Saturday, February 27, 2010

Malaysians ... Still Ain't Reading

Utusan Malaysia this week laments the lack of a Malaysian reading culture. Hardly anyone's reading on the LRT (above) despite the launch of the Baca@LRT campaign on Facebook :

or in other public spots sampled.

And it seems that the branch libraries are not really attracting users either.

Information Communication and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim has decided that the answer to the problem is to set up another study to find out about Malaysians' reading habits.

Readers of this blog may remember me getting very cross about the last time a large scale survey was carried out by the National Library because the results were never properly made public and questions about how the data was gathered were never revealed. It would have been useful for academics, teacher-trainers, teachers,  bookshop buyers, and other stakeholders to have had access to that data. (Some of those in the book retail industry anyway disputed the figures that did get quoted.)

One thing that does give me hope is that when you go along to a cheap book sale or to a book fair in the Klang Valley, the venue is invariably packed out. (I'm sure those of you who went to the BookXcess sale today would bear me out.) I think that a lot of people are keen to own books rather than borrow them. 

I suspect that a lot of people don't read in public because it is considered a slightly odd thing to do:  it hasn't become a part of the culture.  I'd go crazy if I were without a book for any length of time, but unless you have a pretty hungry reading habit, you are not going to think like that.

The Read While Waiting Project was a nice idea, but doesn't seem to have come to anything either despite the hype that surrounded it. Pity!


Fadz said...

I've tried reading novels in the LRT, back when I used public transportation. Two words: motion sickness. The only time I could read anything over 5 minutes was when I leaned against the partition, beside the door. Lost my balance a few times, at that.

The current standard price for a novel is RM35 (used to be RM25 back in the late 1990s-early 2000s). I buy at least RM200 worth of books each month (I don't like warehouse sales because of the jostling crowds). But buying even 1 novel is a luxury most people can't afford.

But it all comes to the fact that reading is not part of our culture. Town kids are doing OK, but those in rural areas?

We have to have more good stories from local publishers out there if imported books can't be any cheaper. Reading at least 5 recently published novels (in any language) per year should be imposed as part of school curriculum.

Web Sutera said...


1) I don't believe what's Utusan says/reports. For me, Utusan is a kind of newspaper that don't encourage the truth after all! Why should you believe the reading habit survey reported by this paper? NONSENSE & very old data!

2) For people like me, I would prefer own the books & reading at home or other places, like at LRT, rather than at library. But I encourage my kids go to nearby library.

3) The price of English book are getting expensive day by day. This is a bad news for English book selling here. The urban Malay peoples especially, now more into buying & reading Malay language books.

-- Web Sutera (

Web Sutera said...

Sharon, 1 more thing, I was from very traditional Malay kampung. But reading at anywhere is my habit developed since I was child. I'm reading even inside the toilet! Hahaha..

As you said, "I'd go crazy if I were without a book for any length of time", it is true for me too.

It's a teaching of Islam to READ anywhere. Just that the certain group of Malays already or long forgot of the true Islam teaching.

-- Web Sutera (

jabela said...

There are plenty of cheap books available in KL, particularly from Payless books, Popular and even MPH have a classics section, which are far cheaper than the prices mentioned here. If the demand is there, then it is also possible for local publishers to license material to meet demand, but demand has to be there...

Jovenus said...

When I took the Putra LRT for 6 years I was reading everyday in the LRT, it occurs to me now that I might be the minority.

When you buy your own books especially with limited budget, you tend to be less adventurous. I'm blessed to be in UK now and pick up book from the library with a whim, and have been introduced to so many books which I couldn't been able to do so in Malaysia.

It also boils down to the price of the book. With sterling purchasing power parity, if you buy a book at £3 or less you are not compel to keep them for the rest of your life but can give it away. So ppl like are happy to scour in charity shops to buy good 2nd hand books.

All in all it's just so difficult to get that reading culture going en masse in Malaysia. But it's better now, rather than 10 years ago.

Superwomanwannabe said...

Hi I stumbled upon yr blog via KitchenGuardian my friend,and I was wondering is it because our libraries are not well equipped or accessible? In the UK kampung macamana pun will have a library but over here kat mana ye I nak carik? Went to the National Library but it was so imposing and books not that many. If you know of any good smallish library do share!

But on the other hand, it's true that the children now don't like to read. I used to read during dinner (as I found out my husband did too when he was younger~!) but now kids have no patience !

Greenbottle said...

i'm a failure when it comes to inculcating reading habits even to my own kids.

i have probably over 2500 books now in my personal library -ranging from art, biographies, travel books, religion , wildlife to fiction (mostly literary fics) but none of my three kids TOUCH them let alone read them. when i asked why don't they read any of these books ..they said... listen to this. 'papa's books are BORING'...

these are not stupid kids (all studied in good boarding schools (top MRSMs)..but i blame it partly on our country education for their lack of interest in reading...

smallkucing said...

It's been a norm for those Ministers to conduct survey after survey or post mortem why a project fail.

If only they use their brain a bit they would have know why the project failed.

many people have motion sickness. How to read in the LRT/Car? Moreover, sometimes LRT/bus are very crowded.

Rather difficult to read while you are fighting off motion sickness, hanging on for your dear life in the bus/LRT and also be alert of pickpocket.

How to enjoy read when faced with those condition?

For me, I rather read at home or some place quiet.

I can't process information properly if am reading in the LRT.

YTSL said...

The photo doesn't show it but it seems to me that Malaysians do read newspapers a lot (more than books but also more than many other nationalities).

At the same time, don't more Malaysians drive and ride motorcycles than take public transportation? If so, there really isn't opportunity on their commutes to read... :S

Eliza said...

Greenbottle: I share the problem with my two boys, though Jeff Kinney is getting one of them to at least read (though not yet to the extent of bringing a book everywhere)

Sharon: I agree that our libraries are under-utilised and are not attractive reading centres. Nor are they conveniently located. I read sometime back of libraries being in shopping malls and since a lot of Malaysians spend time in these places, that sounds like a great idea! Also, getting new titles to the shelves of libraries seem to be a challenge. the only active libraries seem to be university libraries. I think a lot more should be done to make libraries accessible, attractive and welcoming.

NurulNadiah said...

Could it be because people nowadays read much more from the internet than they do from books?
a person might read just a book a month, but spends an average of 1 to 2 hours daily on the internet either blog-hopping, or on wikipedia and ultimately, gains knowledge.
When you think about it, this is part of reading habit as well, so does the survey done include this?

And as for libraries, most of them are not well stocked- especially school libraries and even then, most of the books are old, battered and what it all boils down to is that they don't look one bit interesting. (which might be ok for those who knows better than to judge a book by its cover, but not for these kids who have yet to discover the pleasure in reading)

Chet said...

If Malaysians read newspapers a lot, then maybe the newspapers can start a fiction page or something.

Years ago, I remember my mother following the serialisation of a novel in her daily Chinese newspaper. That's how she got her dose of fiction that she would not have time for otherwise (and maybe could not afford). Maybe Chinese fiction in those days was not easily available locally, hence the serialisation.

disquietblog said...

I think our libraries are in a pitiful state, and staffed by people who could care less about books or knowledge. It would be great if we could look in the way of Singapore, and as one other commenter already mentioned, set up mini-branches of libraries in malls throughout the country because EVERYONE in Malaysia goes to the mall - whether they want to or not!

As for reading in the LRT, a lot depends on how agile you are. I've seen some people - usually tall ones - who are able to read in a sardine-can situation in the LRT, possibly using the heads of others as a resting place, I dunno. But when it's packed, it's rather hard to read in one, especially when Malaysian commuters love to drape themselves around available handrests with no consideration of other people who need to use it during peak hours, or hang their arms across the handrails like a beruk, ensuring that other commuters are squished away in a corner for fear of standing right next to an unpleasant armpit.

But mostly, people seem either totally guarded or exhausted on the LRT. It's either they stare at everyone and everything around them, eyeballs moving a mile-a-minute, or fall asleep instantly.

That was a long digression by way of saying that the reading culture, as such, is lacking, and I really do think that if you don't grow up around books, you don't see a reason to read them unless there are libraries around. Many people just want to be able to experiment with books, not buy them, and even with book sales it's always filled to the brim with middle-class families, people who can afford to buy books even at regular prices.

If Malaysians are so reticent about reading, they need to be exposed to books that they can read 'risk-free' - without paying for it. Our libraries are utterly deplorable - they make books appear like instruments of boredom inherited from the Dark Ages.


Melur said...

I personally don't read on LRTs simply because I keep missing my stop when I do (although I even missed it reading a Kino leaflet so it's more my shortcoming than anything).. So nowadays I just stare at the people who do have books in their hands and wonder what they're reading and if they're enjoying it..

As for inculcating reading habits in children, I find that if you leave the right kinds of books lying around, they're bound to pick it up one day (absence of game consoles help tremendously as well ;p). Encyclopedias did it for my brother, who up until then had denounced reading as boring, and now drops not-so-subtle hints on what books to buy him next.

But I do think that reading fiction isn't thought highly of by a large portion of society. children are constantly scolded for reading stories instead of studying, and two of my previous schools banned novels in their premises (although it could only be a misinterpretation of the rulebook- I wouldn't know). Even the english literature component for secondary schools could do with a little improvement (maybe introduced earlier and with more material? i wouldnt know) , and sometimes even the teaching methods. in studying the Pearl in Form 5, the teacher in my class merely handed out the synopsis and made us read it in turn. come exam time, he would make us copy some sample Qs and As on the topic he had a gut feeling about (although its an open secret every teacher is informed of the topic). and that was the extent of our lit studies.
[and there really should be more time allocated for language, instead of that horrid Civics subject, but that should be left for later]

As for rural areas, it would be great if we could go to these places and bring all sorts of books to them, kind of like a mobile library except they get to keep the books and there would be teaching the children a bit of english, and readings (imagine, a readings@simunjan or @TokMat's). i know its a tad bit idealistic and ridiculously expensive, but if there ever was a good way to waste taxpayer's money..


p/s: im sorry for such a long-winded comment; i have tried to edit it less but it still seems pretty long..

Oxymoron said...

My kids love books. The eldest keeps wanting to go to Amcorp Mall. I've been trying to ban books from the dining room - unsuccessfully.

My secret? I try to read something with them every night. I read those old British "Finding Out" magazines with my 9-year-old and "Rupert the Bear" stories with my 7-year-old. Beautifully illustrated publications with wonderful stories, albeit a little politically-incorrect these days!

sri said...

this comment's a little late - but it may help someone i thought.

the kl city library is fantastic - in the sense that its accessible - its in dataran merdeka. they give u little thingyies to put on your dashboard, so u can run in get a book and run out, and the librarians are nice smiling people, who can all speak english, and are friendly. its about RM10 to join, and they have a good selection of books. it may not be as well stocked as the national lib, but so what - i've not come close to reading every book in there, so its ten ringgit well spent. The kids library right next door is fantabulous. lots of books, big space, really great librarians. a 10cent per day fine. whats not to like? i love it because my 6 year old reads these flower fairy books and princess books and tiara club books in 1 day. max 2. rather than go bankrupt, i just paid rm3 and made her a member.

and to make kids read, u got to start them off young. every kid i know loves picture books. i still do. and they all want to know disgusting body facts...

as for reading while u wait, i have a book in my handbag at all times, and read while i wait for the lights to change. pity utusan didn't survey me. the statistics would have gone up ey? ;)