Photo: Dennis Kishere
I attended the 17th Beijing International Book Fair for two days during my trip to China in early September. There were 1,841 exhibitors from China and overseas but I mainly checked out the Chinese publishers. Although the Frankfurt and Bologna book fairs are the biggest ones, the Beijing and Taipei book fairs are obviously the best for Chinese materials.
The entrance ticket to the fair was only 5 Yuan (about 75 cents). Despite this cheap price there were scalpers outside the ticket gates trying to sell tickets for 3 Yuan.
I was particularly interested in the “Digital Publishing Zone” where I had a chance to play with different types of new Chinese e-book reading devices produced by various local companies. These readers hold large files of books in text and often with accompanying sound and illustrations. For instance, one reader enables you to read poems of the Tang dynasty and listen to them being chanted at the same time. It seems like a good learning experience in which you can listen to the pronunciation, read the text and have accompanying explanations on the screen. Other e-book readers contained illustrated stories for children.
The main e-book companies represented at the fair were Bambook and Hanvon (Han Wang) of China. Other major e-book companies with Chinese functionality (but not represented at the fair) are Sony (Japan), Greenbook (Taiwan), BenQ (Taiwan), Delta (Taiwan), Acer (Taiwan) and Viewsonic (Taiwan). The Computex Taipei show in 2011 will showcase the latest range e-readers. Computex Taipei is the largest computer show in Asia. It is interesting to follow these developments but I do wonder what is the future of these e-book readers when new generation mobile phones have the capacity or at least the potential to offer the same functions in terms of downloading and displaying e-books.
The book fair also featured a writers’ forum. Since the guest country for this year’s fair was India, a group of Indian writers spoke about Rabindranth Tagore and his links with China. Of course, as we know, left wing Chinese writers objected to Tagore’s spiritual values but he was embraced by the romantic poet Xu Zhimo and the Crescent Moon Society.
In late August, I stayed in Hong Kong for a few days on the way to Beijing and visited the Fung Ping Shan Library of Hong Kong University. The Fung Ping Shan Library is a mainly Chinese language library with a special Taiwan Studies collection which I was interested in because of our efforts to build something similar to support the Taiwan Studies Unit at Monash. The head librarian Dr Y.C. Wan gave me an overview of their operations. In recent times their librarians have attended the annual Taipei Book Fair (only a 1 ½ hour flight from Hong Kong) to do concentrated ordering. They take their laptops along, check their library holdings and place orders directly with the publishers at the fair. In this way they can ensure they get materials quickly, in particular certain types of material which can easily go out of print before they appear in publisher catalogues.
The Fung Ping Shan Library has nearly reached full shelf capacity. At this stage they are considering cancelling subscriptions to serials which are also held online but are not yet doing any large scale storage of monographs.
After returning to work I gave a couple of presentations to library staff about my experiences overseas. Staff were interested to know about the operations of an overseas book fair since librarians normally attend professional conferences rather than book fairs to update their professional knowledge. They were also interested to know how librarians at Hong Kong University carry out their work.