The library's the hottest booking in town
For those who think libraries are just about books, think again. The new Hong Kong Central Library certainly has books - more than one million - but there is a lot more to it. Especially if you are a child.
The good news is that it's all free. And the bad news? You have to book a week in advance for most activities and facilities, but phone bookings make this relatively painless.
The children's library, for those aged 12 and under, is on the second floor. It offers free facilities of such quality that it makes sense to take the children to the library as a weekly ritual.
The highlight for young children is the toy library, the first of its kind in Hong Kong. Designed for those aged three months to eight years, the toy library consists of a large play area complete with a Wendy house, fancy dress wardrobe and padded area for toddlers. A parent or guardian must accompany each child, but children can browse through a selection of catalogues and choose from 1,000 toys. Playright Children's Playground Association, a charitable organisation in Hong Kong, was a consultant on the project and helped to select many of the toys.
The toy library is open during normal library hours and parents can book a 45-minute session with their child by calling 2921 0386. Judging by the concentration on the face of one father as he tried to hook a fish on a plastic rod, children are not the only ones enjoying the toys.
Equally popular is the multimedia room, designed for three- to 12-year-olds. There are 24 computer terminals and a couple of technicians on hand to help.
A database of 280 CD-Roms is divided into three categories - story-telling, games and learning (languages and science). It is a popular facility and advance booking is a must. Call 2921 0375 to book a one- or two-hour session.
There are also a couple of banks of computers on which children can spend up to two hours on a first-come-first-served basis. These terminals offer Internet access and assistants are on hand to help beginners.
The library has a stock of 3,000 audio books - cassette tapes of stories that children can listen to while they follow the written text. Audio books, like library books, can be borrowed for up to two weeks.
The journal area is a great place for parents and children to spend some quality time. There are plenty of chairs, cushions and beanbags, so children can get comfortable with their reading material.
Oh, and there are books as well - 150,000 of them. Children can borrow six books - or cassettes - at a time. The ratio of Chinese to English books is 4:1.
It is worth picking up an events list from the library. Story-telling sessions and performances aimed at rousing interest in reading are regularly held in the children's activities room. Today the story workshop from 2.30-4pm is in Cantonese, next Saturday it will be in English.
Hong Kong Central Library, 66 Causeway Bay Road, Causeway Bay. Opening Hours: Mon, Tue, Thur and Fri 10am-9pm; Wed 1-9pm; Sat, Sun and public holidays 10am-6pm. Library services inquiry: 2921 0208. Books can be reserved on the Web through the central library's homepage at www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/Library