Foshan is one of China’s largest manufacturing cities with a population of over 8.1 million, many who are migrant workers from across the country. The city’s 3,875 square kilometres house more than 300 public libraries. However, since these libraries are distributed unevenly, many residents find it not convenient enough to access library resources and services.
For a better understanding of the community's needs and how to meet them, Foshan Library conducted an assessment by studying population data and library user habits, using questionnaires and conducting interviews of the elderly and people with disabilities.
These findings informed the development of the N-Library project, which launched in April 2018. Foshan Library, together with five district-level libraries, created more than 1,000 Neighbourhood Libraries (N-Libraries) - mini-public libraries in people’s homes. The N-Libraries aim to foster a reading culture, make library resources and services more accessible to vulnerable groups and promote neighbourhood communication and community integration.
Participating families of the N-Library can borrow up to 200 books a year and maintain membership for at least one year. Members can name their N-Library and decide how geographically wide the membership can extend. To promote reading, each year the N-Library must organise more than 3 reading activities, re-lend at least 30 books, and serve over 10 families.
The N-Library project adheres to the concept of "co-construction, co-governance and sharing". The public library provides literature resources and service support, assists in the establishment of a family reading space, and uses neighbourhood relations as a link to deliver reading services. N-Libraries enable activities of all types to promote reading in homes, in the community, at parks and in schools. “N-Libraries will be one of the most important reasons for people to love Foshan city”, shared Professor Fan Bingsi from the Department of Information Management at East China Normal University.
Program evaluation revealed that nine out of ten project participants believe that the N-Library project enhances communication among neighbours and brings them closer. Almost all surveyed adults admitted they read more books after joining the program (99%), spend more time reading for their children (98%), and believe that joining the program will help foster the habit of reading for their children (93%).
Community engagement has been outstanding. The project has been covered by more than 300 media outlets including “People’s Daily”, one of China’s most influential newspapers. Citizens have taken an active part in publishing information viewed and forwarded by over 100,000 people on social media via WeChat and micro-blogs.
By the end of 2020, 1,170 N-Libraries organised 1,027 various reading promotion activities while serving 30,000 readers and lending more than 328,000 books. “N-Libraries lay a foundation for public culture service, becoming a new growth point regarding the performance of the service of the public library”, said Professor Li Guoxin from Peking University, a leading expert in the Committee of National Public Service System of Culture and Tourism. It has been listed as one of priorities in the public cultural service system in Guangdong province, winning publicity and budget support from both provincial and city governments.