“Chinese libraries for 900 million farmers,” said the headline. Did you get that, 900 million farmers? That’s three times the population of the United States. From what I can tell, that figure includes all the people in farming familes, and it’s well over half the total population of China (currently at 1.345 billion, someone told me the other day). Establishing rural libraries has been a priority in many places, including the U.S., but the mind boggles at this figure. Tim Coates, who writes the Good Library Blog, first spotted the article, “China Kicks off Program to Build Village Libraries for 900 Million Farmers” (Tim is, I should mention, an astute user of Google news alerts). Tim asked me if there might be some way we could help, and I have tried to enquire. Perhaps as we make more contacts in the library world in China, through our new representative there, we will be able to be a conduit for best practices. In the meantime, I’ve found myself mulling over the challenge of providing even a simple range of books, magazines, and perhaps online information to such a huge number of people.
I can easily see why the spokesman from the Ministry of Education who spoke a few years ago at a conference I attended in Shanghai was so interested in broadband access and Internet2. On the other hand, setting up small village libraries with basic collections of books might be quite an easy thing to accomplish. It’s worthwhile thinking about how fundamentally miraculous a library is: providing every citizen, at no cost, with information that will improve their prospects and educate their children, and with literature to enlighten their minds and entertain.
We’re talking about libraries all the time here, as our first big coffee table book, Heart of the Community: The Libraries We Love, is being typeset and David and I are writing the introduction. “Libraries we love” isn’t just part of the title either: it’s how we feel and what goes on here at Berkshire Publishing. I realized just how true this was when I was talking to Joe DiStefano, our young designer who is about as far from the library lover stereotype as you can get without tattoos. Joe’s created a beautiful layout for the book and said to me, “This one has to be out of the park,” as he labored over yet another round of enhancements. He also came up with the delightful chocolate box effect used in our ads and echoed on the front cover. Our compositor, Brad Walrod, who also does the U.S. editions of Harry Potter, is another great enthusiast, sending in his own library suggestions in early days and now working closely with Joe to ensure that all 75 library stories and the hundreds of photographs are perfectly integrated. And then there’s Marcy Ross, the editor whoâ€™s been working to bring the project to completion: she’s been president of her Friends group in Hillsdale, NY, and is a lifelong library devotee.
Libraries who have preordered copies should have them by mid-December, in time for holiday gifts. we must have all preorders by October 6. If you havenâ€™t sent in a preorder or want to add to a previous order, please use the form here. Now I need to ask Liz how to say “We love libraries” in Chinese!