Sandwiched between a popular cinema and the staid office building of the local government, Li Guizhen's tiny reading room goes unnoticed by most bustling urbanites. But for the kids in town, it's a haven of fairy tales and adventure.
Seventy-three-year-old Li, known as "Granny Li" to her patrons young and old, has been running her children's reading room for 12 years since she retired from the city library of Hefei, capital of east China's Anhui Province.
The reading room was formerly financed by the library, but budget cutbacks in the early 1980s made its operation unaffordable.
"It would have been closed down years ago, if not for Granny Li," her former library colleagues are quick to point out.
As soon as she retired, Granny Li got down to work. Unfazed by blustery winter wind and blazing summer heat, she rides her bicycle to the small room every day to straighten up and boil water for the children to drink.
The former librarian gets no salary, and she charges no membership fee. Money for the books which pack the shelves comes from her own pocket.
It's not uncommon to spot Granny Li haunting used book shops around town, searching for old but interesting titles to tempt the children. Her current collection numbers in the thousands -- stories that have fed the imagination of many children, some of whom have graduated from elite universities such as Qinghua. Senior officers of the People's Liberation Army count among her former readers.
Most of the children remember that first visit to Granny Li's reading room. "I was peeping through the window when Granny kindly invited me inside," said one schoolgirl. "Before long, I could not tear myself away from Granny Li or her books."
(Xinhua News Agency January 6, 2002)