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62nd IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 25-31, 1996

The Travelling Library in Harbin China

Liu Bao,
Chief of the Harbin Library,
Research fellow, professor


Wang Tian Yi,
Assistant research fellow in the Harbin Library


Travelling Libraries appeared in China in 1980. So far, over 160 libraries cover the country’s provinces, autonomous regions, some large and medium-sized cities as well as in the countryside. Since the bus is the main type of vehicle, the libraries are also called the Bus Libraries. The buses are produced in a fixed factory, then distributed to where they are needed by the National Cultural Bu reau.

The Harbin Bus Library was founded in 1987, which is earlier than the other ones in China. In those eight years, the services have reached the town centre and village units such as factories, village governments, the PLA schools, prisons and welfare centres for the handicapped. At present, six branch libraries and 34 travelling service stations have been built up. The buses have travelled 100, 000 kilometres. The library is the only one that possesses two buses, six staff members and 65,000 books in china. In 1994, it was chosen as the advanced group from the whole national library system.

The Harbin Bus Library remains representative in China. We may catch a glimpse of the busy Bus Libraries throughout China.

Part I

The management system of Big Guides Small is favourable to the development of the Bus Libraries.

The instruction of Bus Libraries are the compound of the public libraries at different levels in The Temporary Provisions for Bus Libraries indicated by the Chinese Cultural Bureau is fit for the situation and beneficial to the growth of the Bus Libraries in China. The Harbin Bus Library is an organic part and is equal to the other departments of the Harbin Library (the main library). Th is kind of management system has many benefits.

First, according to practical need, the staff is allocated by the main library. The government requests each Bus Library to have 2 - 4 employees, but because the Harbin bus library has two travelling buses and 65,000 books, its’ service task is very heavy. To be realistic, the main library adopted the method of internal assignment by placing six librarians into the position and supplying their salaries and other benefits.

Secondly, the travelling buses - a full-sized bus and a mini-bus - are maintained by the main library. They cost 100,000 yuan each year for gasoline consumption, repairing and maintenance fees, road tolls and the insurance premium. This is not a small expense at all.

Being a service department, the bus library lacks a source of funds. At present, the main library buses group has taken the responsibility for the entire cost and the management of the two travelling buses.

Thirdly, the source of books and expenditure are provided by the main library. The 65,000 books of the Harbin Bus Library consists of two parts: some books are from the main library and some are newly purchased, paid by the main library. Currently, the number of books in the Harbin Bus Library is increasing at the rate of 2,000 - 2,500 every year. To some degree, it meets the demand of the re aders in each branch, travelling and service station.

Fourthly, the main library is responsible for the building up of the travelling stations. China is a country with a vast area and large population. It’s hard to establish libraries within every 10-15 minutes walk. Obviously, it is an urgent task to establish an increasing number of Bus Libraries to meet the need of the public. There are 7 districts and 5 towns as well as a population of 5 mill ion under Harbin’s jurisdiction. How many travelling libraries should be established lies in the short-term objectives and the long-term program laid down by the Harbin Library in accordance with the regional library developments.

It is not hard to know from the four factors mentioned above that the Travelling Library has had firm backing and has avoided much troubles after practising the system of Big Guides Small. In this way, we may make every effort to develop the travelling libraries and to try to improve the scientific level. To work effectively has become a matter of course.

Part II

With the perfect system and high quality internal management, the travelling library will be full of vitality.

If we want to run the Travelling Library well, on the one hand, travelling buses and intelligent staff members are necessary and on the other hand, a complete set with the perfect system and effective management measures is essential. In China, one or two Travelling libraries provided painful lessons. They did not remain in the operation long, their staff was disbanded and the buses were sold. The Harbin Travelling Library pays much attention to the structure of the effective system. As a result, the Travelling Library has improved greatly, is influential in society and is full of vitality.

  1. Whether the system is successful or not is closely connected with the competence of the Director to manage the library.

  2. The Director must have a spirit of enterprise and a willingness to brave hardships. He (She) should be an expert both in public relations and in the operation of a library.

  3. It is difficult to locate a person with the four indispensable abilities at one time. We should choose such a person who can be suitable for the position through a short training period as the candidate. The person selected at the Director of the Harbin Travelling Library is ideal. She enjoys her career, works hard and maintains friendly relationships with people from all walks of life. The new look of the Bus Library can be attributed as the result of her excellent work.

  4. The system of post responsibility should be considered first. As for the personal administration part, the Harbin Bus Library takes the four fixed system of post responsibility (fixed buses, fixed staff, fixed responsibility, fixed garage) along with another four fixed system (fixed station, fixed time, fixed period, fixed position) as the code of conduct that may reasonably bring the staf f’s enthusiasm toward their work into full play, thus, to advance with correct direction, to work with vigour and to fully tap the potential ability of the staff is essential to operate the Bus Library well.

  5. When delivering books, the library should be attractive to the readers. Although the Harbin Bus Library has 65,000 books, each station averages less than 2,000 books because of the large service area. If the books in each station remain at the same number and are never changed, eventually the readers will lose interest. For this reason, the Bus Library travels once a month regularly. The specific travelling method is to move the books from station 1 to station 2, from station 2 to station 3 and so on, until the last station to station. Consequently, the readers of each station will be able to read new books every month. For instance, 40 stations, 65,000 books rotated in the manner described above will be in practice function as 2,600,000 books.

  6. The improvement of the administrative level of the stations lies in the study and research of the work.

The Bus Library has established several branches, travelling stations and service nets in its service area with specially chosen staff to take charge. The depth and width of work is decided to a great extent by these administrative staffs levels of understanding. How to improve their understanding of the work? An effective method is to hold a meeting to research and to discuss the work of the Bus Library. From 1992, the Harbin Travelling Library has held such meetings three times successfully and has received 30 research papers which expounded (the character, effect, working method and social status) about the Travelling Library from different angles. They prove very helpful to raise the level of the staff.

Part III

The reasonable layout lies in the chosen places in accordance with the special requirement.

As discussed above, how many travelling stations need to be set up is decided by the main library in accordance with the development of the regional library’s short-term objective and long-term plan and then to be fulfilled by the Bus Library. The Bus Library is not at all negative and passive when it comes to accomplish the task of organising. It is necessary to consider the character of centr alisation (a relatively centralised staff), comprehensiveness (represent the need of nearby readers) and particularity (the readership with specific interest) and then to decide upon the station’s specific location.

  1. Particularity is the main consideration in setting up stations. The conclusion that the Harbin Bus Library has drawn from its eight-year experience is to think about special readership groups when establishing a station. They are the main readership that the Bus Library; disabled people who find it difficult to borrow books from the library because of inconvenience and of different readin g style; after consulting with the municipal activity centre for the centre, which has been warmly welcomed .

  2. Good conditions are essential to set up stations. Though some units have special groups, the leaders have no activity to set up the stations. No place and no staff result in no stations, so we need to have good conditions. for example, Yuquan Shan Prison in Harbin, located 70 kilometres from the town centre, faced great difficulties in service and delivery of books even after the esta blishment of the station. However, the leaders there offered all-out support by emptying houses, assigning administrative staff and negotiating three times with the Harbin Library about setting up a travelling station. In early 1995, the Harbin Library established a fixed travelling station in the prison.

The above two aspects are fundamental for the Bus Library to set up stations.

The following is a list of the units and locations of the stations, established by the Harbin Bus Library.

Table not available, please contact Author.

Part IV

Stressing the main points by bringing “the three groups” into play. The service work of the Bus Library cannot be as detailed as the other departments of the Library because of the broad service area. Then we need to stress the main points and bring the three groups into play.

First, to play the role of a coaching team to answer the difficult questions. The branches and the travelling stations in the basic units established by the Bus Library have enough buildings and books. It is a pity that the various administrative groups do not know the operation well, such as how to organise the catalogue, how to use a library card, or to lend books and so on. In this case, th e staff of the Bus Library went deeply into each branch and travelling station teaching them step by step how to do basic book lending in the correct way.

After a period of practice, the Bus Library invited the administrative staff from each branch and travelling station to attend the training class in which they systematically studied An Introduction to Library Science, Books Construction and Readers’ Work, Book Catalogue and Catalogue Organisation. They gradually matured from theory to practice. Xie Yu Hua, an administrative staff member in the Dongfeng Branch, who once was a middle school student, knew nothing about library operation. Now she has become an excellent librarian after being trained. She in not only good at lending tasks, but has organised several interesting activities for readers. In order to meet the reading demands of the peasant friends in rural areas, seven travelling stations were set up under her leadership. She has to send books for them once a month according to different kinds of readers.

Some travelling stations are over 20km from the town. She has had to carry the books on her back, over mountains to her destinations. She was welcomed by the peasant friends who warmly praised her as an angel to bring about rich life. At present, whichever branch or moving station meets problems, they will come to the Travelling Library for teachers and the staff in the Travelling Library will help and guide them warm heartedly, really playing a guidance role.

Secondly, passing information as a propaganda team. Modern society has entered into the information age. The main function of the library is to pass on information and to serve the society. The Bus Library brings what the readers need in time by releasing information, spreading new science and technology and exhibiting new books. In March 1994, the Harbin Bus Library cooperated with six provi ncial and municipal information units and held meetings to release information in Baiquan and Keshan. Thousands of people came to negotiate and to choose the cooperation items which brought about good social results. They spread new scientific and technological knowledge to the peasants by developing documents. Hu Chun Bo, who lives in Dongfeng Town, Taiping District, has been provided with in formation about cultivating vegetables. He followed the information, successfully growing a new breed of eggplant called New Black and Beauty which was very popular with the peasants and resulted in great economic gain. He himself also won the prize of one of the hundred examples in the Field of New Science and Technology.

Thirdly, by delivering books as a service team, the Bus Library periodically delivers and exchanges books for the branches and the travelling stations, especially providing some special readers with special books. In order to satisfy their demands, the Bus Library opened a service of exchanging books among the libraries and of sending books by mail. Wang Xian, a criminal in Harbin Prison, studi ed hard during his term of imprisonment. He was enrolled by Chinese Cultural College in Beijing as a correspondence postgraduate. The Bus Library broke the rule by lending him many books. In May 1990, he finally finished his courses and became the first criminal in China to obtain a postgraduate diploma.

Being a good service team, the staff of the Bus Library must have the following spirits: First is to fear no hardships. Delivery should continue all year long. This will not happen without a sense of devotion. Second is to fear no troubles. The readers require many kinds of books. Sometimes even the main library has to borrow books from other libraries. Nothing would be achieved with the t hought of no business is better than many. Fortunately, the staff of the Harbin Bus Library are all very competent.

After reading A Brief Report on The Harbin Bus Library, a leader of the Provincial party committee once stated the establishment of the bus library is a creation, a great step on the cultural front.

Not long ago, a leader who is in charge of the Cultural Bureau praised the Harbin Bus Library in this way: “There are about 160 similar libraries all over the country.

Though some libraries are not run badly, few libraries can continue year after year like the Harbin Bus Library which has been praised for outstanding work achievement by the Cultural Bureau many times,” he said. Their appraisals of the Harbin Bus Library are the best annotations to the above four main viewpoints in this article.

The Travelling Library has good prospects and broad field in China.