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Guo Zhaobin: The “Robinson” of PKU Changping Library

NOV . 01 2017
Peking University, Oct. 23, 2017: In 2009, Guo Zhaobin became the only guardian of the Changping Library, one of the Peking University Libraries.

The 4952 square meters library is Guo's island, where the "Robinson" has spent many hours by himself.

Plague on the entrance of the Changping Library

Immersed in the sea of books

In 2008, the College of Applied Arts and Sciences of Peking University moved out of the Changping campus.

In the next year, due to the limited storage space at the Haidian Campus and the growing amount of paper-based literature, the library building of the Changping campus was converted into a document storehouse for Peking University, especially for books, periodicals and newspapers of less frequent reference. Regular book-delivery service back and forth from Changping to Haidian is offered twice a week. Guo has been the only librarian there ever since.

Every Monday and Thursday, Peking University Library will send a shuttle to the Changping District to fetch the ordered books. Guo will receive a book list in advance. He needs to package those books before the shuttle arrives. It’s also his job to check in the returned books. After that, he waits for the next order list.

“This is my job. It doesn’t seem very complicated," he said, pointing to a pile of books on the ground. “There used to be very few books; some popular books were moved here when the new library was under construction. Now, there are more than a hundred books that need to be put back every week.”

books waiting to be put back in the cart

The Changping Library has in total eight book storages, in which are more than 14,000 planes. Books on the order list are scattered in various storages, and Guo often needs to walk back and forth quite a dozen times. It takes fifteen minutes to walk from one storage to another, and it takes another fifteen minutes to find the exact location of the book. Therefore, he has to get up at seven oclock every morning, repeatedly checks the records and learns about the location of the books. It can be quite a lot of work, and sometimes I have to stay up at night to get everything done.” Guo said.

Guo has numbered every bookshelf, every book stored and borrowed, and then has kept a record in the computer system. He does not know online payment or online entertainment, but has a good understanding of the library operating system.

Guo wearing a mask at work because of the dust on old books

With more than one million books in the Changping Library, it is difficult to find a particular book if it was placed at a wrong position. When the Changping campus was still in use, some students used to put the books back on the bookshelves without informing Guo, which upsets him a lot. For Guo, this might mean that this book could be lost for quite a long time. Guo will not allow such a thing. When the reporters entered the library, Guo made an immediate request: “Please do not tamper with the books, otherwise I may not be able to find them later.” He has his own "paranoia" - he must be sure that every book in the library is well documented.

“Some people don’t understand what I’m doing; they think that it’s just a jumble of books. But for me, it’s not just a matter of books. ” He regards the librarian's work as an honorable service: “The librarians at the Peking University Main Library put me in charge of such a big place, and I must dedicate myself to my responsibilities.”

Searching, encoding, categorizing… Guo has a lot to say regarding all these duties. He confessed: “It’s sometimes tiring to do them all by myself.  ”

Living on the "island"

PKU Changping Campus, a remote mountainous area located outside the Sixth Ring Road, is a 1.5 hour metro ride from the east gate of Peking University.

“Come on in.” Guo said with joy when he saw us, still wearing the mask for working in the stacks a few moments ago. “How would you come to visit such a remote place?”

Guo seldom has the chance to meet with other people except for the staff from PKU main library who come to fetch books twice a week. “I don’t have many visitors recently except the two of you.” He added.

Guo dwells alone in a cubicle opposite the stack room. The less than 10-suqare-meter room has a few simple pieces of furniture and cooking facilities. “I live quite a simple life here because I am the only staff member and have no need to receive readers.” he said to us.

Turning left at the entrance of the library, there is a storage with a desk and a computer. This is where Guo works.

Guo also owns a vegetable plot in the courtyard of the library, where he grows pumpkins, spring onions and peppers. He takes good care of his small garden.

Despite the grueling work, he would spare some time “videocalling” his two boys with the smart phone. It took him some years to learn to use it.

Instead of coming home during the National Holiday and Mid-Autumn Festival this year, Guo stayed at the library, enjoying the company of more than a million books. “I forget what is ailing me upon seeing all these books.”

As a librarian of the Changping Campus for 13 years, Guo has been used to living on the “island”. “Robinson” has built his own world there.

Guo is reading A Journey to the West

Attached to PKU

In Guo’s opinion, it is never easy for someone like him, a stranger to the City of Beijing, to fit in both economically and psychologically. For 20 years he has been in Beijing, he still feels like an outsider. But working as a librarian at the Changping Campus helps him gain a sense of belonging to the city.

In 1994, Guo served as a helping hand at the PKU Library 90th anniversary, turning from a temporary carpenter living on 6.5 yuan per day to a member of the support group at PKU Library. In 2004, he was shifted to the Changping Campus and officially employed as a librarian. In 2009, the Changping library was rebuilt and Guo remained the only one to stay.

Guo follows a similar routine every day. He gets up at 7 and starts to work at 8. He checks out the reserved books and puts the returned ones back to their shelves. Lunch usually begins after 1 p.m. and he continues his work after that. He concludes his day by patrolling around the library. It is usually 10 at night after that。

Guo takes good care of the library books and manages and secures the library all by himself. It is very tiring. But Guo said, “I feel proud to work for Peking University and I like my job here.”

Robinson Guo feels satisfied as a librarian of the island-like Changping Library, where he finds a sense of belonging.

Newspaper Collection in the Changping Library

Written by: Li Xiaotong & Lu Linlin
Edited by: Ma Xiao & Yan Shengnan
Source: PKU Wechat