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Society & Culture

Libraries Should be Heaven for All

Feb 16, 2011

A library in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, garnered nationwide attention a while back, not for its vast collection of books or its range of cultural events, but because it allowed beggars and other disadvantaged people to use its services.

Chu Shuqing, the library’s curator, famously said: “I don’t have the right to keep them (the beggars) away from the library, but anyone (who doesn’t agree) has the right to leave.”

The comment caused heated debate on the Internet.

Another library director told the media that this wasn’t news because as a public service the library welcomed all people who like reading.
Like many others, the incident grabbed my attention.

“What? A beggar, who may be ill, is allowed to be in a library? How could other readers stand to sit with him side by side?” was my initial reaction.

But the director’s response to the media made me ashamed of myself. Since a library is for the public, it should welcome all people who are fair in front of the law and should not judge anyone before exploring the truth.

What makes such “non-news” important?

I think it is because as a society we are used to classifying people into different classes and groups and giving them a label. The wealthy are depicted as the “noble community” in many advertisements, students who return from overseas study are the “elite”, while beggars and the homeless are all illiterate and up to no good. Society is inclined to put those in the more attractive groups on a pedestal and tries to cozy up to them, but gives a cold shoulder to those in the more disadvantaged groups, such as beggars.

Xu Xiaomin is director of the China Daily Shanghai News Center.

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