Collection Development Policy of the National Library of China

by Ben Gu, Director of the Acquisitions & Cataloging Department, NLC


Basic Facts about NLC

      The predecessor of the National Library of China is the Metropolitan Library founded in 1909. In 1912, the library opened to the public. In 1916, the library began to receive legal deposit copies of Chinese publications, thus functioning as a national library. In 1928, the library was renamed the National Library of Peiping. In 1931, new premises were built for the library on Wenjin Street.

      Upon the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Library was renamed the National Library of Peking. In 1975, Premier Zhou Enlai approved the plan of the new building. In September 1983, Deng Xiaoping wrote the calligraphy for the name of the library. The new building was completed on July 1, 1987, and was inaugurated on October 6 of the same year. On the authorization of the State Council, the library was renamed the National Library of China on December 12, 1998.

Outline of the Collections in NLC

      The National Library of China has a large and comprehensive collection, including items in foreign languages and many rare books. As of the end of 2004, NLC has a collection of 24,556,469 volumes/items, with an annual increase of 600,000-700,000 volumes/items, ranking the fifth among national libraries all over the world.

      One of the earliest collections in NLC is that of Royal Jixidian in the Southern Song dynasty. The earliest-dated collection is that of the inscriptions on animal bones and tortoise shells in the Shang dynasty. NLCís special collections of treasures include a million volumes/items of rare books, epigraphs and rubbings, ancient maps and atlas, Dunhuang manuscripts, books and maps in the revolutionary historical documents, local histories and genealogies. Among earliest editions in foreign languages, there are incunabula printed in Europe during 1473-77.

      The National Library of China has the largest collection of Chinese publications in the world, collecting all books published in China. NLC also puts emphasis on the acquisition of unpublished materials in China, and has a large collection of publications in library and information science, a center of Chinese yearbooks and a special collection of publications of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao regions. NLC is also a depository library of Chinese doctoral dissertations, recognized by the Committee of Academic Degrees, the State Council.

      NLC has a collection of publications in foreign languages dating from the 1920s, the largest of its kind in China. As one of the depository libraries of UN publications, NLC collects publications of international organizations and foreign governments.

      With the development of various information media and electronic network services, NLC has been collecting numerous items of microforms and AV materials, about 100 CD-ROM databases and more than 8,000 titles of electronic publications.

Collection Development Policy

      The collections of the National Library of China can be divided into three general classes, i.e. preservation copies, basic collection copies and lending copies. The preservation copies are collected for long-term preservation and are not allowed for circulation. The basic collection copies can be circulated for reading, but not for lending. Both the preservation copies and the basic collection copies comprise the permanent assets of documents of the library. The lending copies are acquired for lending purposes, and can be discarded according to their usages. We can say that all the first copies of Chinese publications are considered to be preservation copies, the second copies are considered to be basic collection copies, and the remaining copies are considered to be lending copies.

      The National Library of China acquires its new collections through legal deposit, donation and purchasing for Chinese publications, and through purchasing, donation and international exchange for foreign publications. It has collection coordination and resource sharing cooperation with the other four libraries, which focus their collections respectively on agriculture, medicine, geology and military science.

      The collection of publications in foreign languages should reflect the wide coverage of geographical areas and the diversity of languages. There are publications in more than 130 languages in the library.

      The general principle for the collection development of the library is "Completeness for Chinese publications and quality for foreign publications", which means that we should collect all Chinese publications and best foreign publications. NLC is to become an international center of Chinese publications and all publications on China and the Chinese, and plan to further develop its traditional characteristics in Chinese ancient books, Orientalia, history of arts, archeology, Dunhuang scrolls, natural history, genealogy, local chronicles and yearbooks.

Chinese Printed Publications:

      The National Library of China should receive all legal deposit copies, and then classify them into three categories, i.e. permanent collection copies, temporary reading and lending copies and discarded copies (for publication without collection values). In addition, the library should purchase additional copies of Chinese monographs for reading and lending purposes. The library collects all Chinese doctoral dissertations and post-doctoral research papers, and selectively collects master's theses and overseas Chinese academic dissertations. The library puts emphasis on the collection of scholarly books published in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau regions.

Foreign Printed Publications:

      The National Library of China has four levels of acquisition priorities for printed materials published in foreign countries according to the contents of the materials.

      The highest level is the Comprehensive Collection of all publications in the following aspects:

  1. Works by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Il'ich Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and other notable communist leaders;
  2. Publications on China and the Chinese;
  3. Works by heads of foreign governments or leaders of major political parties;
  4. Works by major prize-winners, such as Nobel prize winners;
  5. Important works in science and technology;
  6. Works by notable thinkers in the humanities and social sciences;
  7. International laws and agreements, constitutions of various countries, important laws and regulations;
  8. Important comprehensive encyclopedias, dictionaries, yearbooks, etc.

      Then, there are the second level for the Key Collection of important academic works, such as overseas Chinese publications and foreign translations of Chinese books, works by overseas Chinese, representative works of major literary and artistic schools, monographs in library and information science, books relating to the neighboring countries; the third level for the Selective Collection of some textbooks, literary works and popular books; and the fourth (the lowest) level for the general children's books, low-level textbooks, patents, calendars, technical reports, etc., which are not to be collected in the library.

Other Types of Materials:

  1. The National Library of China puts emphasis on the collection of ancient Chinese books, modern deluxe or limited editions, modern local chronicles and genealogies, materials relating to Dunhuang grottoes, manuscripts of notable authors, documents in the languages of ethnic minorities before 1911, photographs of the heads of the government or famous international figures.
  2. For audio/video materials, the library selectively collects representative works in politics, economics, history, geography, culture, society and arts according to the usages of the users.
  3. For microform materials, the library collects microform reproductive items of Chinese periodicals, materials on China and the Chinese, materials of the UN and some foreign governments, materials related to the Far East.
  4. For electronic publications, the library receives legal deposit copies, selectively purchases reference works, ancient books, important abstract and index databases, important full-text electronic journals according to the needs of the users.


      With the development of the National Digital Library Project, the National Library of China will collect more digital publications and promote the dissemination of Chinese publications to the world. The collection development policy will be revised in a certain period of time to reflect the latest development of librarianship in China. However, the general principle will not be changed: to preserve our cultural heritage and to provide service to the users.

CDNLAO Newsletter, ISSN 1344-722X, No. 53 (July 2005). See: Original Full Text

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