By the end of 2005, China had 2,762 public libraries with a collection exceeding 480 million copies. Of university and college library collections, those of Peking and Wuhan universities lead the ranks. The national library network also includes those of scientific research institutions libraries, trade unions, government institutions, the army, primary and secondary schools, towns, enterprises and local communities.
The National Library, with a collection of 25 million volumes, is the largest in Asia and has the world's largest collection of books in Chinese. Adjacent to the Purple Bamboo Park in west Beijing, the library has three stories underground and 19 stories above ground. Among its huge collection are more than 3,500 ancient tortoise shells carved with Chinese pictographic characters, 1.6 million volumes of ancient thread-bound books, some 1,000 volumes of documents from the Dunhuang Grottoes, 12 million foreign-language books and magazines, and dozens of electronic databases.
The library began to accept submissions of official national publications in 1916, becoming the main national database, and began to accept domestic electronic publications in 1987. It is also China's ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) Center and Network Information Center. The library has formed a digital library alliance with 90 others across the country to promote China's digital public information service.
The second phase of the National Library -- China Digital Library -- began in late 2004 and is scheduled to be completed and put into operation by October 2007. The project is expected to satisfy book storage demand for 30 years to go. The Digital Library will make the National Library the world's biggest Chinese literature collection center and digital resources base, as well as the most advanced information network service base in China.
The 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 and representative, including 25,000 titles of rare books in 178,000 volumes, many being the only surviving copies anywhere. The oldest document dates back nearly 1,500 years.