Advisory panel on libraries a closed book

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 June, 2010, 12:00am

A committee set up by the Home Affairs Bureau to provide advice on library development has been urged to open its meetings to the public and to publicise its goals and activities.

Members of the Public Libraries Advisory Committee, formed in 2008, appeared before the Legislative Council yesterday for the first time.

Lawmakers questioned the members about opening up of the committee to more public scrutiny, saying they were not aware of its work and that no agendas and minutes of meetings were readily available.

Wong Kwok-hing, of the Federation of Trade Unions, said he wondered why the committee had no representatives from district councils and Legco despite various district councillors having repeatedly called for more resources for local libraries.

The committee should at least announce the plans it had been working on, said Civic Act-up's Cyd Ho Sau-lan: 'I hope the committee can draft up plans for students, retirees and other readers who are out of school.'

The committee, chaired by Open University president John Leong Chi-yan, has 15 members, comprising school principals, university professors of language, history and culture, representatives from youth, business and information technology groups, and a member from Young DAB.

The now defunct Committee on Libraries had recommended the setting up of the current, more powerful committee to strengthen the role of public libraries as cultural and educational institutions. The former committee had managed to increase the standard size of the city's libraries and to encourage NGOs to set up community libraries with collections contributed by the government.

Leong said his committee was only advisory and relied on the government for money to conduct projects. 'But one issue we are taking seriously is the promotion of electronic books. One such e-book device can store thousands of copies, and we are lagging behind other countries in the use of this,' he said.

'If e-book gadgets are widely used by the community, we can save a lot of space for collection storage. Now at issue is the cost, since at present one gadget costs US$200 to US$300.'

Undersecretary for Home Affairs Florence Hui Hiu-fai, who said the government's goal in making appointments to the committee was to give it both professional and community input, did not respond to the calls for meetings to be public.

Assistant director of Leisure and Cultural Services Lee Yuk-man said the department was surveying library users to find out, among other things, who were the most active users and what materials were borrowed most. Public libraries lent 62 million items last year.

Lawrence Pun Kwok-ling, a writer who has participated in library activities to promote local literature, said some good programmes were easily missed by the public, or failed to draw more educated readers, because of a lack of publicity.

'The management still tends to rely on printed materials to do publicity. They might want to consider using Facebook or other online tools to draw young people,' Pun said.