According to a recent report, more than 31 per cent of Hongkongers haven’t read a book in at least a year. This finding was revealed in a survey carried out by the Hong Kong Publishing Professional Society, which questioned 2,063 of the city’s residents.
Those who said they are regular online readers often look at news and commentaries, or browse their social media feed when they read on the internet. Only 12 per cent of these respondents said they read electronic books (e-books).
Another survey, the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, found that while Hong Kong primary school pupils ranked third in terms of their reading comprehension of out 50 countries and state regions, only 36 per cent of these children said they liked reading very much – ranking them only 33rd in that category.
These numbers are perturbing – particularly for libraries; if fewer people are reading, the future librarians of the region?
Historically, libraries were instituted to provide free information and promote reading.
Libraries afford the public access to paper records and printed books for all forms of reading – business, pleasure or academic research.
In order to adeptly organise books, libraries have used the Dewey Decimal Classification System since 1876.
However, emerging technologies, along with the internet, smartphones and e-reading devices, are now changing the way we consume media, and how – and if – we read.
To keep up with the times, libraries must house both paper and digital records.
A 21st-century library needs to provide access to a wealth of online information, digital libraries and other information resources, including media players.
Ultimately, the aim is to build a reading culture in Hong Kong; reading should ideally become an everyday habit for each citizen, according to the chief librarian of the special duties unit at Hong Kong Public.
The internet and digital transformation now underway might seem to some people to be an obstacle to reading, but Lee believes the web can be a tool to boost reading if used in the right way.
E-books, for example, can be used to pique the interest of reluctant young readers, while reading online often enhances the experience for elderly people by allowing them to enlarge the font size of text so it is easier to read.
Hong Kong’s public libraries currently cater to e-reading demand with a database of 290,000 e-books and they also have a vast array of electronic resources to help library users with research or personal and professional work.
Users can log onto their library accounts from anywhere to access the resources online, or read the information using a library workstation.
To further encourage e-reading, it was noted that a campaign will launch in January 2019 to give members of the public access to 40 e-books in Chinese without having to log in, as they do now.
Creating campaigns such as this, and coordinating in-library events and programmes, has always been part of a librarian’s role, but these parts of the job may grow in importance as reading rates fall in Hong Kong and around the world.
The chief librarian also needs to identify potential collaborators, such as different government departments, community centres and non-governmental organisations.
It is hoped that libraries can partner with like-minded partners to build a reading culture in Hong Kong. She noted that working with partners enables the sharing of resources, networks and marketing platforms.