We recently completed the first phase of ‘The British Library in China: Connecting through Culture and Learning’ project with our final event: the first ever UK-China Libraries Forum, held in Chengdu in the Sichuan Province of China.
Our ambitious three-year project, funded by HM Treasury, has transformed the British Library’s public engagement in China, with activities including exhibitions in Beijing, Wuzhen and Shanghai; events in Hong Kong; staff exchanges; and award-winning social media campaigns.
We organised the Forum in Chengdu with multiple Chinese partners, including our hosts the Sichuan Provincial Library and the Chengdu City Library.
Having mostly worked bilaterally over the past few years, we were keen, as the project evolved, to open up the opportunity of international working to our library partners from across the UK. We therefore decided to bring library leaders from our Living Knowledge Network of UK public libraries to meet and share thinking with colleagues from ten major city libraries from across China.
The discussion covered four broad areas, including Audiences, Digital Innovation, Workforce, and Place-making. Key takeaways included the important role libraries can play in Smart Cities/Communities initiatives to develop and support Smart Citizens, and the role of libraries as people connectors, as well as the key role that libraries play in our cultural ecology. We also programmed a number of public events in the region, including a sold-out ‘Shakespeare Connects’ panel that I was pleased to chair, and that featured Shakespeare experts from China alongside Sue Williamson, Director of Libraries at Arts Council England, and Tom Epps from the Library of Birmingham.
This was the first ever UK-China Library Forum, and it was an inspiring and transformative experience for partners from both countries. Delegates noted a number of shared challenges, and identified many opportunities for further partnership between UK and Chinese libraries. As so often when working in China, the power of UK culture to power connections, and appeal to broad audiences, was apparent; and we hope to continue the experiment with further Forums in the future.