This book sells for HK$400 at Dymocks. With a few clicks I had it delivered to my neighborhood library for HK$2.50 and kept it for over 2 months for free.

SERVICE RATING Awesome. The public library’s selection is unparalleled and vastly superior to those of Hong Kong’s closet-sized bookstores. The online search, reservation and renewal functions work great. The reservation function allows you to have a book delivered, no matter which branch it’s currently in, to the one closest to you. There are after hours book return drop boxes outside every branch and at Central, Kowloon Tong and Nam Cheong MTR stations.

GREEN RATING Deep Green. Much greener than buying a book you’ll likely only read once and infinitely greener than downloading books to your Kindle or iPad (explained below).

OPENING HOURS and LOCATIONS here

The US media has proclaimed the sharing revolution to be the next big thing. From Zipcar to Netflix it’s taking hold all over the US. The public library though has been sharing since forever.

BORROWING VS. OWNING

Buying books has three distinct disadvantages that borrowing from the library overcomes. Often times you simply don’t know if a book is good or not. Just like you wouldn’t commit to marrying someone after a first date, you probably don’t want to commit to spending the time and money to buy and read a book after only perusing a few page. Second, once you own it, it ends up taking up precious real estate in your space deprived Hong Kong apartment. Lastly, it’s a pain to pack up every time you move. For me, these practical drawbacks simply outweigh any psychic pleasure I gain from owning a book.

ENVIRONMENT

Many trees are chopped down in the process of making books while much fossil fuel is burned transporting them. It is often suggested that iPads or e-readers, such as Amazon’s Kindle, offer a solution. Unfortunately, these devices and the gear that supports them are an environmental disaster. The environmental impact resulting from the manufacture and disposal of electronics, which are replaced on average every 3-4 years, has been well documented. According to Time, “A lot of exported e-waste ends up in Guiyu, China, a recycling hub where peasants heat circuit boards over coal fires to recover lead, while others use acid to burn off bits of gold. …Guiyu has the highest level of cancer-causing dioxins in the world and elevated rates of miscarriages.”

A hidden but no less damaging consequence of the online revolution has been the massive amounts of energy consumed to run all that high tech gear. Data centres, networks and PCs collectively consume unbelievable amounts of electricity. At a PolyU Energy and Environment conference I attended, one of speakers asked the audience the following question “What is the best option [from an environmental perspective] of transporting a dozen books from Australia to Hong Kong within 24 hours: (a) ship them via air, (b) download them to your e-reader or (c) burn them onto some disks and then ship them by air? As you probably guessed, it turns out to be (c). What is surprising though is that (a) actually has lower carbon emissions than (b) due to all the energy required to run data centres and networks 24 hours a day and move data at lightspeed.

THE LIBRARY

You can search online for the book, reserve and have it sent to the library closest to you for HK$2.50. You can keep it out for up to 2 weeks. So long as it’s not past due and hasn’t been reserved by someone else, you can renew the book online up to six times. If you forget to renew it even for a few weeks, late charges at HK$1.50 per day still works out to be cheaper than buying a new book. If the library doesn’t have the book you’re looking for, you can go to a branch and request it. Based on my experience, this may entail a wait of between 2 and 12 months for them to buy and process it.

Some hidden benefits of borrowing are that you may find yourself reading more. Your reading also becomes more pleasurable because you won’t feel compelled to read a mediocre book simply because you’ve bought it. The disadvantage is that you may have to wait for the latest releases and popular titles.

Of course we are not always against buying books, especially environmental books that you pass around to your friends to read.

Ready to start borrowing? All you need is your HKID and proof of address to sign up.