Community libraries flourish, bringing books to the doorstep

Chen Huizhi
Jiading District's "Home Study" program encourages reading by making access to books convenient and comfortable.
Chen Huizhi
Community libraries flourish, bringing books to the doorstep
Ti Gong

The "Home Study" community library at Godsend Villa, a residential complex in Juyuan New Area, Jiading District.

Books for knowledge. Books for entertainment. Books for self-improvement. Books for escapism. Books for children. Whatever your choice, Jiading District brings reading to the doorstep of communities.

Since 2017, Jiading has been establishing community libraries under the "Home Study" program, taking books closer to where people live and work. In addition to books on the shelves, borrowers can order books from district, subdistrict and town libraries and receive them in the community.

The district's goal is to encourage more reading among its 1.6 million residents. All too often, those wanting to use a library were finding one too far away to be convenient.

Community libraries tap help from local people and businesses. In some cases, local companies provide space rent-free and pay utilities, leaving local government to foot the bill for interior decoration.

Community volunteers often provide staffing for the local libraries.

"The diversification of assistance enables us to meet the needs of residents, both in design of the space and service programs," said Huang Ying, director of Jiading District Library.

If you enter the community library in Nanxiang Old Town, you will be charmed by the harmonious, welcoming décor. It is located adjacent to a picturesque Chinese pavilion, with a stone bridge spanning a creek of emerald waters.

Of all community libraries of the district, this is one of the most unique because it abuts the famous Tanyuan Garden, which was the private garden of Li Liufang, a scholar in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

The library, opened in 2018, is housed on the first floor of a two-story building in the ancient Chinese style. Its catalogue features 4,100 Chinese picture books.

Apart from a stylish and comfortable reading environment, the operator of the library, Shanghai YYCW, also hosts book parties, lectures and other social activities for readers. Everything is free of charge.

"As a company registered in Nanxiang Town, we take inspiration from the rich cultural history of the town and give back to the community through this library project," said Zhao Hui, director of the company.

Gao Yinhu, vice director of the Culture and Sports Service Center of Nanxiang Town, which has five such community libraries, said more businesses are realizing the value of supporting such projects.

"Together, we're making our community more attractive, which draws more investors from all segments of the economy," he said.

One of two community libraries in Jiading Industrial Zone occupies part of the local branch of the Shanghai Rural Commercial Bank on Yumin Road.

After an upgrade that reduced the bank's business area, the lender offered part of the first floor and the second floor free of charge to create a community library. It is the first and only public library operated in a bank in Shanghai.

Zhang Bo, 42, mother of 11-year-old twins, staffs the library. She is an experienced community events organizer with expertise in children's books and teenage problems.

"I kept asking myself, 'What can this community library do for children?'" she said.

The spacious library is divided into sections for different age groups. Kindergarten kids can change into slippers and comfortably read on soft cushions, while older children can explore the fun of reading while sitting on steps.

Zhang works with volunteers to provide more content for their readers of all age groups. Experienced instructors are available to teach children how to read and share their expertise with parents. Professionals from all walks of life give periodic talks to interested residents.

Some time ago, Zhang said she noticed a girl, possibly a middle school junior, who often came to the library after school by herself. The girl took books from the shelves and did her homework at the library, but she never talked to anyone.

Zhang befriended the girl and learned she came from a family of divorced parents. She was living with her father and grandparents, but her father was rarely home and she had trouble communicating with her grandparents.

Zhang and fellow volunteers stepped into the breach, accompanying her at the library after school every day. They became her "family away from home."

That, Zhang said, is true community spirit.

The community library at Godsend Villa, a residential complex developed by Greenland Group in Juyuan New Area, was one of the first community libraries in Jiading and is entirely run by volunteers. Residents can apply to hold local events at the library.

Xing Lin, a mother of two, has been organizing children's book parties with other parents at the community libraries since March 2019.

"We have received a lot of support from the libraries, including professional instructions on helping children read," said the former journalist and marketer. "Our events have introduced more families to the wonderful experience of libraries."

Community libraries in the district operate under the banner of "Home Study" – a name proposed by Zhang Zhiping, an official at Jiading District Experimental Kindergarten and a reading advocate.

"These libraries are places where people can freely read and learn, a home away from home," she said. "Although we are in the digital age, books are still a part of life for many people."

The 30 "Home Study" sites in Jiading District have 170,000 books on their shelves. The libraries register about 1.7 million visits every year, increasing overall library visits of the district by over 30 percent.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the community libraries operated 24/7, with community security patrols on duty overnight. Currently, the libraries are open from 8am to 8pm.

What users of "Home Studies" say

Xu Yanjing, 35, patron of the library on Gonghe Street in Nanxiang Town:

"I live in a neighboring town and discovered this library purely by chance in 2019 when I visited Nanxiang as a tourist. It's an ideal escape for people with young children at home. Soft music from the Tanyuan Garden behind the library is wonderful. I especially enjoy the weekend lectures on traditional Chinese culture and literature, and I often bring my family here to have a cup of tea."

Community libraries flourish, bringing books to the doorstep
Ti Gong

Xu Yanjing (left) at the "Home Study" in the old town of Nanxiang.

Jadda Feng, 37, patron of the library on Yumin Road in Jiading Industrial Zone:

"This library is within a 10-minute walk from my home. It's clean, quiet and well ventilated. It's not stifling like many other libraries that are too crowded. This makes it feel more like home. Free drinking water is available all day long. The presence of the community library makes life here more attractive."

Community libraries flourish, bringing books to the doorstep
Ti Gong

Jadda Feng (left) at the "Home Study" on Yumin Road in Jiading Industrial Zone. 

Zhang Yonghong, 54, and grandson Zhang Jiayu, 6, patrons of the library on Yumin Road:

"It's important for children at his age to have an interest in books and knowledge. My grandson plays chess, enjoys learning handicrafts and loves nature and literature. Here he can find it all. It helps him learn respect for other people and public institutions like libraries. Don't make noise or drink water over books, I always remind him."

Community libraries flourish, bringing books to the doorstep
Ti Gong

Zhang Yonghong (right) and her grandson Zhang Jiayu at the "Home Study" on Yumin Road in Jiading Industrial Zone.

The locations of the 30 "Home Study" community libraries in Jiading:

In Anting Town:

1/F, V-Office, 155 Anzhi Rd

5616 Cao'an Highway

4811 Cao'an Highway

4229 Bao'an Highway

In Jiading New City (Malu Town):

50 Hongde Rd

1499 Shuangdan Rd

1090 Defu Rd

491 Beichen Rd

28 Dazhi Rd

1288 Yumin Rd

In Nanxiang Town:

2/F, Anju Shidai Guangchang, Lane 1227, Yinxiang Rd

Mingshiju, 28 Gonghe St

Bldg 6, Zone A, 1188 Huyi Highway

3168 Fengxiang Rd

2/F, East Community Center, 160 Baoxiang Rd

In Jiangqiao Town:

1/F, Bldg 3, 1078 Huajiang Rd

In Xuhang Town:

Lane 700, Qiyue Rd

In Waigang Town:

2/F, Waigang Community Center, 386 Hengrong Rd

In Huating Town:

3198 Jiahang Highway

In Jiading Town Subdistrict:

3/F, 55 Bole Rd

North of No. 40, Lane 34, Qinghe Rd

In Xincheng Road Subdistrict:

2/F, 638 Yingyuan Rd M.

In Zhenxin Subdistrict:

1618 Cao'an Highway

No. 128, Lane 480, Fengzhuang Rd N.

In Jiading Industrial Zone:

1818 Chengbei Rd

358 Yumin Rd

In Juyuan New Area:

Rm 101, No. 109, Lane 169, Jiatang Highway

1/F, 355 Chenjiashan Rd

108 Qiuzhu Rd

No. 41, Lane 801, Qiuzhu Rd

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