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Hong Kong and China Territories

Greetings colleagues,

For the month of March, I have been visiting libraries of China's special "territories" — Hong Kong, Macau and border zones — areas designated by China as Special Administrative Regions (SARS) and Special Economic Zones (SEZ).

Hong Kong has many similarities to the characteristics I described for Singapore in my October report. Due to their common British colonial heritage, both carry on a long-standing tradition of western-style universities and libraries. And, due to the small geographic size and high per-capita income of both, a much greater funding level exists. I visited all eight of Hong Kong's main universities — all have the latest, modern facilities and features, from well-designed buildings to high-tech computers and databases.

Library services also are strong: professional librarians, multifaceted reference and instruction service, automated circulation features, and so on. In a way, it is almost unfair to put Hong Kong and Singapore in the same comparative mix with the rest of Southeast Asia; their size, economies and heritage are so different.

This is not to say there are not challenges.

Like Singapore, school libraries have not received as much emphasis as university or public libraries. The tradition of a separate school librarian, as in many U.S. schools, is not common — teachers doubling as "the librarian" is more the norm. That, in turn, provides less of a foundation of library skills among new university students. They arrive strong in computer competency, but not as strong in information literacy. The many strengths of Hong Kong’s academic libraries help compensate. There were great and innovative programs, archives and technological innovations running in Hong Kong’s libraries.

Macau, the former Portuguese colony (and Hong Kong's neighbor), is a casino resort area (a "Monaco of Asia" of sorts). Thus, you wouldn’t expect much from it in the way of libraries, but Macau actually has two large universities with fully modern and high-tech facilities, and the tiny territory is well covered with public branch libraries. In the University of Macau's central library, they are using the same commercial software as Cal State Fullerton (Millenium), subscribing to long list of scholarly databases and enjoying very modern facilities — docking stations, wireless features, etc. In the branch public libraries I visited, they were well stocked with contemporary materials in English and Chinese — not as much Portuguese now. School libraries share the same need as Hong Kong: more school librarians hired exclusively to run the libraries.

Along the border of China are some cities designated as SEZs — such as Shenzhen, across from Hong Kong. These are certainly part of mainland China, but have quite a different economic situation — much higher economies and incomes. Thus, higher-funded libraries. While a report on these could easily stand alone, I will include them in my next report on mainland China.

During March I also took brief detour from my visits to attend an international library conference for Southeast Asia. I was a plenary speaker and discussed all the research I have been doing. It was a large event: I addressed a room of  more than 1,000 librarians from all over Asia.

Warm regards from Asia.