San Francisco libraries net huge donations of Chinese-language texts

The San Francisco Public Library's Chinese-language collection — historically the most extensive of its 60-some foreign languages — is getting 1,000 books larger thanks to an overseas donation unveiled today.

The eclectic selection includes fiction and nonfiction by prominent Chinese contemporary writers, traditional medicine books, travel guides, self-help texts and translations of renowned titles such as “1984” and “Dubliners.” All were hand-selected off a wishlist from the public library.

But it was the Beijing-based Zhi Gong Party, created in the early 19th century, and the Ameson Education and Cultural Exchange Foundation that first approached the library offering the gift valued at $20,000.

“There are not enough Chinese-language books to meet the demand from … people who want to study the language and understand Chinese culture. Because when you deal with a country, you need to understand the culture,” said Sean Zhang, deputy chairman of the party's education committee.

Zhang, who traveled with four other members of his organization to be present for the donation ceremony at 9:30 a.m. today at the Main Library, added that a large portion of the books are in simplified Chinese, which is the new demand in education.

“This gift was very nice,” said Shellie Cocking, the library's collections and cataloguing manager. “Most times, donors want to dictate what they're going to offer you. They very kindly let us select the titles and found what they could get off the list.”

Unlike libraries such as New York's, which received a donation from the party and foundation last year, San Francisco's system has a “very healthy” budget for buying books, Cocking said. Still, the donation helps given the “demand for Chinese universally across The City.”

On average, any given book will be checked out four times a year. However, Chinese-language materials are borrowed six times more often, Cocking said. They also make up a huge chunk of the overall circulating foreign collection at 187,000. Spanish at 65,000 and Russian at 35,000 are next in line.

Between 2009 and 2013, the Chinese-language collection grew by 23,000 volumes.

Systemwide, Chinese nonfiction is the sixth largest item in the collection and Chinese fiction the 10th. Along with DVDs, they often get returned before the three-week loan period and are immediately checked out again.

The newly donated books will be distributed among the Main Library and 11 branches, primarily in Chinatown, Richmond, Sunset and Visitacion Valley.

“These donations serve the purpose to help complete both missions for the party and us, because the foundation is a cultural and educational exchange,” said Zu Xiao Di, the foundation's Washington, D.C., director. “This is part of things we love to do.”

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