Take a text drive

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 12:00am

AS THE BIGGEST library in the SAR, the Hong Kong Central Library boasts a collection of more than 1.2 million items. It should be one of the best places for simple research projects. But is it? Armed with three of my own research topics, I try it out.

Henry VIII

He married six times. Supposedly this 16th century English king was the happiest man of his time. Or, perhaps, the most unhappy. That question intrigues a nosy person like me.

The encyclopedias in the Youth Lending Library are not very helpful. They tell me the basics, such as that he pronounced himself head of the English church after the Pope refused to grant him a divorce. It is known as the English Reformation.

That does not answer my question.

The online catalogue is my next stop. There are some books about him and the Reformation in the adult section, but they all seem too serious for such a prying project.

Within a few clicks, a nice Chinese biography in the youth section is listed on the monitor. In 115 pages it wraps up the story from Henry I to 'Bloody' Mary, daughter and successor of Henry VIII, and gives me about all I want.

Religion in ancient Egypt

After a roller-coaster ride with King Henry, it is time for something peaceful. The Egyptian gods, with their heads of falcon, scarab, ram and hippo, interest me and I want to match their images with names and functions.

But it is a difficult task. The online subject search is of no help. Attempts with all combinations of the words 'religion', 'god' and 'ancient Egypt' yield nothing.

So I try title keyword. Out of the nine records, only one has pictures and it cannot be taken out of the library. The rest are lengthy academic books, some of which are not available in the library.

Not wanting to give up, I type in 'ancient Egypt'. That gives me more than 250 records. With much patience I find another useful book with pictures. Sadly, it is available almost everywhere but this library.

I have to rely on the only book available.

Plants in Hong Kong

What plants grow in this concrete forest? The online subject search fails miserably again. I resort to physical labour and go upstairs.

In the Central Reference Library is a Hong Kong Studies section. Among the piles of books I find three shelves on nature in Hong Kong. In-depth studies on Hong Kong plants would not be possible with these brief descriptions, but books in this section provide a good start.

I consult a check list of Hong Kong plants before flipping through books which specialise in lichens, sea weeds, mosses and other plants. Lichen is a good topic because it is so 'low profile'. I key 'lichen' into the computer and find nine more books which provide greater detail.

After a day there, this is how I rate the Central Library.

Its overall collection is impressive, but there are not enough books that cater for young researchers. Most of the books are either too brief or too complicated.

However, it is well worth a visit.

Bear in mind that the online search is not good for vague research ideas. If you are looking for clues to narrow down your topic, a walk among the relevant shelves is a better option.