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January 28, 2015 - Xujiahui Library: A Cultural Crossroads between East and West
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Since its establishment in 1847 by French Jesuits, the Xujiahui Library (also known as Bibliotheca Zi-ka-wei) seems to stay intact despite the fall of the last dynasty, wars both world and civil, and political and economic reforms and upheavals. Many an effort has been made to decode the secret of its lasting survival, such as its role as a first public library in Shanghai, its unique collections, and continuing contributions from its dedicated librarians. While the above holds true, the author has discovered a number of aspects inherent, but vital to the success of the library: 1) A cultural and geographical crossroads between the East and the West, reflecting the city it is in; 2) Forward and outward library missions laid down by its founding fathers, and flexible adaptions to time and place; and 3) Core collections interacting between the East and the West to meet the needs of its diverse users.

I came across the Xujiahui Library when researching the history of the Shanghai Library for my paper and book. Long after those writing projects, I could not help but wonder about the reason why it was able to survive the changing times and vicissitudes. In a span of 168 years, China has changed from an imperial China (the Qing Dynasty, 1644-1911) to the Republic of China (1911-1949), and finally to the People’s Republic of China (1949- ). Such a wide timeline arc witnessed a  succession  of  rebellions  and  turmoils,  namely,  Taiping  Rebellion  (1850-1864),  Boxer Rebellion (1900), and Republic and Communist revolutions, intertwined with World War I (1914-1918), World War II (1937-1945), and Civil War (1945-1949). Since 1949, more changes have taken place, such as Land Reform (1947-1952), Anti-Rightist Campaign (1957), Great Leap Forward and People’s Commune (1957), Three Years of Natural Disasters (1959-1961), the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), economic and political reforms (1976-1994), new nationalism (1994-2000), and the consumer society after joining World Trade Union (WTO) since 11 December 2001.

One day in May 2015, I finally had my curiosity satisfied by visiting the Xujiahui Library and meeting its librarian, Mr. Ming Yuqing. Located at No. 80, Caoxi Road North in the Xuhui District of the Metropolitan Shanghai, the Library is shadowed behind the Xujiahui Cathedral (also known as St. Ignatius Cathedral), but more dramatically, dwarfed by skyscrapers, and drowned by constant traffic from pedestrians and vehicles alike. It has a two-story main building and three-story south and west wings added later on. In the main building, a perpetual video documentary on the history of the Library is played on the right side of the foyer whereas a central stairway is used as an entrance, leading straight up to the second floor, which has two main rooms visible, with the small one used as a staff office and the bigger one as a reading room,  furnished  with  more  than  a  dozen  reading  desks  lit  up  by  the  amber  glow  from surrounding desk lamps.

With the caring oversight of the librarian, Mr. Ming, sitting behind his desk, antique books lining the shelves, a creaking wood floor, and singing birds outside, time seemed to stand still, creating a perfect harmony between the East and the West in a world of sound and fury. To visitors as well as local users, the Xujiahui Library is an oasis in their pursuit of knowledge and scholarship, thus a source of local pride, whether in wartime or peace, in economic downturn or boom, and in political upheaval or stability. This rare status that the Xujiahui Library enjoys is no surprise, if one  looks  at  its  history  by  examining  the  strategic  location,  forward  and  outward  library missions, and collections.



Hui-Lan Titangos, a Collection Management Services Librarian at Santa Cruz Public Libraries, has a new research article to be published in June 2016 by Chinese Librarianship, an International Electronic Journal (CLIEJ). Entitled Xujiahui Library: A Cultural Crossroads between East and West, the article not only provides a succinct history of the 168-year-old first library in Shanghai and the second Jesuit library in China, but also uncovers a secret key to its lasting success: flexibility and adaptability in its library missions and management, location and collections.

To read the full article, please go to: It will also be available via Google Scholar, and Ebsco's Library & Information Science Source.