University libraries in the capital will no longer serve only those in ivory towers, but will gradually open to the public.
Thirty-four university libraries in Beijing will accept visitors, and 12 of them have already begun to do so during the establishment of the Capital Library Alliance in March.
Most of the dozen universities allow visitors to read in the library without the right to borrow books.
Peking University library is one of them. Established in 1902, with a collection of more than 8 million books, the library allows visitors to apply for a free temporary ticket by showing identification cards. Visitors are eligible to read and make copies in the library on weekdays from 8 am to 5 pm.
"No deposit is required and we have opened the same areas to visitors that we open to our students," said a staff member from the library information desk, who declined to give her name. "But we don't take visitors during weekends."
Tsinghua University library requires identity cards and a letter of introduction from the institution where visitors are studying or working, as well as 2 yuan (30 cents) for a temporary one-day ticket to access the library. Visitors can only read within the library.
However, it may still be a while before the public can visit some university libraries in Beijing.
Yang Xiaojing, president of Beijing Foreign Studies University library, one of the 34 university libraries to receive visitors, told China Daily that she was aware of the news, but that the new library building had just finished being built and it would not be open to the public for the next two or three years.
Liu Songbai, president of Beijing Normal University library, told China Daily the plan was a draft, and each school's proposal was still pending. He also mentioned that his library does not provide check-out service to visitors, and visitors still need to pay for a temporary ticket to read in the library.
The Beijing University of Technology library allows visitors to borrow books after paying a 500-yuan deposit, and they need to pay a 300-yuan annual fee if they want to borrow books. Each visitor is limited to three books every month.
"I wish all university libraries were open," said Beijing resident Zhang Ting.
She added that more public libraries should also be built to fulfill ordinary residents' reading needs because the books in university libraries might not cater to residents' tastes.
Zhang also mentioned that some books in university libraries were rare, and if lost or damaged, "it would be an irretrievable loss".
As for the cost, she said it was too expensive. "I can buy books online, which may cost less than 300 yuan," she said.
Gao Ning, a faculty member of Beihang University, also welcomed the policy. "One of the key social responsibilities of universities is to serve the community," he said.
Gao also mentioned that it was necessary to knock down university fences and share resources with the public.
"In Beijing, it is the National Library of China that mainly takes the responsibility for residents to read and borrow books, but it has been under construction since May 2011, and the borrowing service was suspended," Gao said. "Therefore, university libraries should take the opportunity to serve the public."
A staff member from the National Library of China told China Daily that the construction will not be done until the end of 2013, and during the period readers cannot borrow books.
However, Ge Jianxiong, president of Fudan University library in Shanghai, said on his micro blog that university libraries could only open some areas to visitors. "I have to first guarantee the use of the school library to our students and faculty, and then it can be opened gradually when conditions are OK."
Wang Le, a graduate student from Beijing Normal University, said she approves of the idea to share library resources with visitors. "It is a waste of resources to restrict library books to people in the school," Wang said.
However, Wang also raised concern about limited library space at her school. "To get a seat, we have to line up in front of the library before it opens," Wang said, adding that it would be better for visitors to borrow books instead of reading in the library.