Overview & History

For the past hundred years the Library has undergone various phases of its development, including the difficult years after its founding, the period of the New Culture Movement marked by a lively concurrence of thoughts and ideas, the tough ordeals during the days of the Southwest Associated Universities, and the fast developing stage made possible by the policy of opening to the world.

The Library’s collection has been expanding, its facilities ever in the process of being improved, and its acquisitions of new equipment and technology always being up to date. All this has made the Library an age-old yet modern Chinese library with magnitude in every aspect, winning an international reputation as one of the most important and best managed libraries in the country.

The very edifice of Peking University Library chronicles the dedication and pursuit of generations of its staff, its shape being the perennial embodiment of our dreams and wishes. The past hundred years will go down in history with our proud achievements, and the future years will prove that our visions and efforts will not turn futile.

I: The collection of books: the effort of a century, the rewarding magnitude

A library stores the books that store its soul. With the effort of many generations of our staff to collect books, Peking University Library becomes the owner of a first-rate collection of books, not only in China but also in the world. There have been periods in the past when the Library enjoyed steady supplies of fund, which enabled the Library to expand itself at a fast pace.

In early 1917, Cai Yuanpei(蔡元培) became President of Peking University. He paid particular attention to the growth of the Library, going all out to raise fund for it. From 1918 to 1922, with Li Dazhao(李大钊) as its Chief Librarian, the Library expanded its collection at the rate of 10 thousand books a year.

In December 1930, Jiang Menglin(蒋梦麟) stepped in as President of the University. He set aside one fifth of the entire university expenditure for the purchase of books and apparatuses for the Library, making possible another fast developing period. This golden phase, however, was forced to a standstill by the full-scale break of the Anti-Japanese War in 1937.

Between 1946 and 1949 the Library’s collection enjoyed yet one more expansion, making it the second largest library of the nation next to Peking Library only.

The year 1999 marked the inauguration of Peking University’s agenda for itself to be ranked among the first rate universities in the world. Under the auspice of this undertaking, the Library has seen an unprecedented increase in its fund, which has guaranteed the regular acquisition of most academic books and journals published in China and the increased subscription of foreign journals. In addition, a large collection of such new media as the imported CD-ROMs and databases has found its way into the Library, setting the Library on the track of a still faster development.

II: Library Buildings

A library's building bears directly on its collections and reader service. Spacious library rooms and modernized facilities always remain one of the material conditions for a good library. For the past hundred years the Library has seen its site change more than once, marking a journey from scarcity to amplitude, from narrow spaces to magnitude, and from tradition to modernization.

As the predecessor of Peking University, the Imperial University of Peking was the product of Constitutional Reform and Modernization of 1898, with Emperor Guang Xu(光绪) issuing the mandate for its foundation. Because of the corruption of the Qing court, however, social and political situations had remained unstable, and it was not until 1902 when the Imperial University of Peking was restored that its book collection building was able to find its site at the Harem in Jia He Princess's Mansion(和嘉公主府) at Ma Shen Temple(马神庙) inside the Gate of Earthly Peace.

Peking University Library's journey through the different sites can be roughly divided into 5 important periods:

In October 1918, under the directorship of Li Dazhao(李大钊), the Library moved to the first floor of the Red Building at Sha Tan(沙滩红楼), together with two affiliated libraries. The Library's condition benefited from this move. Meanwhile, plans had been made to raise funds from domestic and overseas sources so that a new library building might be built.

September 1935 saw the completion of the new library building as well as its opening to readership. This started the Library's journey toward owning a relatively independent and modernized building. The new library had a floor area of up to 6,600㎡, with a capacity for three hundred thousand books. Its facilities and the technology it adopted were up-to-date, making it a first-rate library in the country then. The building of the new library enlarged the Library's openness to readership, its general layout more proper, lending itself to modernized management, and thus paving way for future development in material conditions.

With the nationwide restructuring of schools and disciplines in 1952, Peking University Library moved to Yenching University Campus, the Library of the latter school incorporated into the former. As a result of this reshuffling, the site of the former Yenching University Library became the new main library of Peking University. But due to the limited space of the Yenching library, and with the incorporation of its books, Peking University library suffered the inadequacy of space. A new library building was at once everybody's vision, and this even attracted attention from Premiere Zhou Enlai(周恩来), but unfortunately the vision failed to actualize due to various reasons.

In 1970s, Peking University Library was handicapped by a dire limitation of useable space, its books stored in 15 separate places, making it difficult for the staff to run the Library and for readers to check out books. With sustained effort, a new library building rose in 1975, with an overall floor area of over 24,000㎡ and 2,400 seats, and with a capacity for 3.6 million books, easily topping its counterparts in the country with the largest floor area and the best facilities. The completion of this new building laid the foundation for the recovery and development of the Library after the Cultural Revolution.

In 1998 when the University was celebrating its first centenary, another new library building was completed, thanks to the donation from the Hong Kong industrialist Mr. Li Ka-shing(李嘉诚). This new building was designed with an outlook onto the future, accommodating modern computer and network technologies. It was impeccably connected to the old one, increasing the overall floor area to as large as 53,000㎡, making Peking University Library the largest one among Asian universities, which served as a backbone for the university's effort to build the first-rate university in the world. After the rise of the new building, the Library has enjoyed a rapid development in network electronic resources and reader service.

III: Running the Library: Learning from the West and Keeping the Chinese Identity

Upon the founding of the Imperial University of Peking, Liang Qichao(梁启超) sketched The Principles of the Imperial University of Peking on behalf of the government. In these principles, he proposed: "The book collection building is established to gather important books from home and abroad, for the benefit of all kinds of readers and for a broad display of the ways and spirit of the world." This meant that both in the coverage of literature and in scope of readership, the Library would differ from traditional book collection buildings. The new building would not only shelf western books, but would also be modeled on modern western libraries in management and organization.

Peking University Library's journey of the century mirrors the road Chinese libraries have taken from tradition to modernity. The journey has undergone the phases of learning from the west, independent development, and the further growth with unique national characteristics.

Upon the completion of the Book Depository building of the Imperial University of Peking, rules and regulations were made, covering the areas of the staff members' duties and responsibilities, the ways to collect and manage books, and fines and penalties, etc. These measures showed the Library's assimilation of the ways of the modern western libraries, a pioneering act not only in the Library's own history, but an exemplary undertaking as well for other libraries at home.

In the early years of the nationalist government, maladministration plagued the Library, resulting in a severe loss of books.

From 1918 to 1922, Li Dazhao(李大钊) became Chief Librarian of the Library. During his tenure, he made major adjustment in the Library's management. Among the first matters on his agenda was the first set of working principles, Regulations for implementation in the Library Section of the Office of General Affairs, Peking University. Next, he made adjustment in the organizing structures in the Library, making it more adaptable to the ways of a modern library. Besides, he made a point of learning from the overseas libraries in cataloguing, book acquisition, and book loans. In cataloguing, he adopted Dewey's Decimal Classification System with slight alternations.

Yuan Tongli(袁同礼) stepped in as Chief Librarian of Peking University Library in 1923 and stayed in office for 3 years. During this period, Yuan was bent on adopting new managing methods of the w est for rectification of the Library's problems. The overstocked western books were put in order, and new catalogues of collection were compiled. With Mao Zhun(毛准) as Chief Librarian from 1931, various catalogues were made, such as The Catalogue of National Peking University Library and The Catalogue of Rare Books of National Peking University Library.

In 1935, the Library formally adopted Pi Gaopin's The Decimal System of Cataloging for Chinese Books and had held onto it until 1975, when the Library turned to the Cataloguing Method for Chinese Books. A year after the Library moved to its new site in 1935, the Library finally came up with a comprehensive card-cataloguing system that covered the entire collection of books in the Library. 3 sets of catalogues were made for Chinese and western books, defined by title, authorship, and subject. The year 1936 saw the birth of The Catalogue of Books of the National Peking University Library and The Catalogue of Journals of the National Peking University Library. Starting from 1947, the Library began compiling The Monthly Catalogues of Chinese, Japanese, and Western Books of the National Peking University Library.

With the restructuring of schools and disciplines in 1952, Yenching University Library was incorporated into Peking University Library, and consequently the combined library was reorganized and new rules for cataloguing were made. The Chinese books followed Pi Gaopin's The Decimal System of Cataloguing for Chinese Books, and the western books still held on to Dewey's Decimal Classification System that the Yenching library had used. The years from 1954 to 1957 saw the successive completions of Rules for Chinese Cataloguing, Rules for Cataloging of Western Books, Rules for Cataloguing of Russian Books, Rules for Cataloguing of Journals, and The Handbook for Acquisitions, etc. It's worthwhile to mention that the Library had followed Yenching University Library's practice and relied on Library of Congress Subject Headings with an interruption of only a few years during the Cultural Revolution, thus ensuring the survival of the most perfect thematic catalogue of western books in the country.

IV: Services: Passivity to Activeness; Crudeness to Perfection

A core task of a modern library is to provide a rich variety of literature to its readers. In the past hundred years, the Library's readers have experienced its services from crude, passive, and closed forms to today's all-round, active, and open ways.

In the early days of the Book Depository of the Imperial University of Peking, book circulation was conducted in closed form. Each year, all books and journals had to be returned to the Library before summer vacation.

In early nationalist years, Chinese reading rooms and western language reading rooms were established, operated under the Rules for Library Reading Rooms. The Library's main task, though, is book storage, with short open hours and an inadequate and inconvenient catalogue.

During his tenure as Chief Librarian from 1918 to 1922, Li Dazhao(李大钊) made it a point to back up the educational reforms of the University. Concrete measure were taken, such as increasing copies of course reserves, prolonging the opening hours, and setting aside teachers' reading rooms. New books were introduced to faculties of Peking University Daily, and displays of books and journals were often held. Besides, Li Dazhao(李大钊) also put forward the idea of open-shelf circulation, only to drop it for the lack of necessary conditions in the Library.

In 1931, Mao Zhun(毛准) became Chief Librarian of the Library and he at once organized the move to the new temporary site at Song Gong Mansion(嵩公府). This period witnessed a fair rise of standard in services, with increased flexibility and care.

Upon completion of the new building in 1935, library hours were prolonged, hitting 76 hours a week, with an increase in new service items. 24 research rooms were opened and Inter-Library Loan became possible.

After the nationwide university restructuring in 1952, three main circulation service counters were established with the Yenching library as the center. Reading room seats were increased to as many as 1,700. By the end of 1950s, circulation service counters had been increased to eight, thus magnifying the scale of the reader service. As to ways of service, more help for students was given, while service for teachers was enriched and strengthened with special circulation counters established for them, as well as special reading rooms.

After the Cultural Revolution, the Library re-adjusted its service systems, taking the lead among China's university libraries in the experiment in open-shelf circulation. In 1984 the Library set it as its task to increase the rate of open circulation to over 70%. By the end of 1980s the open-shelf circulation had managed to handle over 0.5 million books. The idea of 3-front collections were raised as the way to reorganize the Library's collections: the forefront collection was for open-shelf circulation; the second front for basic storage and main circulation counters; and the third front for copies, rare books, and old newspapers, etc. The Library also aimed to gradually build information service system with disciplinary literature as its main content. Reference and consultative works were also offered in various specialized reading rooms, and secondary documentation was also made to reveal the Library collections. In 1984 the Library again took the lead among China's university libraries in establishing the computer-networked information retrieving section. "Peking University Collections" was established in 1988, together with information centers especially devoted to American, Russian, and Canadian items. Microfilms were made to record the Library's rare collections and so to facilitate their storage and the reader's access to them.

Today, a new chapter in the Library's reader service has been opened. With the new library building and the network technology made possible by modern technology, the reading environment has been further improved. More space has proved fruitful in the number of collected literature, in the largeness of the open areas, and in reading seats, etc. Besides book-form documents, the Library has also obtained a large number of domestic and foreign databases, overshadowing all other university libraries in China. The Library provided BBS forums for its readers, making interactions possible, and using it as the means for reader consultation and training. With a view to revealing its collections and to enhance its readers' ability to retrieve and utilize its resources, the Library has organized "one hour lectures" once in a while, a favorite among the readers.

V: Building up the Competence of the Staff: High-level Professionals

One key to a good library is the high level of competence of the staff running it. With ordeals and lessons learned during the past century the Library has found a set of workable ways in building its staff force.

When the Imperial University of Peking was first founded, the directors of the Library were officially nominated. Those who handled the day-to-day management affairs were mainly engaged in such works as book circulation and registration, a far cry from what a modern librarian is supposed to do.

In the early years of the nationalist government, most of the Library staff were those who had worked in the old Book Depository building. With their ignorance in foreign languages, many foreign books were left un-catalogued.

With Li Dazhao(李大钊) assuming office in 1918, new professional demand was put forward for the existing staff members, while open recruitment was conducted through the means of exams. University students with a good academic performance were invited as "TA type" staff members. All this enabled the gradual formation of a staff force with professional competence. In 1923, Yuan Tongli(袁同礼) was appointed as the Chief Librarian. As one of China's first group of librarians with professional knowledge in library science, he was keen on improvement of the capabilities of the staff members. In 1929, Ma Heng(马衡) succeeded him. To show the importance he attached to human resource, Ma invited the undergraduate library science majors from Wen Hua University of Wu Chang to help put in order the overstocked western books. This, of course, also showed the Library's lack of competent personnel. With the incorporation of Yenching University Library into Peking University Library in 1952, new professional staff were added, among whom was Deputy Chief Librarian Liang Sizhuang(梁思庄), who graduated from Columbia University, USA with a master's degree in library science and with accomplishment in western books cataloguing.

After the Cultural Revolution, the Library tried its best to fix the disordered situation in personnel management caused by the revolutionary years. A diversity of channels was opened to recruit competent personnel, with the view to meeting the need for different academic disciplines. Those on their posts in the Library were encouraged to train themselves and enhance their ability by going abroad to further education.

Today, a staff force is on the formation that possesses professional competence and proficiency in modern library knowledge. Now members on the Library staff hold the following academic degrees: 14 Ph.D、72 MA、66 BA and 78  other certificates.

VI: Exploration: Carrying on the Tradition for Future Growth

In the history of Peking University Library, such famous scholars as Zhang Shizhao(章士钊), Yuan Tongli(袁同礼), Ma Heng(马衡), Mao Zhun(毛准), and Xiang Da(向达) headed the Library as Chief Librarians, while other well-known scholars also played key roles in the Library, such as Qian Xuantong(钱玄同) and Gu Jiegang(顾颉刚). This starry heritage has enabled the Library to follow the research-oriented tradition. While offering due service to its readership, the Library has also committed itself to research and exploration, winning praise and respect for the Librarian.

Endowed with rich collections, the Library has devoted its effort in exploration and display of the hidden treasures. Besides compiling book-form catalogues of its collections, the Library also takes to publishing the documentations of its rare materials, such as Peking University Library's Collected Drafts Series and Collection of Rubbings of Peking University Library.

In order to provide guidance for libraries to spend their limited amount of fund on excellent journals, Peking University Library compiled A Bibliographical Survey of Core Chinese Journals and A Bibliographical Survey of Core Foreign Journals, handbooks that enjoy an authoritative reputation and are used as important bases for granting academic titles.

To facilitate scholarly research, the Library also compiled Index to Analects of Confucius, Index to Mencius, Index to I-Ching and other indexes to classical works. These have won honor for the Library.

Besides service, the Library staff members also make their efforts on related research, enabling the two areas of work to complement each other. The Library has always distinguished itself in research and practice in automation among China's university libraries. As early as 1979, the Library founded a research group in the area of automation. Starting from 1980, corporation was on the way between the Library and China Science Academy Library and six other organizations in research and experiment in MARC. The first batch of small-scale computers was installed in Peking University Library in 1986, and in 1990 the initial implementation of the automatic system was accomplished in the Library.

The past hundred years have left the Library with diverse collections and valuable experiences. It’s reasonable to say that Peking University Library has survived the ordeals of a century and established itself as a towering stronghold among academic libraries in China. Facing the new challenges and opportunities, we are more confident to enhance the Library to a new level. The splendors in the past will spur us forward, so that we will live up to our mission and write new chapters in the Library’s history. The forerunners have had their day; it’s up to us to glorify ours.