Next chapter requires a firm commitment

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 June, 2007, 12:00am

Fears for the future of books in the age of the internet and home infotainment have proved premature. Evidence of this is to be found in the roller-coaster success of this city's annual book fair, with record attendances year after year. That helps confound the myth that Hong Kong people do not read. A love of reading goes hand in hand with lifelong learning and achievement. So the continued appetite for books is a good sign for our city's future in a knowledge-based world.

It is also a reason why the report on long-overdue reform of Hong Kong's public libraries has been eagerly awaited.

The Committee on Libraries advising the Home Affairs Bureau has recommended a major expansion in the role of public libraries in the cultural and educational life of the community. That is to be welcomed. But as we report today, the report has met with a mixed reception. Critics remain convinced that commercialisation of the libraries is the most effective way to bring them up to world-class standards and meet community demand for service.

Supporters of the public library system will expect the government's expression of support in principle for all the committee's recommendations to translate into prompt, positive action to implement them, including the financial commitment to provide considerable extra space for new libraries and more resources. The public is also entitled to expect better educational and cultural value, including adequate provision of electronic reading. Otherwise, pressure to free the system from red tape and make it more responsive to community needs can only grow.

The public libraries' mission is to be restructured into two tiers - a major cultural, learning and information role for the Hong Kong Central Library, and a community service objective for district libraries. A key recommendation is to make libraries more accessible by putting them in more convenient places, such as shopping malls. To convince developers that they are good for business, libraries will need to prove they can help attract customers.

The government should commit itself to making the strategy work. It would be a good investment in Hong Kong's future.