by Henrike Rudolph (Research Assistant, Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg)
Shanghai has been an important center of political and cultural life throughout the 20th century and is, therefore, quite naturally a popular destination for researchers working on Republican China and PRC history. However, one can’t help but feel that Shanghai’s popularity among historians also has something to do with the convenience and friendly service culture of the Shanghai Library and the Shanghai Municipal Archives. Not only do they have very impressive collections, the staff at both institutions are also exceptionally helpful (especially in comparison to other local archives or libraries in China) making it just a great place to do research.
This is a short visitor guide for those not yet familiar with these institutions so that you will not waste any time and can get your hands on documents and books as quickly as possible.
Shanghai Municipal Archives (上海市档案馆)
Address: 中山东二路9号 (No. 9 Zhongshan Road, aka the Bund)
Opening hours: Mon. to Sat. 9:00-18:00
Closest metro stop: 豫园 (Yu Garden) or 南京东路 (East Nanjing Road)
What to expect: The Shanghai Municipal Archives houses an impressive collection of 20th-century documents, so whether you are interested in Guomindang government or economic reforms of the 1960s, this is the place to visit. For a more detailed user guide see the review by Steven Pieragastini (see www.dissertationreviews.org/archives/2471). He visited the archives in 2013, so what follows is an abbreviated and updated account.
The building: Walk up the stairs to the entrance, pass the security check, follow the sign to the elevator, and go up to the fifth floor. You should leave your bag and drink in one of the lockers upstairs, but you are allowed to take your phone and laptop into the reading room.
The paperwork: To get a reader’s card you need your passport as well as a letter of introduction from a Chinese university or danwei (单位) stating the duration of your visit and the research topic. If you have visited the archives before but have forgotten your card, you will still need a new letter of introduction, but you can simply ask them to tell you your user number again.
Accessing the documents: Then show your reader’s card (or number) at the front desk and you will be able to use the computers to access the documents. Large parts of the holdings have been digitized and can be consulted on the computer. Log in and follow the instructions that are pasted on the glass separating the computer spaces. You can use the online catalogue on their website in advance, but I found that the online version seems to be incomplete.
Other documents are stored on microfilms and after jotting down their file number you can find them in the drawers next to the microfilm-reading machines. Use the booklet on the table to see which drawer number is the correct one. The drawers used to be open but now you have to fill out a form stating which microfilms you want to access and your research interest before the staff unlock them for you. If you are not familiar with the microfilm machines the staff are always very helpful in explaining how things work. There are only four machines, so be sure to get in early if you want to use them. You can request printing, but you are only allowed to print 50 pages per day, and again a form will have to be filled out.
Taking a break: It is best to buy some food and drink on the way to the archive because there are not many nice eating options on the Bund. Most visitors use the little locker room next to the elevator to simply wolf down a sandwich and have a sip of water.
Shanghai Library (上海图书馆)
Address: 淮海中路1555号 (No. 1555, Middle Huaihai Road)
Opening hours: Historical Documents Reading Rooms: Mon. to Sat. 8:30-17:00, national holidays: 9:00 to 16:00; other parts of the library are open longer.
Closest metro stop: 上海图书馆 (Shanghai Library) on line 10.
What to expect: Be overwhelmed by 200,000 volumes, newspapers, e-books, and historical documents. Everything a researcher hopes for, conveniently located, and with a nice atmosphere. In my experience, it is also your best chance of finding Western-language publications that might not be available even at Shanghai’s top universities.
The building: You can enter the library by walking up the large staircase to the first floor. On your left is the document reading room for historical documents from the Republican period or later (Jindai wenxian yuelanshi 近代文献阅览室), the reading room for older documents (Guji yuelanshi 古籍阅览室) is on the second floor. Also on the first floor is the counter for borrowing books and requesting books for reading. To request books for lending go through the main hall to the right (past the bookshop). At the back of the second hall are rows of computers where you can request books. If you have a Chinese phone number you receive a text message once the books have arrived at the counter behind you, otherwise just look out for your name on the large announcement board. To request a book for reading in the adjacent reading room go to the small service counter in the far back of the hall and order it there. Note that no books can be borrowed on Monday mornings! It is always best to browse the catalogue and write down the shelf numbers of the books in advance to save time. For this I found that the beta version of the library catalogue works much better than the older version (see www.beta.library.sh.cn).
On the fourth floor some of the foreign books are directly accessible, but to enter this area you have to swipe your card. You can take books out by going to the front desk at the room’s entrance. Personally, this is my favorite spot for reading and working as it is usually less crowded and you are allowed to take your bag and drink with you.
The paperwork: In the large hall, you can first use one of the computers beneath the escalators on the right-hand side to input your personal data to apply for a library card. Then go to the counter and show your passport to get the card. There are different card types available: either a free card, a card with a 100 RMB deposit, or one with a 1000 RMB deposit. If you come to the library to work with historical documents and publications you do not need to put a deposit on your card. But if you want to borrow books I would recommend going with the 1000 RMB option. Otherwise, you can request Chinese books, but you will only be allowed to read them in the notoriously overcrowded first-floor reading room.
Accessing the documents: To enter the Guji yuelanshi or the Jindai wenxian yuelanshi go to the window in front of the room, swap your library card for a metal reader’s number, and hand the metal number sign to the librarians at the front desk of the reading room. You can take your laptop, phone, and drink inside, but you put your bag in a locker at the library entrance. First, make sure to check that the documents you need are not already digitized and available on one of the computers, otherwise you can request documents by filling out a form. (You might also want to check the old index cards in the boxes outside of the reading rooms just to make sure you are not missing anything). Readers are not allowed to take pictures, but you can ask the librarians to help you make copies of documents for a service fee.
It is impossible to describe all of the many library services and resources here but, on a last note, I want to point out that Shanghai library has greatly expanded its electronic services and e-book collection in recent years: simply download their app for more digital options.
Taking a break: Shanghai Library is in the city center, but there are not many restaurants nearby (except a place for Xinjiang noodles about 100 meters to the West). However, the library cafeteria on the ground floor was recently renovated. Buy a rechargeable card and get a decent meal or even a cup of (almost) Italian coffee there.