Urban Council Public Libraries in City Hall | The Hong Kong I Remember

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Before the Central Library on the fringes of Causeway Bay, Hong Kong's libraries were scattered around the territory. The biggest one on...

Before the Central Library on the fringes of Causeway Bay, Hong Kong's libraries were scattered around the territory. The biggest one on Hong Kong was City Hall, and it is this library that forms many happy years of reading and knowledge seeking. This is the Hong Kong I remember.

By Karn G. Bulsuk


Before the days of computers and smart card HKIDs, library cards were much simplier. They were small, laminated brown cardboard pockets, where your full name and address was handwritten on them, sealed with the stamp of the Urban Council. You would receive five of them, as you were allowed to take out only five books at one time.

The reason why it was a pocket was because each book used to have a card inside them, where the due date would be stamped, and placed into the pocket. Late fines were paid using poins, deposited into a drop box in which a lever would be pressed for the Queen's money to fall into the collection box.

The logo of the former Urban Council
In the decades before the new Central Library in Causeway Bay opened, the City Hall library was one of the biggest on the island. Each floor would be filled with people on the weekends, and each floor would have its own distinct scent and feel. The children's section would be loud, colourful and boisterous, with picture books galore. The magazine section on the 8th floor would be quiet, but constantly punctuated by the turning of newspaper and thin magazine pages.

When computers finally made an appearance on the scene, they were text terminals with black and white screens. Chinese input was done the hard, old fashioned way via keyboard. CD-ROM equipped computers stations turned up a few years later in the days when computers cost over 25,000 HKD (3,200 USD) and when anyone who had one equipped with a CD-ROM was rich. There were 8 machines in the library's multimedia room, and we used to have to book a 1 hour slot to use the CD-ROM encyclopedia, in which the late Microsoft Encarta ruled the roost. Printers were not available yet, so researching involved furiously scribbling down notes from the screen onto paper.

Growing up, I remember participating in the library's reading programme, where we would record the number of books we read, and participated in a library activity to earn bronze, silver or gold reading awards. Earning the bronze award netted you a plastic blue bookmark with the logo of the Urban Council Public Libraries printed boldly on it, while the other programs were targeted towards older children.

Even further upstairs were the library's multimedia room, where you could choose from a worn, paper catalog of video tapes and later laser discs to pass the afternoon. Puff the Magic Dragon was a favourite, and the library would hand you a slip showing you which cubicle to go to, armed with a massive circumaural headphone which you would plug into the wall, in which a volume control dial also sat beside. The video would magically start, as all the equipment was stored inside the operator's room and not in the cubicle. Watching the video for while required short breaks in which you would need to pull the headphone away from your ear, as it fit so well that the more delicate parts of your ear would hurt.

I spent some of the happiest days of my childhood curled up in books in the library down in City Hall, during the days in which you could tell the time by listening to the Star Ferry bell ring, when the Star Ferry Pier, and busy, yet serene waters of the Hong Kong Harbour was still only a minute walk away. It was a safe, cozy place which offered all the books you could read, and a cool escape from the hot, humid and rainy typhoon days of the Hong Kong summer. This is the Hong Kong I remember.


Photo credits: HKmPUA (photo of City Hall), Wikipedia (Urban Council Logo), mintchocicecream (Urban Council Reading Programme)

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Karn G. Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead: Urban Council Public Libraries in City Hall | The Hong Kong I Remember
Urban Council Public Libraries in City Hall | The Hong Kong I Remember
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Karn G. Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead
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