By the end of 2003, China had 2,709 public libraries with a collection of 430 million copies.
The National Library of China, with a collection of about 25 million volumes, is a world-class library and the largest library in Asia. The library not only has the largest collection of Chinese books in the world, but also the biggest collection of materials in foreign languages in the country, accounting for nearly 50 percent of the library's collection. Adjacent to the Purple Bamboo Park in the western part of Beijing, the library has three stories below ground and 19 stories above ground. In the library's collection are over 3,500 ancient inscribed bones and tortoise shells, 1.6 million volumes of traditional thread-bound books, over 1,000 volumes of documents from Dunhuang Grottoes, 12 million volumes of foreign-language books and magazines, and dozens of electronic databases. The library started to accept the submissions of official national publications in 1916, and became the main national database. It began to accept submissions of domestic electronic publications in 1987. It is also the country's ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) and Network Information Center. At present, the National Library of China has formed a digital library alliance with some 90 other libraries around the country, making joint efforts in promoting the development and application of China's digital public information service.
The Shanghai Library is China's largest provincial-level library. Of its collection, the over 1.7 million volumes of ancient documents are the most valuable, including 178,000 volumes of rare ancient books of 25,000 titles, many being the only copies extant in the world. The oldest document dates back 1,487 years.
Of the university or college libraries, the collections of the Peking University and Wuhan University libraries lead the nation. The national network of libraries also includes scientific research institution libraries, trade union libraries, and the libraries and reading rooms attached to government institutions, army units, primary and secondary schools, townships, enterprises and local communities.