Shanghai Library – Between ancient manuscripts and librarian robots

Written by Library Planet editor Christian Lauersen, director of Libraries and Citizen Services in Roskilde Municipality, Denmark. For how to contribute to Library Planet look here:

Walking around the corner of Goa’an Road, Shanghai Library rises from the ground like an overwhelming fortress of knowledge with two huge towers reaching for the sky. After being searched by the mandatory guards at the entrance (common in almost any public building in Shanghai) the first thing you meet is a wonderful little café in very green and flourish surroundings. Through the huge windows from the café you see a statue of iconic Chinese philosopher Confucius looking in on the library. A big sign gives a great overview of the library’s 4 floors. The naming of the different areas in the library witness of a library that values it collections with ‘Chinese reference collections’, Manuscripts’, ‘Ancient books’ ‘Books in foreign language’ etc. as the main markers. The Library is not 100% public to enter. To access the different areas one needs to be registered as a user and have a card to get through the gates on the different levels.



On this fine day in Shanghai I had an appointment with deputy director He Yi so all doors where open for me. My library walk with Mr. He traveled through 2000 years of library history; from ancient Chinese manuscripts to The Reading Demo Room with the newest state-of-the-art technologies for accessing digital content.


The Innovation Space, a place for exploring new technology, gave a pleasant introduction to a 3D-printer printing edible models. I’m not sure of the use of it but I always wanted to eat the White House in white chocolate.

The whole public library system of Shanghai holds around 800 employees and staff was very present at the library. By every room there was a library worker by the front desk ready to help. By the entrance we also meet a librarian robot which could help with common questions like ‘How to register as a user’ and ‘on which floor is the Chinese Reference Collection’. Worked as a funny little gimmick but I would prefer a human library worker any day.


Shanghai Library was a pleasant visit grasping the range between old and new with respect for both. Shanghai is building a new library opening 2020 with Danish architectural group Schmidt Hammer-Lassen as the ones who draw the lines. This will be a welcoming event for a re-visit.

IMG_1526Model of the new library in Shanghai

So what else to experience in Shanghai? With its 25 million citizens Shanghai is huge, chaotic and utterly charming city to explore. You need to live there for years to get around everything but paying the city a shorter visit I would recommend The French Concession with its small charming streets and shops, The Bund by the waterfront for the variety of architecture and bars to find good gin and the ALL THE FOOD of Shanghai! Especially the dumplings really hit my with all there simplicity and charm. A dumpling comes in many shapes are basically pieces of dough wrapped around a filling. I’ll recommend the boiled dumplings with soup and pork filling. The trick is to grab the dumpling with your chopsticks, bite a small hole in it and let the soup run out into a spoon and enjoy that. Then dib your dumpling in soya source so it will suck up a lot of yumminess and eat it. Nomnom

IMG_1455 (1)
Dumplings FTW!

Library Planet greetings


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