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.
In 1902 when the Imperial University of Peking was restored, its book collection building was able to find its site at the Harem in Jia He Princess's Mansion at Ma Shen Temple inside the Gate of Earthly Peace, yet it was poorly furnished. After the Revolution of 1911, the Imperial University of Peking was renamed Peking University, and the Book Depository Building of the Imperial University of Peking changed into Peking University Library. The Book Depository Building of Foreign Languages was newly built at the west end of the library building, and Chinese Reading Room is inside the original building.
In October 1918, under the directorship of Li Dazhao, the Library moved to the first floor of the Red Building at Sha Tan, together with two affiliated libraries. This Red Building was not designed for a library with its layout unsuitable for book collections. But the library benefited from this move, because it was expanded to six reading rooms and over twenty bookshelves, which improved the teaching facilities of the university.
With the rapid development and the growing prestige of the university, it was widely appealed by teachers and students alike that a new library building should be constructed.
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.
August 1935 saw the completion of the new library building and the opening to readership. This started the Library's journey toward owning a relatively independent and modernized building. The new library had a built-up 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. Yenching University Library was built in 1926 and its floor area amounted to over 3000 ㎡. Its outward architectural style resembled that of Pavilion of the Imperial Library in the Forbidden City. Inside the library, it was more westernized and modern. There was a void structure between the ground floor and the first floor. It was altogether four storeys high, with a capacity to store over 300 thousand books. The ground floor was a Reading Room with an accommodation of over 260 people. According to An Introduction to Yenching University Library: "The building was immense in its capacity, and yet the architectural design was inadequate for a library, so it was large but impractical." The Yenching University Library met the demand for Yenching University after a fashion. However, with the merging and the incorporation of two universities, there were over 1.6 million books, and Peking University library suffered the inadequacy of space. In order to cope with this problem, the library was divided, with large quantities of books moved and stored up in many other places, such as the top floor of Wenshi Building and the attics of various high-domed architectures surrounding the Weiming Lake. There were many reading rooms in different teaching areas on campus. A new library building was at once everybody's vision, and this even attracted attention from Premiere Zhou Enlai who upon his visit to the library suggested:“There should be a decent library for Peking University.” The plan of building a new library was approved by the government, but, unfortunately, the vision failed to actualize due to political movements and various other reasons.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.
It was only until 1971 when the construction of the new library was approved by related departments of the State Council and Beijing Municipal. With sustained effort, a new library building rose in 1975. The new library was a comprehensive university library, consisting of the main stack rooms, the auxiliary stack rooms, the reading rooms, the study rooms and work-related offices. Its features included storage, reading, cashier, book retrieval and other aspects of the internal business. The overall floor area amounted to 24,813 square meters, of which the stack room occupied 11,059 square meters with a capacity for 3.5-3.6 million books. The first four floors were areas open to readers for reading and borrowing. There were altogether 31 reading rooms with 2400 seats, covering areas up to 5324 square meters. The former design of the building was shaped like a Chinese character “田”, but auxiliary stack rooms at the west end of the building were removed from the construction, and the final appearance was shaped like a Chinese character “出”. The layout was still modeled on traditional library architectural structures with the middle areas serving as stack rooms and the surrounding areas as reading rooms (two floors of stack rooms correspond to one floor of reading rooms) The stack rooms were built with reinforced concrete structures, and the reading rooms as well as office areas were built of brick and concrete structures. There were three entrances into the library from the east, the south and the north, with the east gate first as the front entrance. Upon completion, it easily topped its counterparts in the country with the largest floor area and the best facilities, exerting an influence upon the national librarianship, a model to be imitated by some other libraries in China. The completion of this new building significantly improved the condition of storage as well as the checkout of the books, empowered the teaching and research of the university, and laid the foundation for the recovery and development of the Library after the Cultural Revolution.
After the kick-off of 211 Project, the mid 1990s witnessed the rapid development of the research and teaching of the university. With a yearly growing readership, the number of book collections rose higher and higher. In comparison, the library building became apparently backward both spatially and functionally. The urgent demand for a world-class library was becoming a prominent issue. With joint efforts from all sides, in 1998 when the university was celebrating the first centenary of its birth, another new library building was completed, thanks to the donation from the Hong Kong industrialist Mr. Li Ka-shing. This library building was designed by Architecture Design Institute, with Guan Kinye(关肇邺), the academician from Chinese Academy of Engineering, taking up the role as the chief designer. This new library building is a harmonious mixture between its modernized spirit and the traditional architectural style of Peking University, perfectly blending itself with surrounding architectures while never failing to be distinguished by its own outstanding characteristics. The overall height of the building is 37 meters, with seven storeys above the ground and two underground floors, the total floor area amounting to 26,680 square meters. Consisting of a main building and two auxiliary buildings, the west side of the new construction joins the old building of the east side. The old and the new blend themselves into an integrated whole from the first to the fourth floor, complementing each other, which significantly improves the condition for reading as well as for daily management. The new library building is equipped with facilities that provide the heating system in the winter and the central air-conditioning in the summer, constantly adjusting itself to weather changes, which created a comfortable reading and working environment for readers and staff while reducing carbon emission. With the completion of the new library, there is an additional capacity for 3 million books and 2000 seats, greatly enhancing the reading and working condition of the library, which is acclaimed by students and staff alike.
After the completion of the new library, the old library building appeared outmoded and obsolete whose layout could no longer meet the demand of a modern university, not to mention its massive potential safety hazard. With the support of the Ministry of Education, the old library building was renovated and repaired on a large scale from May 2004 to July 2005. The original layout of the building was also properly transformed from closed and narrow space of long corridors and small rooms to some comprehensively open areas for better reader services. One of the major changes was the building of a glass dome at the top of the former open-air patio on the south side of the library building, turning it into a sunny lobby with multiple functions ranging from retrieval, book circulations, informational services and card management. At the same time, the library was renovated from inside out, in order to improve upon its condition of power supply, water system, lighting, network, air-conditioning, fire control and other aspects. After the transformation, the floor area of the library gained an additional floor area of 1385 square meters. Up to now, the overall floor area of the whole library reached 52878 square meters.
In 2000, the former library of Beijing Chemical University was incorporated into Peking University Library. The floor area of Chemical Library is 10,200 square meters, with 744 seats. 2009 saw the completion of the remote depository library building at Changping District, the floor area of which amounted to 4952 square meters with 150 seats. Taking into account of other thirty branch libraries with the floor area of 1700 square meters, the total floor area of Peking University Library reached 85,000 square meters, with a capacity to store 8 million books and the overall seats of nearly 5000, making it the largest library with the highest number of book collections across Asia.