Yu Shuman

Speaking Time and Room No.: 2006-9-22 16:00-18:00 Room II

Speaker: Yu Shuman (China)


The Construction of Children’s Libraries

And the Promotion of Children’s Reading

Shuman Yu

Tianjin Normal University

Introduction: Today, in China, the children’s reading has been developed, but we are not satisfied with the current status. And this is mainly due to the lack of reading resources, libraries for children. Here, we are trying to reveal the existing reality of children’s reading and the children’s libraries construction in China, to analyze the reasons for the concerned problems, to raise the solutions for those problems and finally to power the development of the construction of children’s libraries and the development of children’s reading.


Key Words: Children’s libraries; Reading; Development


A. Children’s Reading in China Nowadays

As a teacher and researcher of Children’s literature, I care a lot for children’s reading. Today, the youngsters in China are leading a much better life than before (when I was a kid). In the cities, many families have their own studies in their homes, with some collection of books, which makes a comfortable reading environment for the young children. A large portion of the children in the suburban areas are having a comparatively good living condition. They have their own desks and some pocket money. However, the better off living condition did not bring rising interest in reading to the children, and reading habits, reading quantity and quality did not go up with the living condition either. This is really a problem worth thinking.


The overall reading status for children is not satisfying and we got different scenario when we look at the children in different ages and different growing environment. Generally, children aged 3-10 spend more time in free reading than the elder kids. There are two reasons for this. First, the teenagers are facing the pressure of exams and evaluation in order to move on to a higher grade, so they have to give up the free reading time. Second, they have so many more ways to enjoy their after school hours. Such activities as watching TV, movies, listening to the music, playing online games, partying with friends take over their time rather than reading a book. But I think the real reason is that most of the kids did not raise a habit of reading in their early years. And with all kinds of visual and audio influences, the interest for reading is just fading and our children are getting farther away from the books. Therefore, it is very important to help children raise a reading habit. Many experts also raised a concept of “reading from birth” and this concept is valuable for an educator. In China, we now have a lot of professional organizations for baby education. They put an emphasis on the early year reading. And the well educated parents have realized the importance of early year reading and the era of “reading on the pillow” has begun under the evening light of many families.

We hope that there are more and more parents who lead their children into the fun world of reading. Nevertheless, within such a large population, so few adults can really guide the way of children reading. Most of the parents and teachers do not have enough education about children reading or children literature. So, in the lack of guidance, children’s reading is without rein. Is there anything to read? Whether to read? What to reading (literature; scientific; helpful; harmful)? How long? Most of the parents do not have answers for these questions. And moreover, many parents are against their kid reading after school. They consider reading a waste of time. Actually, a child does not like reading because he does not have parents who like reading, or he does not get support for his reading. According to the statistics in 2004 around the families in Beijing area, the expenditure on books and magazines is a very small percentage of the whole family expenditure; and in the suburban areas, it is even less than 1%. (Source: Beijing Statistics 2005, from Statistics Beijing, China Statistics Press, 2005) This could be the result of the financial status of the families, or the spending pattern.


How do we guarantee sufficient reading for children in such an insufficient family reading environment? The same as how the school system provides every child the opportunity to get education, we hope children’s library provides the kids the opportunity to read at their will.


B. The current status of the construction of Children’s Libraries in China.


1. Basic Construction

“Providing the best reading material for the maximum of people with the minimum of input”. This is a precise definition given to the modern libraries by American Scholar ( ). The children’s library we are discussing here includes public library, reading room and the libraries and reading rooms with a school or a kinder garden. And in a country like China, with 367 million children, children’s libraries are with no doubt the best place to promote children’s reading.


For the construction of children’s libraries, the Education, Science and Culture Organization of the United Union has defined the rules and the goals of this problem in “The Declaration of Public Libraries” and “The Declaration of Primary School and High School Libraries”. All the things showed that the children’s library is inseperatable part of children’s life and every single child has the right to use the library. From all over the world, the construction of children’s libraries and School libraries are not as good as that of the adults’ libraries. However, as they are still growing up, the children need libraries more than the grown-ups, and they have stronger and broader needs for libraries than the adults as well. As matter of fact, even in some of the developed countries, the volume of reading of printed materials for children is going down on some level. People are trying hard to get children closer to the books. On an International Library Union meeting in Beijing, an American librarian has said that “American School Libraries are crucial for the future of American youngsters”, which shows that this is a worldwide problem.

Compare to the other countries, Chinese library system is still under developed. The coverage of public libraries is still very low, the allocation is not even and the volume of documents is not enough. According to the statistics from 2004, there are 105 public children libraries, with a collection of 13 million books and 1.4 million newly-bought books. The annual expenditure on books is 23 million Yuan and the membership cards issued is 13 million. (Source: “Chinese Annual Statistics for Culture and Relics, 2005”, produced by Budgeting Department of Ministry of Culture, published by Beijing Library Press, 2005). And from the statistics above, it is obvious that we have a long way to go in the development of our country’s libraries before we catch the international standards.

Another part of children libraries is high school and primary school libraries. The following is a group of statistics from Ministry of Education: “Up to the end of 2002, 185264 primary schools from all over the country, have libraries with usable area of 89.09 million square footage, 1520963 reading rooms, 1.22 billion books, 7.6664 million pieces of e-books, 10.71 books per student”. (Source: “Chinese Annual Education Statistics 2004”, published by People’s Education Press, 2005). And from “High School and Primary School Library Regulations” published by Ministry of Education, the following is the standards for the volume of collection of books for the libraries: (Source: “The History and Current Status of Chinese High School and Primary School Libraries” by Shiyun Ji and Guojin Bing, from “The World of High School and Primary School Libraries”, the third edition, 2004”.



High School Senior

High School Junior

High School Primary


Classification A B A B A B A B

Average collection of books

(according to number of students) 45 30 50 35 40 25 30 15

Variety of Magazines 120 100 120 100 80 60 60 40

250 200 250 200 180 120 120 80

We are glad to see that the Ministry of Education has clearly regulated for the construction of high school and primary school libraries. But the regulations need to be enacted strictly. According to the investigations, the usage of the libraries is very limited in the daily school activities. To meet the requirement of the Ministry of Education, many schools have their own libraries, which are not used efficiently. The books in those libraries are mostly old. Especially the schools in the suburban areas, the renewal of the collections of the books is well below the standard. The construction of the children’s libraries is very important, but it is more crucial to utilize them efficiently.


2. The children’s libraries in children’s eyes.

Public children’s libraries and high school and primary school libraries are the reading spaces that adults create for the kid. But what do the kids think of their own libraries? Do they need libraries? What kind of libraries do they want? Through direct and indirect investigations, we have the answers for the above questions.


As for the public libraries outside of the school, most of kids said that they didn’t know where they are, or they had never been there; some of the kids said that they did know or heard of the libraries, but they are too far so they seldom went there. There are few kids who have the membership of the public libraries and go to the libraries regularly, but these groups of kids say that the libraries are their favorite places.


The school libraries are more familiar to the kids, and the kids have such impression on the school libraries as following:


The open time is too short and inconvenient, and it should be longer and adjusted to the students’ schedule.


There are not enough new books or good books. The libraries should purchase books according to the students’ interests and needs.


Library assistants are usually unkind. They hope the libraries have some part-time student assistants.


They hope the school can arrange special reading courses to guarantee the valid reading time for the students.


The libraries haven’t given enough instruction to the students. They should introduce the new books and good books to the students on a regular basis.


It is not quiet in the libraries. Everybody is chatting.


The library facilities are not good enough.


Those views of points are not comprehensive enough and may be subjective too. But they represent the children’s desire to read freely. The children’s reading needs atmosphere, and is easily influenced by the environment. An individual person who has a whole castle of books does not necessarily enjoy the reading, while the school libraries can create nice atmosphere for group reading. And this atmosphere is very important to stimulate the kid reading interest and cultivate the reading habit. In Taiwan, there is a “Reading for Children and Teenagers” in the recent years. They held programs as: training for reading guides, parent-child reading session, children’s reading meetings, children’s reading promotion and prizing, children’ reading presentation, archive of good books, reading skill instruction and construction of reading environment, etc. Those activities are playing a very important role in the promotion of children’s reading and the physical construction of the libraries.


The future of children’s libraries in China

The construction of the children’s libraries is not the only problem which affects the children’s reading, but it is closely related to it. At the mean time, we are glad to see that, on February 26, 2004, the State Department has issued “The Suggestions on Reinforcing and Improving the Youngsters Moral Education”. It mentioned that the libraries should “act as the base of education”, and that “the concerned parties should continue to promote the good books to the young people”. There is no doubt that reading the very important for the children to grow up healthily. And the libraries are the public facilities for children to be close to books. The more such public facilities are there, the better.


For the future of the construction of children’s libraries in China, the following should be done:

To speed up the legislation to rein and support the construction of the children libraries.

To try to get financial support to guarantee the construction of the libraries.

To accelerate the educational revolution, and give the children free reading time they deserve.

To reinforce the scientific research of children libraries and train the specialists.

To put an emphasis on the training of the librarians.

To advocate the construction of library culture among the children and try to raise a new generation of cultivated readers.


The construction of children libraries is the complicated problem with so many aspects. And the suggestions mentioned above are just individual opinions which are not perfect for sure. Actually, the key to this problem is to make clear the concept. If we realize the import significance of the children’s libraries, which get the kids closer to books, promote the children’s reading and promote the quality of the future generation’s citizens, we will try everything to change the current situation of the construction of children’s libraries and make the libraries the spiritual home of the children where they can read freely and grow up happily.


Author: Shuman Yu, Professor of Tianjin Normal University

Major Direction: Children’s Literature


Contact: E-mail yushm2005@sina.com