Declining usage highlights need for library materials to be more accessible

Given the advance of technology nowadays, books and multimedia items should be just a simple click away on the internet

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 March, 2016, 1:19am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 March, 2016, 1:19am

That printed books, newspapers and magazines are losing out in the digital age is a sad but inevitable trend. Researchers at the Legislative Council Secretariat were therefore stating the obvious when they released a report on the declining usage of public libraries and borrowings in the city. The number of books and multimedia items on loan fell by a cumulative 11 per cent and 52 per cent respectively between 2005 and 2014.

But the report did not just stop here. It also put the spotlight on government’s library policies and arrangements, including acquisitions and the pace of digitalisation. For this, the researchers deserve credit for putting a worldwide phenomenon into a local perspective. According to the report, the decline in public library usage may be attributed to what it described as unsatisfactory collections. Although the total volume grew from 11.6 million items in 2005 to 14.2 million items in 2015, the items per capita only increased slightly from 1.7 to 1.9 during the period, about one-third behind the average of 2.7 in developed places. Collections are also said to be uneven. Although residents in poor places like Sham Shui Po are usually frequent users, libraries in these districts tend to have smaller collection.

Spending on acquisition of materials shrank from HK$97 million in 2000-2001 to HK$90 million in 2014-2015. When compared with the overall library spending, the ratio dropped significantly from 18 per cent to 9 per cent during the period. This is not helped by a woefully low digitalisation rate. Although the government’s website boasts of more than 200,000 electronic titles, it only accounts for 1.7 per cent of its total collection, far behind Singapore’s figure of up to 29 per cent.

The ongoing TV publicity by the government to make better use of online library materials may be just coincidental. But the study should give fresh impetus to make library materials more accessible for the people, be it physically or electronically. Given the advance of technology nowadays, library materials should be just a simple click away on the internet.