91-year-old librarian brings books, knowledge to villagers in remote mountains of SW China’s Yunnan

(People's Daily Online) 16:02, July 22, 2022

Ma Dejing works in the Qiluo Library in Qiluo neighborhood, Tengchong city, southwest China’s Yunnan Province. (Photo/Hu Changjiao)

For many years, a rural library in Tengchong city, southwest China’s Yunnan Province has maintained the tradition of inviting retirees in the locality to help offer library services.

Ma Dejing, born in 1931, became a volunteer at the Qiluo Library in 1987 after she retired from being a volunteer teacher at schools located in remote mountains in the province.

Ma also helped build the library with money collected through fundraising, while at the same time taking up various duties such as purchasing and arranging books, assigning documentation numbers for them, putting them on shelves and lending services.

“I have two homes. The first one is the old apartment in which I have lived for 60 years, and the second one is the library,” said the 91-year-old, who has volunteered at the library for 35 years.

Ma Dejing’s father, Ma Shoushan, was a founder of the Qiluo Library, which was established under the influence of China’s New Culture Movement that started in 1919.

Ma has many happy memories of the library as a young girl. “During that time, the library made a lot of facilities available for the readers, such as a pedal accordion, a mimeographing machine, specimens of animals and plants, and other items,” said Ma.

Between 1951 and 1987, Ma was a volunteer teacher at schools located in remote mountains in Yunnan. She tutored students who had fallen behind academically, and bought books and school supplies for some underprivileged students with her own money.

After she retired in 1987, Ma became a volunteer librarian in the Qiluo Library. At that time, the library was in urgent need of expansion as it was unable to house the increasing number of books and due to the fact that it was unable to meet the local villagers' reading needs.

To raise funds for the library’s reconstruction, Ma wrote and printed over 500 letters and sent them to relevant departments and personnel who were concerned about the library’s development. Soon after that, she received cash donations and books from various parties. With the cash donations, the construction of the new library was quickly launched.

The local villagers also did their best to support the library by making cash donations, helping with the construction, and donating their own books.

“One day, a grandma donated 0.88 yuan ($0.13) she had earned by selling vegetables earlier that day,” Ma recalled, adding that “I’ve written down all these heartwarming stories so that future generations can see how much importance the local people have attached to reading.”

At present, the library is home to over 30,000 books and receives more than 6,000 readers annually. According to estimates, more than 70 retirees have worked as volunteer librarians since the library was rebuilt in 1990.

During her time working at the library, Ma was always the first one to get to work. In addition to arranging the books and cleaning the reading rooms, she also meticulously tended the flowers and grass in the courtyard of the library. The local villagers all attributed the pleasant environment provided by the library to Ma’s diligent efforts.

To improve the library’s inefficient catalogue system, Ma learned how to manage books at a library in the county seat. She then applied the knowledge she had gained to efficiently categorize books at her library. After the books were rearranged and put on shelves, borrowing a book became more convenient for local villagers and students.

“In the past, people in rural areas encountered difficulties when they wanted to buy or borrow books from a library and find a place to read books. Here at the Qiluo Library, the local villagers can read a rich variety of books and newspapers,” said Ma.

(Web editor: Hongyu, Liang Jun)


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