’s fascinating and turbulent past.

How to access the libraryView In Map

It is very easy for a foreigner to get access to the library; there are no fees or charges involved. According to their procedures, you first have to leave all bags in the lockers section on Floor F1, and put all belongings in the transparent bags that they provide.

You then have to proceed up the outdoor stairs to F2, where the information desk is located. There are signs in the corridor or the staff at the information desk should be able to direct you to the Reader Card registration desk. Registration requires you to bring your passport, and you will then have to fill out a short, one sided form, with address details. Obtaining a Reader Card is free of charge and does not require you to pay a deposit. The form is in both Chinese and English and can be easily understood by a non-Chinese speaker.

Possession of a Reader Card means you have everything required to fully explore the public parts of the library. The new building, recently completed in 2008, contains five different floors, which include some very large collections of foreign language books, and many reading rooms, exhibition halls and lecture rooms. The signs are in both Chinese and English so it is fairly easy to navigate your way around.


Borrowing policy

Only three books can be borrowed at any one time, for a period of 31 days. English books are not available for renewal, whereas Chinese books can be renewed as long as they have not been requested by another Reader Card holder. The library also offers a book transfer service, through which books not currently available in the library can be requested and ordered from a different location. The fee charged depends on the location of the book, and will be higher if the book is coming from overseas. Failure to return books on time results in fines of 0.5 RMB per day for foreign language books, and 0.3 per day for Chinese books.


The resources

The third floor (F3) features foreign language books as well as publications such as journals, magazines and periodicals from throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. The richness in variety and diversity of these publications reflects the National Library’s global stature and international outlook. The fourth floor contains a selection of dissertations and theses, microfilm collections, as well as collections of publications from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.

The availability of certain services in the library can be somewhat handicapped by the fact that the majority of the staff speak little (if any) English, so it is difficult to make specific inquiries about library procedures. Many details of procedure are best checked on the library website, which features a comprehensive list of rules and regulations. The Wi-Fi internet service in the library is free, and can be accessed with the number on the front of your reader card, and the Wi-Fi pass code can be requested from the information desk.

Although occasional difficulties may be encountered, the National Library is definitely a sufficiently accessible place which expats and newcomers to Beijing should certainly make full use of. It is also a suitable learning resource for foreign students and teachers, with China’s rich, illustrious cultural heritage providing a perfectly suitable backdrop for a library with a rigorous educational ethos.

Add: 33 Zhongguancun Nandajie, Haidian District, Beijing
Tel: 010 8854 5426, 88545360
Opening hours: Mon-Sun, 09:00-17:00 (South Area); Mon-Fri, 09:00-21:00 (North Area)
Entrance: free
Getting there: Take subway line 4 to the National Library station (国家图书馆). 

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Keywords: China National Library national library guide Beijing Beijing national library

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