Reviewed By: Judith Gruber, Tess Harper, Anne Luca, Isabel Vargas, Jennifer Weisberger
Link to article: https://doaj.org/article/3cdebe9f3705497b99cb59fa81a1da7a
Intellectual freedom, or the right of every individual to have access to and express information of all points of view without restriction, is one of the primary principles of modern public librarianship. Nanjing Library, the oldest public library in China, has taken positive and effective strides in the efforts to ensure intellectual freedom to the community that it serves. In the the article Nanjing Library’s Efforts on Intellectual Freedom, which was written by one of the librarians who works there, gives an in depth analysis of the library’s services and history. Established in 1907, Nanjing Library is the public library of the province of Jiangsu, and was the national central library during the period of the Republic of China (1912-1949). Due to its rich cultural history and place of importance within the community, Nanjing Library promotes intellectual freedom for its patrons through its collections, services, and free access to information, both print and digital. As a member of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), Nanjing Library is part of a large global network of public libraries serving as information centers offering historical and rare materials, as well as increasingly modern resources
The Nanjing Library houses the third largest library collection in China with more than 11 million volumes of collected books. The Nanjing Library is known for its collection of historical documents that consists of “1.6 million volumes of ancient books, including 140,000 rare books and 700,000 volumes of Republic of China’s documents” (Bing, 2015, p. 8). This collection includes ancient manuscripts, block-prints, books and other works from the Tang and Liao dynasties. 454 elements of the Nanjing collection have been placed on China’s National Precious Ancient Book Register. The Nanjing collection has “formed a resource system, covering various fields in social sciences and natural sciences” (p.8).
The Nanjing Library is located in the center of Nanjing in an area known as Daxinggong. The construction of this library cost more than 400 million Yuan and consists of over 78, 000 sq. meters of floor space. The Nanjing library houses 3,000 seats for its users as well as “more than 4,000 information points for users in the Library” (p.8). The Nanjing Library’s mission is to take positive and effective measures to protect the intellectual freedom of its users. The free public services the library offers include reading, lending, and references services, access to a plethora of databases, lectures, exhibitions and “all kinds of reader activities (p.8)”.
With regard to serving disadvantaged groups, Bing (2015) writes that Jiangsu provincial library’s “…key functions include collecting, organizing, preserving, and utilizing information resources to support its mission of providing information resources to support its mission of providing services to all citizens, including disadvantaged groups” (p. 14). In addition, Jiangsu library also was the pioneering library to offer services to “visually impaired users among all provincial public libraries in China”, calling it “The Blind Audio Library” (Bing, 2015, p. 14). This collection contains “…3,000 volumes of Braille books and 33,000 audiobooks” as well as “…Braille printers, tape recorders, video viewing devices, computers for the visually impaired to get the Internet” and other services (Bing, 2015, p.14). Furthermore, Bing (2015) writes that “Since 2012, Nanjing Library has been organizing public training for rural migrant workers, the elderly, children, laid-off workers, and other vulnerable groups”, offering these groups instruction on using computers and digital resources (p.15).
The Nanjing Library provides open access to its resources 365 days a year, providing free parking and and mostly free library cards to patrons. The vast majority of its services are available for free, including reference and all lending services. They also have lectures which are available for patrons at no cost. These lectures vary on different topics, and are considered very important parts of life to the patrons who utilize them. The library has also curated many exhibits,which also attract patrons. The Nanjing Library has worked to digitize sources, which not only provides users a means for access them, in addition to preserving the print resources that they have. A mobile app was created, as well as an RFID self service system, which has touch screens for users to access. The library is also working to get the OCLC WorldCat up and running in the library as well. With all of these services and resources, the Nanjing Library has encouraged people to get involved and actively learn. Particularly community events such as the lectures and the exhibits are designed to bring people into the library and learn, while also bringing patrons in contact with the other services the library provides.
The Nanjing Library is encouraging intellectual freedom by providing digital resources. The library gives users free access to not only Chinese databases, but foreign databases. This helps the community stay globally aware and involved – especially since they’ve also given users touch screen devices for newspaper reading. Their electronic reading room provides users with free internet access and multimedia resources.
Of course, one may question whether there is any censorship given China’s history and political climate. Censorship is a major concern in most libraries, but with China’s history of silencing any political dissent, it does make one concerned about what filters may still be enacted on the digital information users are being given. China has been known to monitor its citizens on the internet, and for citizens to face real consequences from stating their opinions or accessing information. This is also a piece which was written by a librarian who helps run this library, which does bring up some concerns about how unbiased this might be as a source. However, enabling the community to access information online, is sending a positive message that the Nanjing Library is a place of intellectual freedom, which does give one hope that this is a place where information users access is less heavily monitored.