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Library: a booming market
di Wang Ping in Beijing Review, 42(1-7 Febbraio, 1999), n. 5, pp. 20-21

To accelerate the modernization process of Chinese libraries and strengthen their technological exchanges and cooperation with overseas libraries, the Planning and Finance Department of the Ministry of Culture and the Beijing Council for the Promotion of International Trade has jointly hold the China lnternational Library Appliance and Technology Exhibition between April 9-12 this year.
Wang Hua, director of the exhihition's organizing committee, said libraries in China are transforming themselves from a traditional to a modern pattern. The adoption of advanced technology and equipment has important significance for them to exercise effective management, and provide efficient services to complete the modernization process.

He said the Chinese Government has paid close attention to the development of the library sector. Between 1990-97, the number of public libraries increased from 2,527 to 2,661, with collection books and magazines rising from 300 million to 380 million copies. The average floor space of Chinese libraries expanded from 1,290 square meters to 1,774 square meters, and the annual budget allocation jumped from 290 million yuan to 930 million yuan. In 1997 alone, 200 million yuan was used to purchase and import related equipment and technology.

Currently, there are 176 mobile libraries, and one-third of libraries above the prefecture and city level have begun using computers. Some provinces and cities have set up regional networks. In some economically developed areas, all township have their own libraries.

Apart from regular public libraries, 392 art centers and 2,892 cultural centers nationwide have opened reading rooms, housing 6 million copies of books. In another 42,000 cultural stations and 20,000 rural township cultural centers, there are more than 60,000 book rooms.

Moreover, there are over 1,300 university libraries, 3,700 libraries in secondary schools, 1,600 in Party schools and departments, 4,949 in government departments, and scientific research institutions, 1,207 in hospitals, and 543 larger ones and 24,000 small ones run by army units, trade unions, factories and mines.

Despite their rapid progress, Chinese libraries still face some problems.

Wang listed the following:

The number of public libraries is still limited. At present some 400,000 Chinese share one. lt is partlcularly difficult for the huge rural population to get access to books. Library facilities are backward, with inadequate book collections. The automation degree is low, and regional development is unbalanced.

To counter these problems, the Chinese Government has adopted effective measures to enhance policy and financial support. The central and local governments have alI set up special library funds, and budgetary allocations have registered an average annual increase of 20 percent in recent years, reaching 930 million yuan in 1997. Funds for capital construction have risen 25 percent annually, with the 173 projects under construction in 1997 using a total investment of 2.06 billion yuan. Over the next few years, central and local governments will continuously increase their inputs for library construction and greatly increase funds for purchasing equipment and related technological items.

Currently, several dozen big libraries are being constructed or are planned nationwide including a new hall for the Capital Library, and new libraries in Inner Mongolia, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Nanjing, Wuxi and Zhenjiang.

Efforts will be made to build data base systems to turn libraries into major channels of the national information highway, and six to eight Chinese document centers will be built among Chinese public libraries.

The construction of a data base system will stress the following: Chinese document catalog, special collection, local documents, united catalogue, national library catalogue, national microfilm document data and collections in major libraries. Special and general data bases geared to the public will also be established. ln addition, the China Experiment Digital Library has been included in the list of the State scientific and technological develppment projects, with construction beginning in 1997. The aim is to build a group of network information and resources data banks dovetailing similar international technology early next century, thus laying a foundation for the comprehensive development of Chinese digital libraries.

The China Library lnformation Network (CLINET) will be initially established by the turn of the century. AlI provincial and city libraries and 40 percent of the county-level libraries will introduce automated management, and alI libraries above the city level and 30 percent at the county level will join the network. The national library information and resources network will be linked with the Internet and major domestic information networks to achieve the sharing of information resources and electronic document transmission, thus becoming a component of the international information super-highway.

Wang Hua pointed out that library development will create great demand for advanced equipment and technology. The exhibition in April offered a good chance for mutual study, exchanges and trade promotion between Chinese and overseas libraries.