The World in a Book

Curated library prototype for the Po On Road Public Library in Sham Shui Po
September 2016 – January 2017

The prototype grew out of a five-month experimental social lab project to reimagine a more interesting and engaging public library for the community in Sham Shui Po, a grassroot neighbourhood in urban Hong Kong with a sizeable number of new immigrants and ethnic minorities. The social lab is organised by Make a Difference Institute in collaboration with LCSD and social innovation collective Kennisland (Amsterdam).

As part of a cross-disciplinary team of 40 social designers formed by architects, educators, librarians, designers and cultural practitioners, we installed ourselves in the Po On Road Public Library and surveyed the neighbourhood. We interviewed local residents and wrote a total of 70 stories to build a view to their everyday life. I led a team of editors in enhancing and publishing the stories to the online anthology. Read the editing workflow and the editor's manual to Medium.

Analysing the stories we collected, we observed that a good number of local residents cannot find their place in the public library: they may either be unaware of the vast resources available (ranging from printed materials like books, publications and newspapers, to multimedia and electronic resources), or they are simply bound by habits and patterns that they have not got the most out of a library.

We aimed to bridge the gap between library resources and the Sham Shui Po community by conceptualising creative ways to connect the library’s rich knowledge pool with residents of Sham Shui Po. Our goal was to stretch people’s imagination of libraries, introducing them to resources they may never know available or they may never be motivated to tap into, by the prototype of a curated library.


Inspired by thematic and eye-catching book displays in book shops, we tried to curate library books and display them around a theme relatable to the people. Since the library is located right above the market (and who doesn't love food?), we adopted food as the theme and picked a variety of display books on parenting, green living, history, literature, travel and art/design from the applied science shelf where food-related books are placed.

We also added a personal touch to our curated display by a flow chart, such that visitors can look for books we recommend them based on their eating habits and food preferences, as if a personality test. We designed three menus representing different ways of eating, each containing a list of recommended books thoughtfully curated for the respective reader. I wrote “chef recommendations” texts – vignettes introducing visitors to each book category – which were illustrated with lovely food fairies. Read the vignettes (Chinese).

The curated library consisted of:

  • (showcase) a book shelf displaying our recommended books on parenting, green living, history, literature, travel and art/design
  • (curated design) three menus listing our recommended books by visitor preference
  • (content summary) a menu of highlighted books by category from our collection
  • (visitor engagement) a questionnaire soliciting visitor feedback and creative inputs

To gauge visitors’ reading patterns as well as to collect their feedback on the prototype, I created a thematic questionnaire for them to evaluate our curation as well as be library curators themselves – invent a new way of curating books. Resembling a customer order form at a traditional Chinese teahouse, the questionnaire was made up of simple, multiple-choice questions that bring them to reflect on what the library means to them.

Exhibition: 18 December 2016 – 18 January 2017 / Po On Road Public Library, Sham Shui Po


Read more about the project on Ming Pao and HK01.

The curated library design was adopted by the LCSD in 3 public libraries in Kwai Tsing from August to October 2017.