Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Reading Clubs?

The National Library has started a National Reading Club, launched July 1st, to help inculcate the reading habit among Malaysians, A. Kathirasen in the New Straits Times reports. The National Library has something to celebrate, it's membership has been rising steadily :
In 1990, it had 128,045 members, rising to 460,000 in 2001. The latest figure (as at July 5) puts it at 788,541.
And the Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal apparently said at the event that he would propose to the government that civil servants be given a book allowance, and he wants the private sector to do likewise.

Throughout the article it's rubbed in once again that Malaysians are failing miserably at becoming readers :
According to the national book policy target, germinated in 1984, the nation should have achieved reading society status in 2000. We are eight years overdue; and, it seems, nowhere near the target. ... The findings of a National Library survey, Shafie said, showed that only 13 per cent of 27 million Malaysians read books. ... Surely it is an indictment of our collective apathy and the failure of the hundreds of reading campaigns and book exhibitions.
But as we've said before many times on this blog - What (hundreds of) reading campaigns? (As Kathirasen very tactfully puts it, there :
... has been an inability to sustain the momentum of campaigns.)
None of my blog readers seem to know anything about them. The only thing I've personally seen to indicate a campaign going on is a single poster in the library of a single sekolah rendah. Surely the evidence of a reading campaign should be everywhere? This is pretty serious when you realise that a lot of taxpayers money is being spent. (We are probably more aware of the efforts of our southern neighbours than we are of our own. And look how much fun they make reading!)

Kathirasen goes on :
The government even declared 1988 The Year of the Reader. The campaign saw a flurry of activity, including the establishment of reading committees everywhere. What became of them?
Who knew anything about these "reading committees"? What were they supposed to achieve? What is a reading committee anyway?
Ministers and directors-general ordered their underlings to set up reading corners in all federal, state and district government offices. There were calls to set up reading corners aboard trains and xpress buses, and in estates, factories and homes. What became of them?
The people who are putting books into the hands of the public successfully are individuals who see it as a personal mission - people like Amir Muhammad with his great book giveaway at KLAB, the Malaysian Book Crossers who make reading free by "releasing books into the wild", Daphne Lee with her children's Reading Room in Section 17, our friend at Departure Lounge who has turned his cafe into a travel library, the teachers who have worked to make a difference in their own schools. We need more literary activists of this kind, small terrorist cells of book-lovers, making reading accessible, cheap and sexy.

Kathirasen gives some good suggestions for improving readership, but I do find it sad and depressing that hand-wringing articles like this appear in the newspapers at regular intervals. A lot of lip-service is paid, very little done that is effective.

I wish the National Library all the best with their National Reading Club, about which I cannot find any information on the internet beyond the fact of its launch. If there's anyone reading this who can enlighten us, please do get in touch and tell us about it.


glenda larke said...

I've said this often enough before, and will say it again: To me, the best method to raise a reading public is to start young, preferably at less than 12 months old and to continue until the child doesn't want it any more (for me, that was aged 8, long after I had learned to read for myself). If a person's earliest memories of books is being held in loving arms and being read to, you are three-quarters of the way to creating an adult reader in future years.

Any public campaign should target young parents and the production of many series of early reading books (in locally used languages as well as English).

Once you have to ween a teen or an adult away from TV and video games etc, the battle is largely already lost.

Spot said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Glenda about the point at which "the battle is largely already lost".

What's the use of setting aside a trough full of water if all the horse wants to drink is beer?

You can't inculcate a love of books in a person who's become too lazy to read long sentences from having been immersed in a world of instant gratification.

I'd like to see a reading campaign that focuses on reading to/together with children...instead of Astro ads that say - the kid you losers think is weird is way smarter than you cos he watches Astro, nyah nyah. (Off-topic, another ridiculous Astro message - feel guilty about abandoning your aged parents? Get them Astro. Wt..??)

I'd also like to see more well-meaning friends/relatives make a practice of giving books instead of toys to children, right from birthday no. 1.

bibliobibuli said...

i agree entirely with you glenda and you've said it so beautifully.

it is best to focus on kids.

i like the initiatives in the UK to put gift books into the hands of all children. now that's a worthwhile campaign.

but perhaps, if the national library is able to set up a good book club then there will be folks who perhaps hover a bit uncertainly on the bring of reading may be drawn in and gain confidence. there are people who would like to be readers but who can't find a way in.

i've certainly see adults turned into readers where they weren't before including some who have passed through our book club.

and in the UK there have been some excellent library programmes which have had results.

spot - agree with you about the astro ads. how do you promote a love of books when TV is being peddled as the answer? astro has lots of weird ads. the ones between programmes on the bbc are so odd - that stupid man splashing blue paint at the woman, that couple fondling under water in evening dress and then giving each other salacious lears when they meet again (dry) at some cocktail party. who thinks these up? sack the agency!

Chet said...

I was at lunch today and saw the woman at the pork noodles stall reading. I didn't take a picture cuz I didn't want to intrude (my camera phone makes too much noise as Mr Raslan found out recently). Yeah, it was a slow time for her stall. And she was reading a Chinese novel.

bibliobibuli said...

good for her! pak adib is very good at taking candid pictures of people reading.

Ee Leen said...

Hello hello!

Sorry to barge into your blog like this but I first saw you on the Bookcrossing site when you made a reference to a bookclub and then I saw this blog of yours on the same topic

Do you happen to have more information on this bookclub by the National Library or any other? I'm keen on joining one as I read a lot! Romance, that is haha :D and looking to branch out to more enlightening readings

Hope you have some suggestions for me. Thanks!

Ee Leen

bibliobibuli said...

don't have any info on this bookclub. the national library doesn't exactly seem to be publicising this, do they?

there is a monthly book gathering at mph - just pick up their leaflet in store. maybe there are others in bookshops but ia ma not so sure.

the book club i belong to is just a group of friends who get together. i'd invite the whole world but because we meet in each other's houses and we've reached optimum numbers, i don't really advertise it. but if you want to know more email me at sharonbakar at yahoo dor com.

the book crossers are a fun group also and love to talk books as well as socialise.

Leon Wing said...

I joined the National Library right after Brit Council library closed. I'm quite happy with the books I've found so far, some of them very new, even published this year. Last time I was there (just last week) I saw new shelves, with sign boards up telling us to expect these to be filled up soon.

bibliobibuli said...

so glad, Leon. let us know how things go. and can you try to find out about the reading club for us??

Leon Wing said...

Sure thing, when I return my books next week.

Anonymous said...

I don't like to talk books, Ilike to read them. Talking is overrated if you ask me. People should be doing more reading and less talking.