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At the end of 2004, China had 2,710 public libraries with a collection of over 400 million copies. Of the university or college libraries, the collections of Peking University and Wuhan University libraries lead the nation. The national library network also includes scientific research institution libraries, trade union libraries, plus libraries and reading rooms attached to government institutions, army units, primary and secondary schools, townships, enterprises and local communities.

The National Library of China, with a collection of 25 million volumes, is the largest library in Asia, having the largest collection of Chinese books in the world. Adjacent to the Purple Bamboo Park in the western part of Beijing, the library has three stories below ground and 19 stories above ground. In the library's collection are over 3,500 tortoise shells carved with ancient Chinese characters, 1.6 million volumes of traditional thread-bound books, over 1,000 volumes of documents from Dunhuang Grottoes, 12 million volumes of foreign-language books and magazines, and dozens of electronic databases. The library started to accept the submissions of official national publications in 1916, becoming the main national database; and began to accept submissions of domestic electronic publications in 1987. It is also the country's ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) Center and Network Information Center. At present, the National Library of China has formed a digital library alliance with some 90 other libraries around the country, making joint efforts in promoting the development and application of China's digital public information service. The second phase of the National Library - China Digital Library, whose foundation was laid at the end of 2004, is planned to be completed and commissioned in October 2007. The expanded library will be able to satisfy book storage demand for the next 30 years. The Digital Library will make it the world's biggest Chinese literature collection center and digital resources base, as well as the most advanced network service base in China.

The Shanghai Library, well known at home and abroad, 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 ancient books in 178,000 volumes, many being the only copies extant in the world. The oldest document dates back nearly 1,500 years.

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