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A time for tomes in Tongzhou

By Biju Dwarakanath | China Daily | Updated: 2024-03-28 07:39

An inside view of the Beijing Library in Tongzhou district. [Photo by Biju Dwarakanath/China Daily]

It was past 4 pm when I reached the Beijing Library. I quickly realized that this was no ordinary storehouse of knowledge, but a delightfully imposing, gargantuan building barely an hour's drive from Chaoyang district, where I live.

It probably rivals any great library in the world, and holds a sizable number of books, mostly Chinese, in its cavernous interior, an architectural feat in itself. Much had been written about its grand opening late last year, but I had paid scant attention, assuming somehow that it would be just another of those institutions open to the public where rows and rows of books are kept neatly stacked but lie unread for decades for lack of a committed readership.

But I was in for a surprise. The library, located on the city's outskirts in Tongzhou district, is a must-visit for any serious bibliophile, and was teeming with readers when I visited over the weekend.

Its amazing layout, the ease and convenience of its display and its stupendous collection — albeit with literary works still being added each day — and the technical finesse that makes the borrowing and returning of books seamless, left me spellbound.

I was soon mentally thanking a dear friend for suggesting that I pay a visit to this steel leaf-and-canopy marvel.

The library has a fairly substantial collection of books in foreign languages, chiefly English, and I was delighted to see books by both contemporary and classical writers, with some of my favorites thrown in for good measure.

I think a visit to this modern-day masterpiece is one of the best ways to spend a lazy Sunday. There is nothing better to do than being curled up with a book in a tiny corner of the humongous library from 10 am to 8 pm, I decided.

Biju Dwarakanath [Photo provided to China Daily]

Though it is a good hour away by subway with at least one transit stop en route, the library is only a 5-minute ride by taxi from the drop-off station, Beiyunhe West.

While there, I almost missed the absolutely fantastic children's section, and was astounded to see kids of practically all age groups poring over comics and other tiny-tot literature.

There is also a magazine section kept in drawers that open out for you to pick and choose; and one area is devoted to LPs (long-play, or full-length vinyl records) of classical and modern Western music, as well as other well-known composers and albums. I am not sure if these are available to borrow, though.

And, if you are in the mood for coffee while reading, the cafeteria also comes equipped with two robotic contraptions that serve you at least five varieties of caffeine from a vending machine.

For the tech-oriented, there is also a separate metaverse experience hall that is dazzling and quite futuristic. I even managed to speak into a microphone to ask the Mandarin-speaking virtual assistant's name.

Membership of the library is open to foreigners, though you need to show your passport before they process the request.

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