How to Visit The Capital Library of Beijing For English Books
In my few years of living in Beijing, I’ve learned that English books are a much-valued commodity. So when I heard that the Capital Library of China (CLCN) had an English section for young people, I absolutely had to visit. The problem was that since the pandemic, Covid controls mandate that all visitors to the library have to schedule their visit via their WeChat Mini Program, which only accepts registration by library cards and Chinese ID cards.
You’re probably thinking “well, that’s that then.” But I was undeterred.
After calling and speaking to staff at the library, I was told to ask a local friend to help make the appointment for me. In pre-Covid times, foreigners with passports had been welcome and the library staff verified that this was sadly overlooked in the online booking system.
Once inside the library itself, you’re able to create a library card that will allow you to make future appointments to visit. To do this, you’ll need your passport and RMB 50 – RMB100 in cash, depending on whether you make a child’s or adult’s library card. I would recommend that you have a card made in your child’s name because a) it’s cheaper (RMB 50) and b) it allows your child to borrow up to 10 books (as opposed to six with the adult’s card) from the kids’ Chinese section.
Yes sadly, even though they have an entire section of English books catering to all levels of readers from toddler board books to teenage vampire fiction to Michael Crichton thrillers, these are purely for reading on the library premises.
That said, the Youth Foreign Language Publications Reading Room at CLCN is practically empty most of the time, even on weekends. There are numerous armchairs and reading nooks, and the library staff were quite pleasant during our 1.5-hour visit. The catalog is adequate though dated — there were plenty of Babysitters’ Club and Goosebumps, for example, but no Captain Underpants or Magic Tree House. Some newer titles that I saw included an Inside Out: Hotheads comic based on the 2015 award-winning Pixar film and a host of Marvel comics based on the highly successful film franchise.
According to the pandemic booking system, there are two slots available for your library visit every day: 9am to 12pm or 12-5pm. Attendance is capped at 2,400 people a day so you might need to book your visit at least a day in advance. After you’ve created your library card, you’ll need to use it to log into the Mini Program, 首都图书馆 (Shǒudū túshū guǎn), to schedule a visit.
Type in the library card number written on the card, and use the birthdate of the registered card owner in the following format, YYMMDD, so if you made a library card for your child and her birthdate is 1st January 2010 the PIN number is 100101. In my experience, once you’ve logged in with your library card on the Mini Program the first time, you’ll stay logged in!
Once inside the library, the kids Chinese section is to your right and the English language reading room to the left. I only explored the first floor, but there are four more levels that contain the library’s notable collection of Chinese opera, drama and theatre books. You can get drinks at a small cafe in a separate building outside, which also houses small-scale exhibitions from time to time.
Images: Vivienne Tseng-Rush