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Libraries in China can be categorized according to their administrative superiors, such as university or college libraries, scientific research institution libraries and those attached to government institutions, trade unions, factories, secondary or primary schools, or other organizations. In 1995, China had 2,615 public libraries housing 330 million volumes. These include national libraries, libraries at the provincial or equivalent level, libraries at the prefectural or equivalent level and those at the county level.

Beijing Library (or the National Library of China) opened to the public in 1912 as the successor to the Metropolitan Library founded late in the Qing Dynasty. Completed at the end of the l980s, the newly constructed National Library of China is located to the north of the Purple Bamboo Park in western Beijing. The huge complex, the second largest library in the world after the Library of Congress in the United States, occupies 142,000 square meters. Acquisitions, for the most part, come from donations by local governments, purchases, individual contributions, state allocations or through international book exchanges. The library's collection consists of more than 19 million books, including ancient books and records in more than 20 national minority languages and hundreds of thousands of rare editions. In addition to Chinese publications it collects foreign publications in 115 languages, principally English, Russian, Japanese, and German.

China's most famous university library is the Beijing University Library with its collection in excess of 4.5 million volumes. The libraries of Zhongshan University, Nanjing University, Chinese People's University and Beijing Teachers University each has upwards of two million copies. Libraries in scientific research institutions are organized in terms of their specialized discipline. The Chinese Academy of Sciences Library in Beijing has a collection of over six million volumes and has become the national center for scientific information. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions Library and trade union libraries of provinces, centrally administered municipalities and autonomous regions have fairly substantial book collections.

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