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Library project a novel experience for migrant children

By WANG XIAOYU | China Daily | Updated: 2023-06-23 07:26

Students read in the Weilan Library at a primary school in Beijing's Tongzhou district in June. WANG XIAOYU/CHINA DAILY

Youngsters are offered the opportunity to immerse themselves in literature

"I found it! I found it!" a second grader shrieked with excitement as he dashed to Liao Xixiong, the librarian.

"This is exactly what I've been looking for — a book of Xi You Ji (a historical fantasy also known as Journey to the West) with pictures of Guanyin (a Buddhist deity) in it."

Liao leaned on a classroom desk and scanned the student's library card and the barcode on the spine of the book. "Have a good read, my dear," she said. "Why don't you have a chat with me next time, so that I can recommend a book I like to you?" Seeing the boy rush back to a plastic stool in the corner of the room, hugging the book like a box of treasure, Liao let out a broad smile.

"Reading is a spontaneous act for all pupils, but they need a consistent and stable environment to nurture such skills," she said.

The library, covering less than 20 square meters and holding about 5,000 books, provides such an environment for the children of migrant workers who attend a primary school in Tongzhou district in suburban Beijing.

The facility is part of a project called the Weilan Library, which was initiated by the Beijing Sanzhi Shelter for Children in Distress, a nonprofit founded in 2017 that is dedicated to setting up libraries at private schools for migrant children.

By late October, the project had 82 branches in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou in Guangdong province, and dozens of other cities, and served more than 80,000 young readers.

"A volunteer for our project once said that the kids would 'grow automatically' in between the shelves as long as a collection of books was rustled up for them," said Zuo Qiao, the project's founder and executive director.

About five years ago, Zuo found that many schools for migrant children had a dust-covered room with books, shelves, desks and chairs scattered all over the place. A plaque dangling on the door would suggest that the room was once a library gifted by a charity group, he said.

"Many good-hearted people donated books and set up libraries at these schools, but such institutions often ended up being forgotten and left in darkness in the long run," he said.

Motivated by the belief that every child deserves access to libraries, Zuo and his colleagues started the Weilan Library project.

"Three factors are irreplaceable in any one of our libraries: a large number of high-quality children's books; consistent opening hours; and allowing the kids to make their own choice of books to borrow and read," he said.

The branch at the primary school in Tongzhou serves around 530 students, 30 teachers and other members of staff.

Librarian Liao said that when it opened on Feb 13, the small room was packed with so many students that she and the school managers had to arrange visiting hour slots for different grades.

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