A library is more than just a stack of books

Yang Meiping
The east branch of Shanghai Library will be “a study, a living room and a studio” for every citizen.
Yang Meiping

AS the construction work on the east branch of Shanghai Library in Pudong New Area gets underway, people are counting down the 1,005 days to see a new landmark in the city.

Looking at the artist’s renditions, you can imagine how enjoyable it will be to sit and read in the spacious building and see unobstructed panoramic views of the sky and Century Park through its facade of clear, insulated and fritted glass.

Its charm is not just the landscape, but more importantly its service. The library authorities say the new branch will not be merely a place for storing and reading books, but a place where people will gather and socialize.

Unlike Shanghai Library, which opens only about 20 percent of its area to the public, all the seven floors on the ground of the new branch will be accessible to readers with about 4.8 million books on shelves in the open areas and in digital versions. Reading lovers will definitely be impressed as there will be individual reading seats and special areas for reading clubs.

Besides traditional desks and chairs, there are also various types of sofas so that visitors can sit as leisurely as they do at home. Special areas and meeting rooms will also be set up for discussions, meetings or other interactive activities.

For everyone

Chen Chao, the curator of Shanghai Library, said it will be “a study, a living room and a studio” for every citizen.

It will be inclusive enough to serve all kinds of readers, including children, the disabled and elderly. Parents need no longer hesitate to bring children to library in fear that they might interrupt adult readers. Instead, all members of a family could find a place there to stay whole day long.

There will be a special area for children on the first floor with books for different age groups, including picture books for preschool kids, and parent-child activities will also be organized.

Innovators will also find it an ideal place where they can seek knowledge from books and use advanced facilities.

Knowledge and culture no longer remain on the paper of the books. They come in various forms, such as films, performance, lectures and in-person experiencing activities such as painting and singing.

Special designs will make it convenient for disabled and elderly people. For example, there will be computers with special software for visually impaired readers to hear digital books. Books will also be put on the upper levels of the shelves so that senior people don’t have to bend down.

The design puts to rest the dispute about whether it’s necessary to build such a large physical library in the digital era.

Cultivating reading habits

It is exactly what Shanghai needs in its efforts to build itself into an international cultural metropolis.

It would be ironic if a city called itself a cultural metropolis while its citizens do not read. Reading is important for knowledge and cultural inheritance and modern libraries should not only provide enough books, but also cultivate reading habits among them and encourage them to love reading.

It’s just like the question whether physical book stores are necessary. Actually, many book stores survive well with services meeting readers’ demands, such as beautiful decorations, comfortable environments and interesting activities.

With economic development, Chinese people’s cultural consumption has upgraded from quiet reading alone. Actually, for many people, reading is not only a way of study, but also a way of life. Their needs are also diverse — they want an aesthetic setting, convenient service and a cool environment.

The east branch of Shanghai Library has taken the first step to meet such demands with its design, which will attract people to walk right in. The library must ensure it provides enough activities for people to enjoy their stay and then love it as a comprehensive cultural space, not just stacks of books.

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