When we have some time, as we generally do over the summer, it’s good to take a moment to reflect back on our history and all the accomplishments we have made. This includes the advances we have made in our profession!
Today we look at an American woman who helped to create and modernize libraries in China: Mary Elizabeth Wood.
“Wood’s first major library project in China consisted of the establishment of the Boone School Library, and she acted as the chief advocate and director of this institution. Construction began on June 1, 1909, and was completed with the library’s opening in 1910.The collection initially consisted of a mixture of secular and religious works, as well as photographs, with 3,000 volumes total in Chinese and English. Under Wood’s leadership, the library rapidly developed, and within several years the collection had grown to 12,000 volumes total, with 5,000 in English and 7,000 in Chinese, as well as approximately 60 serial publications.
Not content to serve only Boone School’s small academic community, Wood expanded her library outreach efforts by opening the library’s reading rooms to the general public and offering its auditorium as a venue for public lectures. These lecture series, which covered “science, history, and current events,” were a major attraction, drawing hundreds of attendees in the area. With the assistance of her student Shen Zhurong, who acted as interpreter, Wood also started a set of traveling book collections of English works translated into Chinese for use in Chinese government schools. Shen and Wood became focused on disseminating library resources as widely as possible; their “mobile libraries” expanded access to neighboring cities, serving a combined population of 1.3 million, and they even hired workers to carry books up to mountain resorts popular with missionary families.
Despite these efforts, the general public reaction to library advocacy in China remained tepid, and Wood determined that the key to advancing the cause was the professionalization of librarians within China. Since there were no library schools in China at the time, in 1914 Wood sent Shen abroad to receive library training at the Library School of the New York Public Library. Another of her students, Hu Qingsheng, was to follow Shen’s path in 1917. Wood hoped that training Chinese students in Western principles of modern librarianship would spark a revolution of the profession in China, with American-educated professionals returning to share their experience and knowledge with their peers. Upon completing their degrees, both Shen and Hu joined Wood in her next endeavor: establishing a library school within China.”
(I have taught for many years at Simmons College in Boston, one of the library schools Wood attended; and her picture was hanging on a wall to commemorate her achievements!)