6 reasons to visit Shanghai’s first private library

6 reasons to visit Shanghai’s first private library

An unassuming shikumen building is making bookworms the new cool in town
shanghai private library 2666
Fall into the cozy world of books and pick up some Chinese and English titles that are unlikely to be found elsewhere in Shanghai.

The latest addition to the Bohemian enclave in Jing’an Villa is called 2666, and it's Shanghai’s first independent library.

Set up in May by a group of five Shanghainese journalists, writers and magazine editors, the dimly lit reading space attracted such a large crowd on its opening night even the cops came knocking.

And here are six reasons why the queue forms.

1. Pre-selected books

Non-bookworms don’t need to shift through rows and rows of books to find a good read in 2666. Its bibliophiles have picked out works they like the best, and think you might too.

Named after Chilean author Roberto Bolano’s last book, the library is particularly well-stocked with big names in Latin American literature, which is the owners’ collective interest.

There is also a rapidly expanding shelf called “Shanghai! Shanghai!” The section features works that celebrate the marvelous city where we live.

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“We try to stay connected with our readers by recommending books on Weibo and other social networking sites -- we can also buy books based on readers’ requests,” says one of 2666’s owners, a freelance writer who prefers to go by the pen name BTR.

2. Shoulder-rubbing with literati

shanghai private library 2666 Shanghai wordsmith Sun Ganlu (孙甘露) dives into a novel at 2666.

Filmmakers from Malaysia, poets from India, renowned Shanghainese author Sun Ganlu (孙甘露), and Fan Ye (范晔), the Chinese translator of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” have all been spotted browsing 2666’s shelves.

It has also become the choice of hangout among many Chinese media professionals in Shanghai.

Whether you’re looking to leak a story to a journalist or discuss a chapter with your favorite author, this is the place to do it -– in hushed tones, of course.

3. No stuffy rules

It’s the only library in Shanghai, and possibly the world, where music and smoking is allowed -- if those around you don’t mind.

Tea (RMB 25) and Starbucks-roasted coffee (RMB 25-30) are available from the bar in the entryway, and you are allowed to bring your own food and snacks, as long as they are odorless.

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With closing time set at 10 p.m. -- or even later, depending on the owners’ whims – it’s a perfect spot for insomniacs to look for a bedtime story.

4. Cheaper and more convenient

shanghai private library 2666 The library's membership card. 2666's rates make it an affordable alternative to Shanghai's public libraries.

Compared to the public libraries in Shanghai, 2666’s RMB 100 monthly fee or RMB 806 annual rate make it a more affordable alternative.

It is also a more hassle-free option if the reader is seeking English books, which make up about one-third of 2666’s collection. (The Shanghai Library requires registration with your passport and a RMB1,000 deposit before you can borrow foreign books.)

2666 lets you borrow any six items for up to two weeks at a time. Renewing your loans is a cinch too: all it takes is a phone call.

5. The bragging rights

With the owners’ close ties with the publishing industry, 2666 often gets first dibs on items hot off the press, way before they hit regular bookstores and libraries.

The owners’ personal book collections make up about a quarter of the 3,000 books in store and their large network of friends also regularly bring back choice reads from overseas trips.

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This boosts the library’s collection of English books and Hong Kong and Western magazines, including the hard-to-find back issues.

However, don’t expect to find any banned books here though, 37-year-old BTR adds firmly.

6. A social space

shanghai private library 2666 Book clubs, film screenings and author talks take place down this little lane every week.

Books, instead of being a solitary affair, are used as a social lubricant to bring together like-minded people at 2666.

Events such as book clubs, talks by visiting writers, filmmakers, photographers and the occasional performance by folk music groups are held three or four times a month (free entry for members or a minimum RMB 20 spend on drinks for non-members).

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“While we wish for more members, we don’t want the space to lose its personal feel, so we will try to limit it to 25 guests in the library at each time,” BTR says.

getting there


No. 136, Jing'an Villa, Lane 1025 Nanjing Xi Lu
+86 21 6210 3526 
1 p.m.-10 p.m.

Debbie Yong is a former newspaper journalist whose bad case of itchy feet has brought her across continents in search of an education. The native Singaporean was an English Literature undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, a postgraduate student at the London School of Economics, and is currently completing her Masters at Shanghai’s Fudan University.
Read more about Debbie Yong