A Short Guide to Visiting the Capital Library of China

by Z. Lu (Researcher, CSMC, Universität Hamburg)

The Capital Library of China (Shoudu tushuguan 首都图书馆), whose origins trace back to over a century ago, is one of the premier public libraries in China. While serving the general public, it is also home to a very rich collection of premodern books and materials from the Republican era, ranging from fiction and drama of the Ming and Qing to local materials related to Beijing – including a comprehensive collection of gazetteers. Below are a few tips on using two of the main reading rooms: the Historical Texts Reading Room (Lishi wenxian yuelan shi 历史文献阅览室), and the Beijing Local Collection (Beijing difang wenxian yuelan 北京地方文献阅览).

Since 2001, the library has been relocated from its old home at the Guozi jian 国子监 to a brand new structure in the Panjiayuan 潘家园 area in southeastern Beijing. The current structure is made up of two buildings. The main entrance is to Building A, which has the Historical Texts Reading Room on its ground floor (one floor below the level you enter). It is connected by a walkway to Building B, whose reception desks handle applications for library cards and general inquiries. The Beijing Local Collection is on the 9th floor.

Front entrance of the Capital Library

Location: 88 Dong Sanhuan Nan Lu 东三环南路, Chaoyang District 朝阳区, Beijing
Tel: 010-67358114/5
Email: clcn@clcn.net.cn
Website: http://www.clcn.net.cn/

Nearest Metro Station: Panjiayuan 潘家园 (Line 10). Take station exit C-2 and walk south along the 3rd ring road for about 10 minutes. You will need to cross to the other side of the road at its intersection with Songyu Nan Lu 松榆南路; the library is located facing the intersection and is hard to miss.

Fees and paperwork: There are several types of library cards, which offer varying degrees of reading privileges. To access historical materials, you will need an E-grade card (the highest grade among the A-E cards), which will require an ID (e.g. your passport) and 500 RMB of deposit in cash (which will be returned when you give up the card). The cards are issued on the spot. For using the Historical Texts Reading Room, a letter of introduction from your home institution is recommended.

The Historical Texts Reading Room

Hours: Monday-Friday 9:00-12:00 and 13:30-17:00 (all books go back to storage at 16:30)
Location: Building A, Ground Floor
Tel: 67358114, ext.1181

This is the home to premodern books (guji 古籍), facsimile collections of guji, and Republican era books (not including newspapers*). The reading room, spacious and quiet, provides an ideal reading environment. For guji, a maximum of three titles can be viewed at the same time; for Republican era books, the maximum is five. You need to fill out request forms in person; several computer terminals in the room will allow you to look up titles and shelfmarks (the staff will then take the forms and retrieve the books for you). Prepare for your visit by searching the online catalog ahead of time. Note also that materials have been selectively digitized at http://gjzsb.clcn.net.cn.

Reproductions are allowed, and must be requested through the staff; they can be done as quickly as the same day, but this depends on the quantity requested and also the availability of staff/scanners. Bring your own USB and the staff will load the images for you in JPEGs. Note that payment is in cash only; fees for reproductions can be found here: http://www.clcn.net.cn/modules/guide/index.php?page_id=52.

I had always wondered where the staff disappeared to every time I handed them my book requests. I was delighted to steal a glimpse of the guji storage facilities (not accessible to the public) here: http://www.bjgujibaohu.com/GJBH/D.aspx?Id=84.

*These are held at the Zhongwen section on the 4th floor of Building A. As of November 2017, I was told that Republican-era newspapers can no longer be viewed.

Beijing Local Collection

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 9:00-19:30
Location: Building B, 9th Floor

The 9th floor to Building B is home to both the Beijing Municipal Government Information Disclosure Research Center (Beijing shizhengfu xinxi gongkai chayue zhongxin 北京市政府信息公开查阅中心) and the Beijing Local Collection. This is a pleasant reading room on the top floor of the building with nice, open views of the city. A limited selection of books are on the shelves, while specialized materials must be retrieved from storage. There is only one (rather old) microfilm machine in the reading room. When I needed to take images from my microfilm, I was told simply to photograph the screen – so be sure to bring a phone or camera that can take good pictures. Materials must be requested by 16:30 at the latest, before the storage staff finish for the day, but you can keep them until 19:30.

The website Beijing jiyi 北京記憶 is a great resource with many digitized items from the collection of the Beijing Local Collection. This includes over 1400 rubbings (from their collection of 3000), made between 1930-34, of inscriptions from various sites in Beijing, available in a searchable database. The same site also contains a digitized collection of maps. There is also a database of nearly 800 theatre bills from the early 20th century in the library’s collection, a database of photos from Old Beijing, and a small collection of audio materials. A list of books published with materials from the Beijing Local Collection can be found here (scroll to bottom).

Taking a break

For food, head out of the main entrance of the library, and make a right (east) on Songyu Nan Lu. Walk for several blocks, and you will come cross several small eateries, which are probably the most convenient options for a lunch break. Various banks are also scattered along this road should you need to get money for reproductions. In the direction toward the metro station is the Panjiayuan Antique Market, which has just about every kind of old object for sale – but that’s a whole day’s affair.


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