Rural libraries start a new chapter in villages

By on

Credits: Erik Nilsson (China Daily)

Zhuang Jinfu's ducks kept dying.

The farmer in Huilong village in Sichuan province's Guanghan county says he lost 10,000 yuan ($1,600) when 500 - about half - of his waterfowl mysteriously died a few years ago.

But he can now earn 100,000 yuan in 18 months because almost all of his 1,000 ducks survive to slaughtering age, he says.

"It's because of the library," the 32-year-old explains.

He says he learned bacteria were killing his fowl from a book he checked out of the remote village's library.

"I learned I should get medicine and what kind I should get," Zhuang says.

"I found a place in the county where you can buy injections and have raised healthy flocks ever since."

Zhuang raises 1,000 ducks and sells them for 100 yuan apiece.

Now, he's using the library to do more than just ensure his ducks survive.

"I'm reading about breeding techniques to increase output," Zhuang says.

"It's an extraordinarily complicated process from egg to slaughter. Some of the books are very thick, so I need a lot of patience."

Zhuang is among about 1,400 people in Huilong who visit the library to read books that are pertinent to their rural lives. Most titles are about agriculture, electronics, law and health.

There are also international and Chinese classics, including Uncle Tom's Cabin, A Dream of Red Mansions and Confucian writings.

The library's head Liu Qijun explains: "Most villagers can find a place to use the Internet but prefer the library. The Internet isn't as popular in the countryside as in cities."

The situation is similar in the 146 of the 187 surrounding villages with libraries run by the provincial government, Liu says. Sichuan has been expanding the countryside library system as a low-cost, yet high-value, way of improving rural life.

Running Huilong's library, which opened six years ago, costs about 10,000 yuan a year, Liu says.

"The book selection is limited, but the knowledge found here is vast," Liu says.

"We often exchange books with other rural libraries. That keeps our selection fresh. Both traditional and practical knowledge can be gained here."

Liu uses the library to get more money from his ducks and to increase yields from his three small rice paddies.

"The books here revealed to me that seed selection is crucial to growing more rice with less land," he says.

"And they show how to pick the best seeds. I've also been learning about healthier lifestyles to live longer."

Liu says the library, although small and Spartan, exerts a big impact on local prosperity.

About 1,000 books line two sets of shelves in the reading room, which contains six chairs and two tables.

"Sometimes, the room is too crowded," Liu says.

About 10 people visit a day, he says.

But readers can take the books home.

"We don't use ID cards because everybody knows everybody," Liu says.

The library's other room is for film showings.

"More people watch movies than read books because a lot of the elderly can't read," Liu says. "About 20 percent of the villagers are illiterate. Actually, pretty much everyone older than 40 is."

The library also serves as the village's social hub, Liu says.

"At night, the area is an open space where farmers gather to dance, chat and have fun," Liu says.

Many villagers believe the library not only contributes to, but also reflects, China's transformation.

Peng Jing, a 50-year-old who says reading about construction work and raising ducks has significantly boosted his income, explains: "This library is where I'm learning how to improve my future. When I was young, there wasn't anything like this in villages.

"It makes me feel that China is becoming greater. The countryside is changing. The government is paying more attention to farmers because we account for so much of the population."

Liu agrees.

"Many farmers were illiterate before," he says.

"But rural libraries promote literacy, education and knowledge. This gives us more power over our lives."