Self-service library stations to provide books on demand for Hong Kong readers

Readers can now borrow from 300 books from the vending machine-style station located at Sai Wan Ho

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 December, 2017, 4:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 December, 2017, 9:44pm

The words are on the street after Hong Kong’s public libraries operator opened the city’s first self-service book station on Tuesday.

Readers can now borrow from 300 books on the shelves of the vending machine-style station – which is located at Sai Wan Ho in the east of Hong Kong Island – with a scan of their library card or preregistered Hong Kong ID card.

Two more stations will be launched in the second half of 2018, one at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui and another at Tai Wai station in Sha Tin. The three stations were estimated to cost HK$7.8 million (US$1.18 million) to build and HK$4.8 million each year to operate, according to Lee Tsz-chun, the chief librarian in charge of operations and computerisation at Hong Kong Public Libraries.

“By putting these books in the community through the self-service station, we hope to make access to books easier for citizens and promote a reading culture,” Lee said.

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The addition came as the rise of e-books has caused interest in Hong Kong’s public libraries to wane. The number of visits declined by 10 per cent to 37.8 million from 2011 to 2015.

The self-service station provides an extra channel for readers such as working professionals to borrow books outside normal working hours, Lee said. Readers can also pick up books they have requested from public libraries.

The stations will operate 24 hours a day every day, except when a typhoon signal No 8 or higher is issued. About 35 per cent of the 300 book collection is in English, and about 40 per cent are children’s books.

“Elderly people and families with small children are those who have the biggest demand for borrowing books,” said Bill Yeung Sze-chun, district councillor for Lei King Wan.

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“The station only has 300 books, but it faces the demand of 60,000 to 70,000 residents who do not have access to public libraries in the Eastern District,” Yeung said. “It’s a drop in a bucket.”

In the neighbouring mainland Chinese city Shenzhen, 240 self-service library stations have been put into service since 2009.

“We have different service models and it’s difficult to compare directly,” Lee said. “In Hong Kong, there are 70 public libraries and 12 mobile libraries. We have also worked with NGOs to provide books and have set up more than 200 community libraries.”

The collection of public libraries was 1.9 items per capita in 2015, about one third less than average for developed cities, a research brief by the Legislative Council Secretariat released last year said.