Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

An Exploration of Reading Promotion and Readers' Advisory at Chinese Public Libraries

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

An Exploration of Reading Promotion and Readers' Advisory at Chinese Public Libraries

Article excerpt

Reading promotion and readers' advisory (RA) are key services of the public library. The Public Library: A Living Force for Popular Education, published by UNESCO and often referred to as the Public Library Manifesto 1949, positions the public library as a dynamic part of community life. It points out that the public library "should be active and positive in its policy," "should not tell people what to think, but it should help them decide what to think about," and "the spotlight should be thrown on significant issues by exhibitions, booklists, discussions, lectures, courses, films and individual reading guidance." (1) RA services have a long history in libraries of North America. RA is not a new idea and organized programs in this regard have been documented since the 1920s. Providing RA services shows that the public library should not only provide appropriate reading materials but also have the responsibility to promote reading and offer reading suggestions, thus giving the library and knowledgeable librarians, an active role in users' reading activities. (2) Leisure reading has become an important research topic and RA for both fiction and nonfiction has been recognized as one of the primary library services. It is also true that the public library has spared no efforts to champion and encourage reading for information as well as for pleasure, and thus RA must be supported, encouraged, and cherished by the library administration to prosper. (3)

In Imperial China, reading in the sense of studying and memorizing the Confucian Classics was the preparation for the Imperial Examination. Young Chinese read the Classics to succeed the examination to obtain a government position. In this context, reading had a deep utilitarian purpose. Since Confucianism had been the orthodoxy in China from the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) through the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE), merely reading Confucian texts did not foster, but instead, most of the time suppressed intellectual freedom. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, communist ideology prevailed. Particularly, during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) young students were sent to rural areas for re-education and educated people were labeled as "stinking intellectuals." Reading was not encouraged but suspended, especially leisure reading.

Since the 1980s, reading as a concept and an activity started to gain new meanings in Chinese society. Reading promotion and leisure reading gradually became a discussion topic in the literature. A variety of reading promotion activities were progressively organized and offered throughout the whole country. In the twenty-first century, reading is being promoted as a nationwide activity, indicating the growing importance of reading, including leisure reading, in China. As a key role of the public library is to promote reading and to provide RA service, it is useful to study how Chinese public libraries have been doing in this regard.

In this study the change in views of reading as a concept as well as an activity in Chinese public libraries is examined. The paper also evaluates what Chinese public libraries have accomplished in reading promotion. The evolution of reading as a concept and an activity in Chinese libraries is investigated through the examination of the academic writings by Chinese librarians. The literature also provides valuable insight into the achievements that Chinese libraries have brought to reading promotion in the country. Activities and services related to reading provided by the library are also examined through the study of Chinese library websites.

Since China joined the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions in 1981, which marked the point at which Chinese librarianship started to be aligned with international standards, the study period is set as the 1980s to the present. Based on the unique characteristics that reading promotion had in China, the period is further divided into the following three sub-periods: 1981 to mid-1990s, mid-1990s to 2005, 2006 to the present. …

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