Indian professor in China explains how public libraries are benefiting Chinese society

(27 September 2017) What could be the best way to construct a better society? asks Dr Rajiv Ranjan. Imparting free education and opening the gates of learning centres to all. Libraries are repositories of knowledge, and as was argued by Francis Bacon centuries ago, knowledge is power.

Public libraries in China are serving not only as “knowledge depositories” for research, but also as centres for spreading knowledge across segments of society. Access to libraries is free and requires only an identity proof – passport for foreigners. A smart library card makes the reader’s experiences convenient and hassle-free while enjoying the library’s facilities. Membership is free and for life. For borrowing books, users need to deposit a security amount, which is refundable.

Compare this to any public library in India, where administrative hurdles seem designed to restrict the access to knowledge, historically a privilege for a few. For instance, to get a membership of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial and Library, commonly known as Teen Murti Library, in New Delhi, you need identity cards (PAN card, Aadhaar card, official id, student id) and a reference letter from your institute, or prove that you are an independent researcher. You also need to pay for packaged membership options. To put it differently, common citizens are discouraged from accessing public libraries.

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