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Leeds and Hangzhou library services agree to work closer together

Updated: Sep 8, 2021

Earlier this month Leeds Libraries’ Chief Librarian, Andrea Ellison, visited our Chinese partner city, Hangzhou, to sign an agreement (Memorandum of Understanding) which looks to enhance cooperation between the two cities’ library services.

The visit formed part of a wider British Library funded UK-China Library network trip. In this blog post, Andrea shares her experiences about her visit to China and explains more about how Leeds’ and Hangzhou’s library services are planning to work closer together in the future.

Andrea Ellison, Chief Librarian Leeds Libraries

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit the city of Hangzhou in China where the focus of my visit was the formal signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Leeds Libraries and Hangzhou Library.

The MOU outlines a commitment to not only improve the strategic aims of our respective library services but also to enhance international relations between the UK and China. The MOU highlights a commitment to a regular exchange of information such as items of local interest, including local cultural events, festivals and local history resources, and ongoing communication between our two cities.

The visit to Hangzhou was made possible through the government funded ‘British Library in China project’, which aims to build closer cultural and people-to-people relations between the UK and China. The final phase of the three year programme involved a UK-China Library network which brought together senior library professionals from both countries at a two day conference in Chengdu at the end of March 2019.

At the conference I was invited to present a paper on the theme of ‘Place’, on behalf of the UK librarians, which explored the role of libraries in the ‘Place’ agenda, drawing on the development of libraries in Leeds as part of a Community Hub programme.

The conference proved to be hugely insightful. We learnt about the growth and expansion of the library sector in China, supported through recent legislation, in contrast to the more challenging environment that currently exists for the public library sector in the UK. However, notwithstanding this, it was clear that we face many of the same challenges and opportunities, e.g. around staff development and digital capabilities.

As the conference in Chengdu ended and my colleagues prepared to fly back to the UK, I set off on the second part of my journey to Hangzhou where I was warmly welcomed by the Director of Hangzhou Library.

There was a very full itinerary for the duration of my three day visit to Hangzhou which included an extensive tour of Hangzhou library; a visit to the Buddhism Branch Library and the MOU signing ceremony. I was also interviewed about aspects of British life and culture for an audience of approximately 50 Hangzhou residents, as well as taking part in a radio interview on a similar theme.

The real high point of my visit though was of course the signing ceremony for the MOU and the opportunity of meeting face-to-face with the library staff team from Hangzhou. This, added to the insight gathered from the conference in Chengdu, has helped bring a new energy and commitment to the concept of working internationally across our two cities. Most importantly the visit allowed for the development of a relationship through discussion of our respective cultures and professional library related issues.

The trip to Hangzhou has been an amazing experience for me, both personally and professionally, and it will stand out as one of the most significant moments of my career in libraries. A particular key learning point was the importance and opportunity for us as a service in developing our international links and collaboration, particularly the link with China, which will form part of our 5 year library strategy.

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