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LegCo Secretariat releases Research Brief on "Challenges of Public Libraries in Hong Kong"

The following is issued on behalf of the Legislative Council Secretariat:

     The Legislative Council Secretariat (the Secretariat) today (February 29) released a Research Brief on "Challenges of Public Libraries in Hong Kong".

     Public libraries provide an important channel for the public to have free access to information and knowledge. In Hong Kong, the provision of public library service is the responsibility of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

     In spite of a sustained uptrend in registered borrowers, usage of local public libraries has faced visible downward pressure over the past decade, crowded out in part by Internet usage for information search and online reading. Most of the library usage indicators have registered declines by various magnitudes in recent years. For example, the numbers of books on loan and multimedia items on loan have fallen by a cumulative 11 per cent and 52 per cent respectively between 2005 and 2014. The number of enquiries about the reference materials at the libraries has also dropped by 14 per cent over the same period.

     On visits to public libraries, the total number of physical visits to the 18 district libraries has declined by 3 per cent between 2012 and 2014. Circulation of e-books in public libraries fell by 7 per cent during 2011-2014, notwithstanding increasing popularity of online reading nowadays. All of these indicators prompt grave concerns whether public library services need to be re-orientated to meet the changing needs of the public.

     Lacklustre library usage may also be due to limited collection of library materials. Per capita collection of public libraries was only 1.9 items in Hong Kong in 2015, two-thirds of the average figure of developed places and falling short of the global collection guideline. While small procurement budget for library materials may have restrained development of library collection, allocation of acquisition budget to various categories of library items seems to be unable to keep up with the changing needs of library goers.

     Turning to the district distribution of library materials, it varies quite widely within Hong Kong. Those districts with lower median monthly household income, including Kwun Tong, Sham Shui Po, Kwai Tsing, Tuen Mun and Yuen Long, tend to have smaller library collections. Paradoxically, residents in some lower-income districts are amongst top library goers in the territory. This precipitates concern about equal access to information and knowledge across districts.

     Digitisation of library items can address a shift towards online reading of the younger generation. Yet the progress of the development of e-book collections in local public libraries is rather slow, accounting for only 1.7 per cent of its total collection and 0.3 per cent of its total circulation in 2014. Both indicators were far behind Singapore, with the respective ratios standing at the region of around 24 to 29 per cent.

     In view of the challenges posed by the fast-expanding cyberspace, public libraries across the globe are experimenting with new initiatives to meet the changing needs of people. These initiatives include digitisation of library materials, reaching out to the community through providing targeted assistance for the elderly and others in need, as well as rolling out innovative projects such as assisting entrepreneurship and offering office support services to those who work from home.

     This is the second issue of the Research Brief for 2015-2016 prepared by the Secretariat's Research Office of the Information Services Division with a view to enhancing information support for Members. It is a concise summary aiming at explaining a subject matter which may be of interest to Members and the general public.

     The Research Brief is now available on the Legislative Council website at .

Ends/Monday, February 29, 2016
Issued at HKT 15:57


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