An honor that is one for the books

Updated 2017-10-08 14:31:53 China Daily

Su Wenzhu says she never dreamed an ordinary librarian such as herself would be elected as a delegate to attend the most important Party conference in the country.

Su, 50, is one of the grassroots delegates that will attend the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China later this month.

She works at Hebei Library in North China's Hebei province and is in charge of the library's antiquarian books.

"I feel honored but can't see any relation between my job duties and the congress," Su says.

Although nobody has told her the reason she was elected to be a delegate, she thinks that "it might be related to my work".

She started to work at the library after graduating from university in 1987 with a major in history.

"Back then, new staff could choose what to do in the library, and not many chose what I did," Su says, adding that searching for books was the busiest and most tiring job.

Without a computer, Su had to find the names of books in ledgers that listed and classified all the books in the library, and then fetch the books for the readers.

When readers returned the books they had borrowed, she then had to return them to their assigned place.

"I knew the job was boring, but by doing this I got to know how the library runs, what books we have, and where they are," she says.

After doing this for 10 years, she was given the opportunity to choose a new position in 1996.

This time, she chose to work in the department of antiquarian Chinese books, as she thought the work would be easier and it was related to her studies at university.

"But what I learned about history in university was totally unrelated to the management of the old books in the library," Su says.

Her duties were to document the basic information about the books published before 1912 entering the library's collection, including their titles, authors, dates of publication and editions.

"It's complicated work. Just like the identification of other cultural relics. I need to read through many materials and consult experts," she says. "Sometimes identifying a book can take days of work."

After another decade of hard work, she was appointed to lead the library's antiquarian department in 2007, and was named as the head of Hebei Antiquarian Books Preservation Center the following year.

She had not been long in that post, when Hebei launched a program to carry out a comprehensive survey for all the antiquarian books across the province.

Su and her team, which had less than 10 members, visited all the places with antiquarian books in Hebei such as universities, libraries and museums, to identify the books and establish a database.

"During the past 10 years, we have catalogued nearly a million old books, and also trained many people so they can preserve them," Su says.

With the help of Su and her team, many institutions that used to care little about antiquarian books have learned the significance of them and upgraded their facilities for better preservation.

"I felt obligated to look after these old books, because they are our traditional culture which we Chinese should never lose and forget," Su says.

"I came to the library because I thought I would be able to read a lot. But it turned out I haven't had much time to read." she says. "But maybe it is because I have the 30 years of frontline experience in dealing with the nation's antiquarian heritage, which makes me one of the lucky grassroots representatives."

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