Despite the inordinate number of skyscrapers clinging to its shores, three quarters of this Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China is undeveloped precipitous pinnacles and seemingly unlimited parks and hiking trails. Hong Kong (HK) Island across the harbor and its quirky Soho neighborhood and massive Victoria Peak are fabulous, but Kowloon and the New Territories at the tip of the peninsula adjoining the south coast of mainland China, along with HK’s 200 plus islets, have many of the best attractions. A steep temple path is adorned by ten thousand buddhas, the Chi Lin Nunnery and Gardens takes your breath away, and Lantau’s incredibly long left angle cable car, that passes over ocean and mountains on its way to Po Lin Monastery, is an engineering feat.
Kowloon’s Tsim Sha Tsui Public Library (TST) is the closest institution to the ferry, one component of HK’s wonderful public transportation network.
Since it was just one kilometer from our hotel, I walked to the lovely Concordia Plaza by the HK Science Museum and the HK Museum of History. Surrounded by brick sidewalks bordered by ferns and shrubs, the black marble with gold metal inlay edifice has a definite Asian flair. I entered passed the royal blue and lilac book drop via the wheelchair ramp instead of the outdoor escalator leading up to the first floor of TST.
TST’s hours are ten to seven o’clock Monday through Wednesday and Friday (Hong Kong Public Libraries (HKPL) staggers hours so it’s easy to find an open library), and as it was right after Chinese New Year’s when, as at our Christmas or Thanksgiving, many businesses close for days at a time, Judy and I weren’t able to meet until my last day.
We spoke in Chidren’s which serves infants to twelve year olds and is furnished with framed posters and multihued stools and tables for tiny tots. It’s painted light pink and the guides above the matching shelves in shades of salmon and aquamarine are interspersed among potted plants that also top the adult stacks. Stylized scenes and characters from the Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and other fairy tales decorate walls and hang from the ceiling. A carpeted two tiered bench, great for listeners at Saturday storytimes, wraps around the sides.
HKPL has 68 permanent locations and twelve bookmobiles and a collection of over 14 million pieces. Regional studies volumes can be accessed at the six major buildings. Hong Kong Central is the leading one and has a lecture theater, gallery and six subject departments as well as toy and young adult libraries. It’s the legal depository for HK and for big international organizations and has a variety of new technologies and digital capabilities.
A colorful geometric pattern is splashed over the main desk abutting a juvenile display case plastered in stickers. Bright yellow rubber Braille trails lead the visually impaired through the space.
Occupying one level, the pristine carpeted place has plentiful overhead signage. Opened in 1996, it’s one of the small-sized premises of this massive system (two of the four Yau Tsim Mong quarter ones are district institutions and are much larger and Kowloon Public Library, less than two miles away, is a major library), so most of their patrons live nearby and they get a few tourists.
Panes behind the intriguing checkout stations overlook the Children Library.
TST has a reference section, periodicals, DVD, CD’s audiobooks and some German and Italian texts, but most titles are in Cantonese. Cards are free for residents and you can take out eight items or 16 older magazines for up to a fortnight and return to any of the facilities, but you pay a fee to transfer materials from another site. Even visitors can become members if they pay a $130 HK deposit (about $17 US) for each unit borrowed.
There’s wifi, three public terminals and about 500 square meters (@ 5400 square feet). Most of the ten workers here are full time.
Vertical blinds cover the glass facing the entry and a bulletin board announces upcoming happenings and important reminders.
Like much of TST the security gates are a pretty pastel and two huge black vases filled with flowers stand sentry on either side of the automatic doors.
HKPL arranges reading programs and loads of exhibitions of photography, HK historical sites, ink painting, agricultural, health and societal issues… Many of them move among the various locales. They also strive to promote literary arts with awards, competitions and the annual HK Literature Festival. Offerings include workshops, poetry writing contests, author events, book clubs and classes on the internet, catalog and e-resources.
A tiled lobby has more foliage, a recycling bin, plastic bags for wet umbrellas, and two spots and a banner for notices about TST and community activities.
It leads to the exit (whose handle is disinfected four times a day) for an outdoor balcony with benches that look onto the trees, pocket gardens and intricate balustrades of the corner below (ingenious barriers that stop you from jaywalking are common in this part of the city).
Because HKPL is very concerned about privacy it has a strict no photo-taking policy, so I’m grateful to them for allowing me to take (under supervision) these shots.
The website is available in Chinese and English and you can renew (a generous five times) and reserve (up to eight things at $2.50 HK a pop) online or ask questions by email, retrieve information from a selection of databases and download journals, videos, and books. Electronic repositories hold a smorgasbord of wisdom and experiences ranging from the Kowloon-Canton Railway, HK art and artists, HK music and oral histories, old newspapers and language learning.
HKPL is a beneficial and essential ingredient to this magnificent area!