Libraries — children’s paradise?

In Sham Shui Po, one of the districts in Hong Kong that the outsiders regard as ‘chaotic’, quietness is not usually found when you walk pass the busy Po On Road. Po On Road Library, perhaps, is one of the few places where you can find quietness.

It is the first day our engaging ‘labbers’ (participants of the LIBoratory Project) carry out field research to collect fascinating stories. My partner and I encountered a young working-mother sitting on a bench in Po On Road Playground (just next to Po On Road library), enjoying her peacefulness while looking after her child. Luckily, she was quite willing to share her thoughts with us although we interrupted her reading.

Her views towards Sham Shui Po

Sham Shui Po means something to her. It isn’t exactly what the others think — not solely a messy area with bad traffic, but convenient with just enough public services. She lived in Sham Shui Po when she was a little kid, moved away for quite some time, then returned to the district after marriage. The usual after-school schedule for them is to first borrow some books for the coming two weeks, and then go downstairs to buy food in the wet market. She suggested reserving some space to store borrowed books temporarily and collect them after purchasing food.

Her little energetic son playing around with other children seemed delighted as these are the only two hours they could run freely under the sun throughout the week. This young mother observed children in libraries nowadays and compared to those in the past: ‘the number of kids in libraries now seems similar to that of decades ago, the only difference is they couldn’t run or jump around anymore, they must obey the library rules.’

She also mentioned they have to travel between their home in Sham Shui Po and her kid’s kindergarten in Prince Edward often, so they seldom have time exploring the public space in Sham Shui Po. One of the reasons is the handy daycare service in Prince Edward which helps reduce her burden of taking care of her child while going to work.

Sham Shui Po seems to have adequate facilities and public services for her except daycare. ‘It would be nice if there is daycare from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. when she goes to work in Sham Shui Po like that in Prince Edward.’ She suggested. She is quite pleased that there is open space in the playground, allowing her child to relax and socialise.

In the middle of our conversation, her little son came over and add on some comments about his favourite tree along Po On Road. To me, it was impressive how observant a little child can be. Her mom told us it was because the kindergarten teachers asked him to pick his favourite tree in the community. She also admitted that it is a pity to knock down trees in Sham Shui Po.

What about libraries?

‘Facilities are quite good in Po On Road Library.’ She said.

Talking about Po On Road Library, she began with expressing her satisfaction since it has been refurbished, alongside some new resources such as e-books, online renewal service and PPS payment for overdue books. However, she described e-books as ‘slow and inconvenient’, probably due to the slow internet speed at home, and therefore, she still prefers reading traditional printed books in libraries.

Although she has begun a habit of borrowing children’s books from Po On Road library since her child started going to school, she never stays there for long. Rather than sitting down to read in the library, she prefers telling bedtime stories at home because there aren’t enough seats and it would be awkward if she speaks too loud while telling stories. As she found it difficult to deal with old second-hand books, borrowing books seems to be a win-win solution for her —both space-saving and money-saving. The two weeks borrowing time limit also ‘forces’ her son to finish reading before the due date.

User-friendliness, especially for children and parents, is the main concern on libraries for this young mother. She would welcome a larger space and more opportunities for parent-child interactions in Po On Road Library. She was quite surprised when we told her there is an activity room where children reading sessions are held. She would love to take part in one of these next time when she has spare time. Children wouldn’t be tired of playing so she suggested a toy library to attract more young library users as well as to create a unique place for children to have fun in libraries.

Being a frequent user of Po On Road Library, she considered the needs of other users as well, especially the elderly. When she needed to search for books, she found it embarrassing to ask the elderly occupying the computer desks to move away. Here is an example of conflicts between different library users that we labbers may want to address and solve in the coming four months.

Being in a library may be an important childhood memory for a mother. When she guides her child to read in a library, it becomes a memory of the child. As such, the beauty of reading could be passed on to the next generation.

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