Keep Hong Kong libraries open until late night like in Taipei and Singapore, adviser urges, after criticism by Ombudsman

Legislator says current hours are usually the same as people’s work hours, so evening extensions are needed to halt worrying decline in ‘culture of reading’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 September, 2017, 11:59am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 September, 2017, 6:21pm

Hong Kong’s public libraries should be open until midnight to encourage the population to read, a member of an advisory committee said, a day after operations were slammed by the Ombudsman.

Roy Kwong Chun-yu, a Democratic Party member of the city’s legislature and part of a committee that advises the government on libraries, put forward the idea after the Office of the Ombudsman on Tuesday said there was “a clear misallocation of resources” in the sector.

Ombudsman Connie Lau Yin-hing asked why the government had been spending extra money to buy a targeted 700,000 new items a year for public libraries, but had been throwing away as waste paper hundreds of thousands of old materials rather than donating them to charity or holding book sales.

Lau also said the resources stocked by public libraries had increased 17 per cent over the last eight years, but the number of items the public borrowed dropped by more than 18 per cent.

Speaking on a radio show on Wednesday, Kwong said those findings revealed a worrying decline in the city’s “culture of reading”.

“It saddened me to hear that hundreds of thousands of books were thrown away every year, and I think there are many reasons why fewer books were borrowed in recent years,” Kwong said.

“One of those reasons is that we don’t have a culture of night libraries, since opening hours are the same as many people’s working hours.”

The committee Kwong sits on is tasked with formulating strategies to develop library facilities and services.

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Hong Kong Central Library in Causeway Bay usually opens from 10am to 9pm, but most public libraries close at 7pm or 8pm, with some closing at 5pm on Saturday and Sunday.

In comparison, many public libraries in Singapore close at 9pm, while some “intelligent libraries” – autonomous or unmanned facilities – in Taipei are open until midnight.

“Our public libraries should also be open until 11pm or midnight … so that residents can borrow or return a book or two after their day of work,” Kwong said.

He also advised the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which runs the public libraries system, to organise more activities to help children realise that reading at libraries can be fun.

Lau said the government had failed to explain clearly the rationale behind its annual buying target of 700,000 items, and Kwong agreed.

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“It’s unreasonable to follow a target set in the 1990s,” Kwong said.

“The quality of procurement is more important than the quantity. The department should consider organising polls to better understand what kinds of books our residents want.”

Some residents phoned in to the radio show on Wednesday to complain about the quality of public library services. A man surnamed Wong said he had been disturbed in libraries by crying babies and tourists pulling suitcases around.

A department spokeswoman said it welcomed “any suggestions and views from the public and stakeholders” and would study them carefully.