China's library reforms of the 1920s and 1930s must acknowledge an American connection — the crucial contributions made by Mary Elizabeth Wood (1861–1931) and her American-trained Chinese students. Why did Mary Elizabeth Wood occupy such an important position in China's library history, and how could she, as a foreigner without any native language background, set in motion a dream to be fulfilled by reformers for decades afterwards? To answer these questions, this article examines the historic significance of Mary Elizabeth Wood's decision to send her Chinese students to study library science in America. It demonstrates how, upon their return to China, Shen Zurong (Samuel T. Y. Seng, 1884–1977) and other students became China's first group of library professionals and assumed the leadership role in China's library reforms during the 1920s and 1930s. Together with Wood, they completed building China's first library school, spearheaded the establishment of public libraries in major Chinese cities, and designed a cataloguing system for Chinese libraries. Their successful endeavours culminated in the establishment of a modern Chinese library system.