1984 To Kwa Wan Branch of the Urban Council Library System Library Card

1984 To Kwa Wan Branch of the Urban Council Library System Library Card (front)
1984 To Kwa Wan Branch of the Urban Council Library System Library Card (back)


Although city officials consider the library located at the City Hall building constructed in 1962, the first modern public library in Hong Kong, efforts were made before the mid-20th century to establish libraries for Hong Kong residents. 

Victoria Library and Reading Room

One of the earliest public libraries, the Victoria Library and Reading Room, was organized shortly after the 1842 colonization of Hong Kong by Great Britain.  In The Chinese Repository, Vol. XVIII, No. XII, a periodical published by protestant missionaries, it was noted in Art. IV, The Journal of Occurrences for September 1, 1848-December 31, 1849, that the “Library and Reading-room” was opened to the public at Victoria on September 7, 1848, and the first annual meeting was held on April 28, 1849.  There were 48 members, and the library had 650 volumes.  The 1862 edition of The China Directory listed the location of the Victoria Library and Reading Room as Queen’s Road Central, and Sit Him Cook was Librarian.

1862 China Directory listing for The Victoria Library and Reading Room

By 1865, the Victoria Library and Reading Room faced financial difficulties. As reported in the July 8, 1865, edition of the Hong Kong Daily Press, the Trustees of the Library decided to close the library.  This decision was met with outcry from long-time residents of the area, saying, “we do feel somewhat indignant that a library bequeathed to [Hong Kong] by its ‘pilgrim fathers’ should be allowed to be sent to the hammer for debt by their numerous and wealthy progeny.  That surely is a disgraceful termination to such an undertaking.” The Victoria Library collection of approximately 3,000 volumes was donated to the City Hall Library in 1871.

1865 Painting by Eduard Hildebrandt, Hongkong Queen’s Road (Public Domain)

Library of the Morrison Education Society

The Morrison Education Society, an Anglo-Chinese School and missionary society, established a public library in Hong Kong in 1842. Originating in Canton, China, in 1835, the society commemorated the life of Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary in China. As noted in the March 1864 edition of the Annual Meeting Report of the Proceedings of The Morrison Education Society, it was reported that the Society members proposed the formation of a public library to maintain the Society’s book collection due to increasing expenses and decline in membership subscriptions.  The Morrison Library was donated to the “City Hall Library” in March 1869, and the Society dissolved in 1873.

The City Hall Library

The City Hall, established in 1866 and inaugurated by Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, on November 2, 1869, was a publicly-funded community center that included assembly rooms, a 569-seat theater, a museum, and a library. Although the government donated the building site, the library was a private establishment funded by subscriptions.  By 1871, The City Hall Library had over 8,000 volumes, 3,000 of which were donated by the Victoria Library and Reading Room upon its dissolution and another 3,000 by the Morrison Education Society.  (The Morrison Collection is currently housed at Hong Kong University.)  In 1908, the City Hall Library had over 500 registered borrowers.  Over time, the City Hall Library collection became antiquated, periodicals being the most current reading material available.  In an article in the Hong Kong Telegraph published November 11, 1916, a visitor noted “embellishments” and obscenities in the margins of periodicals he browsed.  The City Hall Library was no longer the esteemed public institution it had once been. Over the years, the City Hall building fell into disrepair, and in 1933 was sold to the Hong Kong Bank to be the site of its new headquarters.  On June 6, 1933, the library and museum of the City Hall were closed in preparation for the partial demolition of the City Hall building. The library was transferred to the eastern portion of the City Hall, which was eventually renovated for continued use as the library and museum.   In 1947, the remainder of the building was demolished to make way for the Bank of China building.   

The City Hall and Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong, 1869.  The building was demolished to make way for the Hong Kong Bank and Bank of China Buildings.   (Public Domain in HK and US)

The City Hall Library In the News

“Two Youths Sleep in City Hall Building,” The Daily China, Hong Kong, March 4, 1920


The Urban Council, established in 1936, was a government agency in Hong Kong responsible for municipal services on Hong Kong island and Kowloon. Originally founded as the Sanitary Board in 1883, the Urban Council had wide-ranging responsibilities from sanitation and cremation to public services such as arts and leisure activities, museums, parks, public swimming pools, and libraries.

The first modern library established by the Urban Council opened at the newly-built City Hall building in 1962. It served as the main library in Hong Kong until the opening of the new Central Library building in May 2001. The new Central Library is a 12-story building at 66 Causeway Road in Causeway Bay, with over 360,000 sq. ft. of floor space. The Hong Kong Public Library System has 70 branches and a collection of over 14.35 million items.

The Hong Kong Public Library, 2008. Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0), Author: Wing1990hk

The Urban Council was disbanded in 1999 and replaced with the Hong Kong Leisure and Cultural Services Department.



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