By the end of 2001, China had 2,689 public libraries. The National Library of China, with 22 million copies, is the largest library in Asia. Of the 1,100-odd university or college libraries, the collections of the Peking University and Wuhan University libraries lead the nation. The national network of libraries also includes scientific research institution libraries (including more than 8,000 medium and large libraries), trade union libraries, and the libraries and reading rooms attached to government institutions, army units, primary and secondary schools, townships, enterprises and local communities.
The National Library of China (NLC) is situated by Black Bamboo Park. There are three stories below ground and 19 stories above ground. In the library’s collection are over 3,500 ancient inscribed bones and tortoise shells, 1.6 million volumes of traditional thread-bound books, over 1,000 volumes of documents from the grottoes at Dunhuang (accounting for 30 percent of the total national collection), 12 million volumes of foreign-language books and magazines, and dozens of dynamically renewed electronic databases. The library started to accept the submissions of official national publications in 1916, and became the main national database. It began to accept submissions of domestic electronic publications in 1987. It is also the country’s ISSN and Network Information Center. At present, the NLC has formed a digital library alliance with 90 other libraries around the country, making joint efforts in promoting the development and application of China’s digital public information service. In December 2001, the second-phase project of the NLC was started, which, after completion, will add 70,000 sq m of floorage to reach the grand total of 240,000 sq m, making the NLC the third largest library in the world in terms of aggregate floorage. The construction of the second-phase project, closely combined with the project of the Digital Library of China, will establish a 20-TB resource of data and information in five years, so as to make up for the present shortage of Chinese information on the Internet. At present, the Network Information Center of the NLC is able to offer 1,000 mb information on the Internet, and also some classical literary works and titles on basic knowledge for on-line reading free of charge.
The world-famous Shanghai Library is China’s largest provincial-level library. Of its collection, the over 1.7 million volumes of ancient documents are the most valuable, including 178,000 volumes of rare ancient books of 25,000 titles, many being the only copies extant in the world. The oldest document dates back 1,485 years.