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In search of China's forgotten libraries
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08:57, June 23, 2009

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It's like the best-kept secret in Muxidi, Xicheng District of Beijing.

"Library? We don't have one here," said a shoemaker, who kindly pointed to a shabby bookstore at the corner of the street and asked if the Global Times reporter was looking for books.

A few middle-aged women sitting around him had never heard of the library either. The library, 20 meters across the street, is in the basement of a community school.

"It's been open almost two years," said Zhang Xinjing, the sole librarian at the 55-square-meter, three-room library with reception desk, reading room and open-shelf area.

Readers take a nap in a rest area at the National Library of China on the afternoon of May 31.

People rarely come here, and anyway, it's mostly locked. If a reader arrives, one has to go upstairs and try to find Zhang, who spends more of her time with other teachers in their office.

"Readers don't come here," said Zhang. "They think our collection is poor when compared to bigger libraries like the Xicheng District Library."

A branch of Xicheng District Library, this community library has more than 3,000 books, mainly fiction, she said. Every week she receives two packs of new books – about 15 volumes – from Xicheng, which makes purchases for all its branches. Last year's magazines and last month's newspapers decorate the reception desk. No CDs, DVDs or videotapes are available.

"The readership is increasing slowly, bit by bit," Zhang told the reporter, the only visitor on a Tuesday morning.
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