The Hong Kong Book Fair has long been a magnet for youngsters rushing to get the first copies of their pop idols' wordless pictorial releases and catch a glimpse of their favourite stars. And although the musings of Twins' Gillian Chung Yan-tung undoubtedly have their place, the fair is proving important as an international trading ground for Chinese-language books. The high turnout of overseas libraries and publishing houses seeking to replenish and supplement their stocks is giving the traditionally retail-oriented summer extravaganza a new twist. This year, 207 executives from 15 organisations around the world, including such US institutions as the Queens Library, the University of California at Berkeley, the Melville Library at Stony Brook University and the Brooklyn Public Library, Malaysia's University Tunku Abdul Rahman plus libraries from the mainland and Macau, visited the fair to shop for the latest titles. Most were looking to boost their collections of Chinese-language books in particular. Raymond Yip Chak-yan, assistant executive director of the Trade Development Council, organiser of the fair, said the importance of the Chinese language is growing around the world, creating a greater demand for Chinese-language books. 'The Chinese community around the world is growing because of new immigrants from not only Hong Kong but also mainland China. At the same time, more people are learning the Chinese language. Chinese-language books no longer just serve ethnic Chinese,' said Mr Yip. 'A lot of new titles are released during the Book Fair and because these libraries do not usually purchase in bulk, they do not get much of a discount even if they order from publishers directly. In fact, they get a better discount coming to the fair.' There are book fairs around the world, including in Beijing and Taiwan, offering the trading of Chinese-language books and their copyrights. But one important quality that has made the Hong Kong event a big draw is the freedom of speech that allows virtually all sorts of books, on all sorts of subjects, to be found there. Judy Lu, chief of the Library of Congress' Asian division, said the wide availability of various books made Hong Kong an important stop for boosting the library's collection of Chinese titles. The Library of Congress is now the world's largest library, with more than 138 million items. 'Lots of books are still not available in China but they can be found in Hong Kong because Hong Kong has freedom of speech and this is what makes it special,' said Ms Lu. 'After all, we are a library and we represent all voices.' Ms Lu said the library had been in contact with a number of local publishers, but this year was her first official visit to the fair. She said she had picked 450 titles on her first night in Hong Kong, selecting works on a range of subjects from politics and the humanities to finance and recent novels. She said the Library of Congress devoted around US$350,000 to the acquisition of Chinese-language books, which were becoming more and more important in the US. She said the library had 1.05 million volumes of Chinese-language titles, believed to be the single biggest collection outside of Chinese-speaking territories. Ms Lu said the growing importance of Chinese was reflected in US Senator Joe Lieberman's proposed US-China Cultural Engagement Act in 2005. The proposal was aimed at securing US$1.3 billion in federal funds over five years for the provision of Chinese-language classes at all US schools and other cultural exchange activities between China and the US. 'Although it hasn't been passed, this action fully illustrated the importance of Chinese studies. More people are learning Chinese because of China's rising economic power,' Ms Lu said. 'Many research staff members working for the Congressmen can read Chinese, and many more professors and scholars conduct research relying on Chinese-language materials. If they have such needs, they would come to us because many of these books are not available elsewhere.' While libraries were hoping to boost their collections, some large publishing houses were at the fair to try to make money from copyright trading, one of the many kinds of business the Trade Development Council hoped to strengthen. There were exhibitors from 21 countries as far afield as Argentina and Spain. Spanish publishers, Europe's third-largest publishing sector after Britain's and Germany's, regard Hong Kong as the appropriate platform from which to expand in Asia-Pacific. They had their first pavilion at the fair this year, featuring six publishing firms. Mr Yip said the trading of copyrights had grown from 500 titles last year to 1,300. 'Exhibitors at the international village section hoped to find Hong Kong publishers to publish Chinese translations of their books,' he said. 'We hope to do more business matching between rights owners and rights buyers, authors and publishers.' Among the overseas buyers was the Malaya Press, from Malaysia, which focuses on publishing Chinese-language books and tools for education. Yeoh Suh Shyun, its executive director, said it was the company's first time at the book fair, but that after just one day it had managed to find potential partners for business collaboration. 'We saw many new projects that are not available in China,' said Mr Yeoh, who frequently travels to various fairs including those on the mainland. 'The education tools and teaching aids available here are more diversified and trendy.' Mr Yeoh said that with an ethnic Chinese population of 6 million in a total population of 26 million, Malaysia's Chinese readership was small but growing. 'The general readership for Chinese-language books is low compared to that in Hong Kong. But it's been increasing in recent years,' Mr Yeoh said. 'The public is aware of the growing economy of China and more people want to learn Chinese.' He said that because Malaysia had adopted simplified Chinese characters, the company could not directly import books from Hong Kong, where traditional characters are used, but that his team had made a lot of important contacts for future business partnerships. Compared with other fairs, such as Frankfurt's, which is mainly trade-oriented, the Hong Kong fair is fun for the consumers but not so much fun for those looking for rights and business opportunities. 'We're surprised by how crowded it is,' said Mr Yeoh. 'The atmosphere is great, but it affects us buyers. If the fair organisers could keep an area exclusively for rights trading, it might attract more foreign buyers.' Mr Yip said the council would consider developing the trade side of the fair, making it more than just an annual shindig for locals. 'There's room to develop the business-to-business aspect and it appears that the industry is paying a lot of attention to this. Most important for us is to grow a critical mass as well as a niche market [for rights trading],' said Mr Yip.