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CDNLAO Newsletter

No. 97, February 2021

Special topic: Library services during the COVID-19 pandemic

Actions Taken by the National Library of China under the Pandemic

By Wei Mengmeng, Librarian of International Cooperation Division of the National Library of China

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 earlier this year, libraries around the world of all sorts are facing different situations. The National Library of China (NLC) has been working hard to provide targeted services to the public and highlighted a large deal of innovative services, especially for epidemic prevention and control and daily reader services at different stages of the coronavirus. The following mainly introduces actions taken by the NLC to safeguard the health of readers and staff, to meet the needs of readers online and onsite and to reopen the whole library space gradually in this special time.

I Timely measures were taken at a relatively early stage by the NLC to keep readers and staff safe and detailed plans were made gradually to ensure the reopening from the full closure to maximal reopening based on the overall assessments of risks from the Chinese government.

1. Making specified guidance

The Leading and Coordinating Office for Epidemic Prevention and Control was set up immediately after complete closure on January 24 and the Work Plan on Coordinating and Promoting the Prevention and Control of COVID-19 was issued on March 4, including staying safe at home, monitoring the temperature of individuals and families, managing remote working and so on. The Rehearsal Plan for Orderly Reopening of the Library including detailed arrangements of preparation work was issued on May 8, followed by a more than 100 -personnel involved rehearsal, which mainly focused on reader entry, security check, equipment adjustment, emergency handling and so on.

The NLC has been actively providing decision-making information support for the fight against the COVID-19, compiled the Special Report on the Prevention and Control of the Coronavirus, and thematic researches on creation of public safety systems, public health institutions' emergency capacities, national strategic supplies reserve systems, and international epidemic response to better provide information reference services to relevant government departments and public emergency management agencies.

2. Providing material support

In order to safeguard the staff, the NLC provided the staff working onsite with prevention supplies and food reservation service; reallocated budgets of protective materials, and established a dynamic adjustment mechanism of material distribution according to the requirements of epidemic prevention and control; took multiple measures to ensure food safety, such as installing the partition glass on each dining table and providing disposable gloves and hands-free liquid; provided free nucleic acid testing for all the staff before going back to work and carried out some training activities online, introducing prevention knowledge. The NLC also offered online training to librarians to improve their professional capabilities, and arranged for staff to work and study at home.

As for efforts for book disinfection, the NLC is currently using isolation and static sterilisation of works, although plans have been made to set up a centralised book return centre and disinfection centre using ultraviolet and ozone disinfection equipment.

< Top left: reopening rehearsal, Top right: preparing the prevention supplies,
Bottom: staff canteen adjustment >

3. Gradual reopening

Full closure: On January 24, the NLC took the decision to close the whole space to ensure all staff were safe at home unless it was completely necessary to work onsite.

First phase of re-opening and minimal service: After 109 days of closure, the NLC reopened to the public with a 1200 person limit per day by appointment, and 1 hour closure for disinfection at noon from Tuesday to Sunday. The NLC used a reservation system for the spaces in the reading rooms through WeChat and telephone. Anyone wanting to enter the library should make the reservation within 3 days. All users were subject to temperature checks and a mask requirement. And an isolation room was set up where users with high temperature can be tested more quickly.

Broader reopening: The National Museum of Classic Books reopened on June 28 with 3 exhibitions showed to the public and the first theatre performance was held on August 4, which means the Art Center of the NLC was back in business. On September 9, a solemn flag-raising ceremony was held in the south square of the NLC, celebrating the 111 anniversary of the NLC with more than 100 staff involved.

Wholly reopening: All three areas of the NLC, the North Area of the NLC, the Children Library and the Ancient Books Library reopened to the public on October 1, also the day of the National Day of China. All the staff went back to their offices at the same time.

< Clockwise from top left: temporary information desk, security check, reading room after adjustment, instruction for WeChat reservation >

II The NLC has highlighted a large deal of innovative service practices online and onsite, presenting readers with professional services with more care, initiative and creativity during the lockdown.

1. Optimizing space layout

Some necessary adjustments were made for the open time and open area. The reading rooms, isolation rooms and other service spots are disinfected before opening and highly used items, such as computers, keyboards, and various door handles, were disinfected at least twice a day to ensure hygiene. Ventilation is increased to at least three times a day of 20 to 30 minutes each time. Some necessary marks were posted, such as one meter lines, route guides and markings for standing in elevators. A comprehensive disinfection for the whole air conditioner and ventilation system was conducted by professional workers.

2. Innovating the reader services

For circulation, a temporary book return centre was set up providing manual and 24-hour self-service. The NLC offered an amnesty on borrowed books and extended loan periods to 30 days after reopening. The NLC also provided an express loan service for readers and the readers bear the express fee by themselves.

The NLC improved the service capabilities of the National Digital Library (NDL) and platforms such as the NDL APP, mobile portal, service account of WeChat, and official account of MicroBlog, and met the public's cultural and information needs through online services. The NDL APP was downloaded more than 60,000 times in 20 days, a year-on-year increase of 404%, and new visits exceeded 200,000 times, a year-on-year increase of 164%.

Besides, the NLC makes efforts to promote public reading based on the cloud service and new medium platforms such as TikTok, WeChat, MicroBlog, NLC's official APP and other platforms during the lockdown. Many activities got wider attention than before and showed the unprecedented potential for new mediums in library service. For example, a topic reading promotion activity "Nationwide Reading" in the form of "Short Video plus Topic" got 154,000 videos and 600 million hits on the first day of its release and "Revealing a Different Library", a live activity inviting many libraries experts to introduce some special collection and services to the public, got much attention on TikTok. Based on its special resources, the NLC has creatively organized "Documentary plus Open Class", selecting 20 intangible cultural heritage documentaries from the national outstanding achievements and invited experts to interpret in real time to let the audiences "understand the intangible cultural heritage in motion pictures".

3. Providing themed resources related to the COVID-19

In order to meet the demand for information of the society in this particular period, the NLC built and published a themed database1 on fighting COVID-19, and expanded access of 86 external databases related to medical and health, science technology and online learning to the public after authorized by relevant organizations, as well as enriched online reading resources and featured reading activities such as "Family Reading Contest", and "Providing information and reference services for legislative decision-making agencies on COVID-19 prevention and control" which were selected as the best practices by the IFLA Conference of Directors of National Libraries. The activity "Reading Together against COVID-19" created a warm atmosphere for readers via an official website, mobile application and WeChat.

Another important project carried out by the NLC during the epidemic period was to start building a repository of the "War Against the COVID-19"2 in China, aiming to collect and preserve the vivid stories of people from all walks of life in the fight against COVID-19 through a wide range of network and other multi-channel collection including pictures, AV resources, calligraphic and painting works, manuscripts, letters, photos, and other physical documents. Some participants and witnesses of the pandemic will be interviewed and then all these resources will be organized and integrated. Up to now, more than 20,000 pieces of various resources faithfully recording the efforts on the entire society have been collected and preserved.

< Top: Database on fighting COVID-19
Bottom from left to right: Activity of "Nationwide Reading" on April 23, NLC's official website on Microblog, reading promotion on TikTok >

III Coordinated with library community home and abroad

On Feb 15, the NLC sent a letter to all librarians in Wuhan to express sincere sympathy and did its best to gather all available materials, including masks and other protective equipment to Wuhan Municipal Library in the early days of the pandemic. The Library Society of China issued the "Proposal on Donating Supplies Urgently Needed for Disease Prevention and Control to Libraries in Wuhan" and more than 200 libraries in China took part, including 70,000 facial masks and other emergency materials were collected within 20 days.

The NLC also paid much attention to the actions by other libraries worldwide and organized staff to translate key resources published by the IFLA. The Director of the NLC, Mr Rao Quan, had held video conferences with the Director of the National Library and Archives of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Chief Executive Officer of the National Library Board of Singapore respectively and took the Dialogue between Directors of National Libraries in Asia and Oceania, mainly discussed library development and how to respond to the COVID-19.

< Left: Donating supplies by the NLC
Right: Dialogue between Directors of National Libraries in Asia and Oceania >

Now, the NLC has incorporated work in relation to coronavirus prevention and control into the new normal of the daily operation. In the future, it will also work with the library community to make effective use of the emerging technology to better meet the needs of readers in special times and do its best to take up its social responsibilities.

1 For more information on the database please see

2 For more information on the repository see

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