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LCQ3: Hong Kong Public Libraries
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     Following is a question by the Hon Michael Tien and a written reply by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Lau Kong-wah, in the Legislative Council today (April 13):

Question:

     As revealed by the outcome of a survey conducted last year, only 5.7 per cent of the children in Hong Kong read 10 books or more each month, and this figure was far below those of Japan and Taiwan, which stood at 38.3 per cent and 30.3 per cent respectively.  Furthermore, a Research Brief published by the Legislative Council Secretariat early this year pointed out that usage of public library services had been falling over the last decade, e.g. the number of books on loan had fallen by 11 per cent.  There have been comments that given the growing prevalence of smart phones and rapid development of Internet platforms, and certain edges that such media have over the printed media in information dissemination (e.g. instantaneity, portability and interactivity), public library services are facing immense challenges and the reading culture is on the wane.  In view of this situation, quite a number of countries and territories have been taking pro-active measures in recent years to reform their public library services and promote reading culture.  For example, in Singapore, the stock of e-books has increased tremendously, and the libraries of San Francisco and Japan have set up designated reading areas exclusively for teenagers.  Besides, Taiwan has set up book-floating points in public places extensively so that members of the public can give away their books for "book-floating" purposes and take away free of charge books for reading as they wish, and established unmanned libraries at metro stations to enable the working population and students to borrow and return books on a self-service basis.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it conducted any study in the past three years on the reading habit of the people of Hong Kong, and assessed how the lethargic reading culture had affected (i) Hong Kong's competitiveness, (ii) the cultural literacy of members of the public and (iii) their language competency; if it did, of the details; if not, whether it will consider conducting the relevant studies;

(2) of the measures introduced by the authorities in the past three years to promote reading culture and the effectiveness of such measures; and

(3) whether it will set up book-floating points and make available at these points, for members of the public to freely take away for reading, those books which have been written-off by the public libraries each year but which are still in readable conditions, and whether it will, by making reference to the aforesaid overseas practices, reform the public library services with a view to promoting reading culture through a multi-pronged approach; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

     The Hong Kong Public Libraries (HKPL) of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) currently operates a network of 68 static libraries and 12 mobile libraries to provide territory-wide public library services to meet the community's needs for knowledge, information, self-learning and continuous education as well as the constructive use of leisure time.  The HKPL also organises a wide variety of programmes to promote literary arts and reading culture in Hong Kong.  My reply to the various parts of the Hon Tien's question is as follows:

(1) The HKPL has been assessing the reading habits of readers through making daily contacts with members of the public and analysing the usage of the library collections.  Our major observations in recent years are as follows:

* Despite a drop in the overall number of loans in the past three years, an upward trend has been witnessed in the number of loans for children's books with a marked rise in the number of loans for Chinese Children Picture Books and books under the category of Chinese History & Geography.  The numbers of loans in 2015 showed an increase of about 15 per cent and 19 per cent respectively over 2013.  As regards English books for children, books under the categories of History, Pure Science and Children Picture Books were more popular with a rise of 21 per cent, 14 per cent and 7 per cent respectively in the numbers of loans.  For adult books, there was a rise of around 9 per cent in the number of loans for Chinese books under the category of History & Geography and Biography.

* In view of the growing popularity of smart phones and tablets, and the changes in the reading pattern of the public, the HKPL devotes its efforts to develop a balanced and "mixed" library collection which covers printed books and e-resources to meet public needs.  There was a continuous rise in the number of virtual visits (sessions) to the online "Library Without Walls" services of the HKPL (including the usage of e-resources) in the past three years.  The number of virtual visits in 2015 was over 23 million times, which was 14 per cent higher than that in 2014.

* Given the popularity of newspapers and periodicals services provided in libraries, the HKPL has increased the subscription of newspapers and periodicals in recent years to address the demands of readers.
     
     In addition, the LCSD conducts regular opinion surveys on the facilities and services of public libraries to collect opinions of the public (including both users and non-users) on the current library services and future needs.  The results of the 2014-15 opinion survey showed that 85.6 per cent of the library users were satisfied with the services and facilities of public libraries.  For public library users, they had a regular reading habit and the books they read were mainly borrowed from public libraries (95.9 per cent).  As for non-users, they mostly preferred buying their own books (65.5 per cent) or reading e-books through the Internet and smart phones (39.1 per cent).  With a view to further enhancing public library services to meet the expectations of users and attract non-users to use public library services and facilities, the LCSD is studying and analysing the survey statistics in depth and will also enhance collaboration and communication with the Education Bureau (EDB) and other stakeholders in a bid to understand the reading habits and ability of students and the public.

(2) To foster a reading culture, the HKPL regularly organises diversified reading activities for readers of different age groups.  From 2013 to 2015, over 20 000 extension activities, with over 3 million attendance, were held each year.  General extension activities include Reading Programmes for Children and Youth, Reading Clubs, Paired Reading Talks and Workshops, Thematic Storytelling Workshops and "Meet-the-Author" Talk Series, "Summer Reading Month", "4.23 World Book Day Creative Competition", etc.  Each library will also hold thematic and roving book exhibitions with tie-in recommended booklists.  Since 2008, the HKPL has been collaborating with District Councils and local groups to organise reading activities which cater for the needs and characteristics of individual districts.  These activities include Summer Reading Programme in Sham Shui Po and Tuen Mun Reading Festival, etc.  To cultivate a reading habit among the public and fully utilise library resources, the HKPL regularly offers block loan services to schools and community organisations.

     Moreover, the HKPL works actively with the EDB every year to organise briefing sessions on library resources and facilities and various sessions of the "School Culture Day", participate in EDB's "World Book Day" programmes to promote library resources and invite native-speaking English school teachers to conduct English storytelling sessions.  In fact, since the implementation of the curriculum reform by the EDB in 2001, "Reading to Learn" has been one of the Four Key Tasks.  All kindergartens and primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong have spared no effort to promote reading.  Adjustments and enhancements have been made in areas of school-based curriculum, teaching methodology and school library facilities to promote a reading culture in school.  Relevant measures include the emphasis on the role of teacher-librarians in promoting reading, the implementation of reading schemes in different modes through home-school cooperation, and the on-going initiative of teaching reading through the Chinese Language and English Language subjects.  Since 2004, the EDB has set up the "Book Works" website on reading, providing primary students with online reading materials in Chinese and English to enhance their reading interest and instil in them a good reading habit.  Under the on-going renewal of the school curriculum started in 2014, the EDB has been promoting "Reading across the Curriculum" to enhance students' language proficiency through the enriched reading experiences and a broadened knowledge base provided in various Key Learning Areas and subjects.  Improvements have been noted in students' reading proficiency, as reflected in international student reading assessment results in recent years.

     The HKPL will step up its promotion on "Reading among the Elderly" in future to cater for the needs of the elderly to pursue knowledge and make good use of leisure time.  Measures include organising different types of library activities and workshops which meet the needs of the elderly.

(3) The LCSD will continue to adopt proactive measures to promote reading through a multi-pronged approach as set out below:

* To facilitate access to public library books by schools and individual communities, the LCSD actively implements the [email protected] - Community Libraries Partnership Scheme.  Under the scheme, schools and non-profit making organisations are offered block loan of books and assistance for setting up community libraries tailored to their target audiences so that local residents can enjoy more prompt and convenient library services.  At present, there are over 200 community libraries across the territory and the HKPL has lent out over 100 000 items.

* The HKPL is implementing a pilot scheme under which serviceable books of lower usage are donated to non-profit making organisations and educational bodies in accordance with the established procedures and regulations of the Government to optimise use of resources.  The pilot scheme is underway and the LCSD will assess its effectiveness in due course.

* The LCSD also plans to provide on a trial basis in 2017-18 three self-service library units, one each on Hong Kong Island, in Kowloon and in the New Territories, at locations with heavier pedestrian flow and convenient access to public.  The self-service units will provide round-the-clock library services on borrowing, returning and picking up reserved library materials, etc.

* Having regard to the changing reading patterns of the public, apart from acquiring the types of books which have a high lending rate, the HKPL plans to acquire or subscribe to 63 e-databases and eight e-book collections (covering about 240 000 titles) which include Chinese e-books of various subjects, English e-books for children and youngsters and various e-databases on newspapers and magazines in 2016-17.  The HKPL will continue to promote its e-services through publicity programmes of "Library at your fingertips".

     The HKPL will endeavour and continue to enhance and improve library services and facilities actively in various aspects in order to promote reading, encourage a wider use of library facilities and cultivate a life-long reading habit.

Ends/Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Issued at HKT 12:01

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