Survey of Local Libraries’ Chinese Collection

Arcadia Library

Arcadia Library

This is Part 2 of my Building a Chinese Library for the Kids series.  In Part 1, I talked about the different types of Chinese books and which books I choose to buy vs just borrowing from the library.

I have really fond memories of my mother dropping me off at the local library every weekend for 2 hours and browsing both English and Chinese books.  If it were possible, borrowing Chinese books is the way to go.  It’s more economical for everyone.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my post on the types of books I like to buy, our local libraries don’t typically have books that fulfill my criteria.  They especially don’t have a lot of the newly published, high on best sellers list, books.

And let me spend a bit of time complaining about librarians who choose to buy good picture books or lower elementary books without zhuyin or pinyin.  Are these books only for recent immigrants who can read Chinese?  Many of us 1.5 generations would read if a book only had zhuyin.  Plus, any kids need zhuyin or pinyin in order to read the books by themselves before they learn enough characters.  If libraries wanted to encourage reading, especially Chinese reading, they need to buy the right books.

I’m listing how much collection each library has by the number of rows of books.  Typically one bookshelf has two rows because they’re back to back.   I don’t count extra shelves that hold audio/visual or in the case of Oakland Asian, mangas.  Some libraries have different shelving system, so I converted it to what it’s roughly equivalent to to Oakland Asian.

A Round Up of Some Bay Area Libraries

In the last 6 months, I’ve been going to various libraries in the Bay Area, and even in SGV, to check out their library collection.  Here are some of the libraries I’ve visited.

Oakland Asian Library (2 short rows)

They probably have a good picture book selection, but since there’s a high circulation rate, it’s really hard to get a hold of the good books.  On the other hand, if you’re looking for elementary books, this is the place to go.  We like to go on Tuesday nights at 7pm when the parking is free, it’s quiet, and ideally people have returned a lot of the books over the weekend.

Go for: Older elementary classics, Magic Treehouse 1-30, Geronimo Stilton, Lemony Snicket, traditional Chinese + pinyin, non-fiction books, comic books, Magic Schoolbus DVD HK version, Sagebooks Set 1 & 2, some classic anime that came from Japan (things I grew up with).

Books and Me (3-4 tall rows?) 

For awhile I was going to Books and Me in Los Altos every 2 weeks.  That’s 1-1.5 hour of driving each time!  They’ve got a fantastic picture book collection and we had the library to ourselves when we go in the morning on week days.  There is also a huge collection of cultural books.   The collection has newer books, basically books often recommended by parents nowadays and lots of good Japanese translated books,.  Oakland Asian has it too, but not to the extent.  They also have a good selection of parenting books.

Go for:  Learning zhuyin, large CD/DVD collection, books with bilingual CDs, small Beginning Reader books such as Something About Vicky 亮亮, Arnold Lobel, and Hsin Yi’s Children’s Reading Train set.

Alameda & Contra Costa County Libraries  

I’ve been to Union City, Albany, El Cerrito (1/3 tall row), Fremont, and Castro Valley (1/4 tall row).  Most of these had a small collection when I went, probably because many were checked out.  After awhile, I realized that Alameda County Library splits up their collection amongst all the member libraries.  For example, you will find the Little House on the Prairie set scattered.  Though it makes it really hard to search, reserving online first is really your best bet.

Go For: Lots of classic (published 20-30 years ago) traditional elementary books scattered throughout the library system, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Little House on the Prairie, etc.

Other Libraries & Link+  

I’ve been to city libraries in Hayward and San Leandro, plus reserved books through Link+ from San Francisco Public and Santa Clara County libraries.  San Francisco has an awesome collection of Chinese books.  Santa Clara seem to have the newer published books that I cannot find in Oakland or San Francisco.  Even better, unlike Oakland Asian, they allow you to request them through Link+.

Link+ is your friend when it comes to getting books that are not in your local library.  It is a consortium of county libraries in the Bay Area (So San Leandro & Hayward doesn’t belong in it for example).  All you do is click on the Link+ icon when you search for books and can’t find a local copy.

Go For:  Magic Treehouse past #30, Magic Treehouse book and audio in simplified Chinese, older published elementary books, any books you can think of but can’t find in your local library.


A Round-Up of Other Libraries

Sorry some of these libraries are in Chinese only.   If you can read Chinese, there are some cheaper alternatives than to buying and shipping books to the US.

I haven’t found a reliable place for good young children’s eBooks yet.  Unlike the US, there doesn’t seem to be a standard format people use so it’s hard to buy books from different websites that are compatible with each other’s readers.  Also, since Thumper and Astroboy aren’t really at the reading eBooks level, I have always ended up just buying physical books.  So I haven’t tried some of these links I listed.

Monterey Park and Arcadia Library

I recently checked out Monterey Park’s (4 tall rows) and Arcadia library (1/2 tall row).  Both underwhelmed me because they have such a high Chinese population here compared with the amount of Chinese book holdings.  That said, their collection wasn’t bad.  After visiting various NorCal libraries, I started seeing how their collections overlap.  Everyone has the same set of Chinese books.  However, Monterey Park especially, has a completely different set of books.  For their older book collection, it’s got a lot of the classics, and books, even higher comprehension level ones, with zhuyin.  Arcadia has a very small collection, but many of those books are newly published.  And their elementary collection is the best I’ve seen so far.  They go all the way up to middle school and are newly published.

Go for:  great books with zhuyin, super old classics, books going up to middle school.

Taipei Library  

What?! I can’t go visit Taipei Library”, you say.  But, here’s a no so secret secret that lots of recent immigrant parents know but I only found out during my last visit to Taiwan.  You can get a library card if you have a Taiwanese ID when you’re in Taiwan and then check out their books online!  The software they use is called HyRead.   There aren’t too too many super great books that have been made into eBooks, but there are some gems.

Now, most of us 1.x generation don’t have Taiwanese IDs.  But if you’re really determined, and your parents were born in Taiwan, you can figure out how to get one.

Go for:  Wei Jun Goes to School

National Taiwan Public Library NTPL 

Similar to Taipei Library, you can check out eBooks.  Even better, you can apply for a library card online!  You can just take a pic of Taiwanese ID and email it in along with your application.


I haven’t actually used this yet.  But you can borrow or buy eBooks from this website.  You need the HyRead software.

Go For: 小學生童話字典


This is not a local library.  But when you don’t know if a library has the book, WorldCat is the place to check.  The nice thing about WorldCat is that you can search for a book in Chinese.  This was super helpful before I learned how to type in Pinyin.  The problem with pinyin is that sometimes a library will spell it just a bit differently or combine two characters together into one word.  With WorldCat, I can see if they have the book in a local library.

There are several other resources I know I’m not listing because Thumper and Astroboy is too young right now to take advantage of them.  Off the top of my head, I know you can load books onto Kindle and there are websites with free books.   There is a website run by Taiwanese government with fairly popular picture books.  There are also these reader machines they sell in Taiwan you can load audio books onto.  I’ve seen one that had many of the best sellers books.  But, out of my price range.  I think I don’t tend to use eResources much because it requires that I spend some time looking and searching on websites vs just having the kids grab a book themselves to read.

So now, supposing you are going back to Asia and need to grab some books from the bookstore, what do you buy?

Check back in 2 days!



One thought on “Survey of Local Libraries’ Chinese Collection

  1. Pingback: Some tips on building a Chinese library | Mandarin Immersion Parents Council

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