Sunday, September 17, 2006

Raising Rural Reading

News in the Star today of a proposal to revise the National Book Policy which will be submitted to the cabinet in a couple of week's time. The proposal calls for cheaper books, tax incentives for local publishers, 1,200 libraries in small towns, "reading corners" (now what exactly does this mean?) and bookshops at strategic locations to promote a reading culture in Malaysia, and particularly it seems in rural areas. The Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak meanwhile urged bookstores to set up "reading kiosks", or mini-libraries.

Any initiative to get the public reading is to be welcomed. But whether such measures suceed depends entirely upon implementation - and that means that the folks on the ground need to be convinced.

Reading spreads virally through advocacy. You catch the reading disease from another booklover.

Don't you find it strange though, that the bookstores are being asked to take on such a central role in providing areas for "free reading"? They do after all have the economic bottom line to think about.

As an alternative, I wonder if companies might be asked to sponsor mini-libraries, and be given tax-exemptions on the donation. Just think of the advertising opportunities!

How about the the McDonald's Kampong Sungei Buaya Chicken Burger Library or the Nokia Tanjong Hantu Reading Kiosk?

Hey, I'm serious!


Worth reading: Ted's take on the National Book Policy


Anonymous said...

Yes, indeed it's welcomed news but its the kind of news that I will regard with cautious optimism. All news/promises/declarations coming from the mouths of our leaders nowadays have to be taken in with a pinch of salt.

This mini-library proposal thing is not new. I remember it being bandied around a couple of years ago but no one seemed to have followed it through. You'd think that the National Library was rich enough to have a multi million-ringgit renovation, they'd be able to set up mini-libraries with no effort at all.

And what about that idea of mobile libraries? Do you remember that one? Nothing came out of that either...

What else can we do??

Anonymous said...

I am so inspired by Yvonne Lee's buying books to be given as rewards to her students (her article in today's Sunday Star 'Music to the ears of book lovers'); an act of generosity she herself benefited from when she was in school. It reminds me of 'Pay it forward' and the little boy making a difference throwing starfish back into the sea.

You are right, Sharon. The love for reading comes from a contagion-effect. It spreads across onto others with people like Yvonne doing something good.

And I do wish we have a culture of reading bedtime stories to our kids. Being read to when young will make for a nation of future book-lovers.

Elizabeth said...

hear ye! hear ye!

i know of many people who love reading, but can't afford to buy as many books as they would like. these are the same people who read their books in bookstores. it's such a shame! where are our local libraries? let's not even go into libraries in rural areas, there aren't enough libraries in the urban centers! klang valley, with a population of 2 (?) million, has, like, 5 (or so) public librares.

bibliobibuli said...

eternal wanderer - yes, the rhetoric is right but that doesn't guarantee the scheme will work. i've seen many a sad "reading corner" in schools with a few m ouldering paperbacks that no-one wants to read. lip service is easy, implementation always the stumbling block - especially when those on the ground are not enthusiastic readers themselves.

i like the way the london reading week made individuals and companies make a personal pledge - how were they going to contribute to the success of the programme? it made everyone feel they had a stake.

i love the idea of mobile libraries. why can't that work?

tina - thanks for reminding me yvonne's article was in yesterday. i'm a great believer in paying things forward, it's a great way to make a difference - even if we cannot see the end result. (good parents, good teachers are the biggest payers forward, i think!) ... parents reading to their kids would make the biggest difference of all in creating a nation of readers

elizabeth wong - for sure there aren't enough public libraries. you know, i'd like to see company sponsored public libraries set up in strategic places too.

Anonymous said...

"i love the idea of mobile libraries. why can't that work?"

The answer is.. no time. People in rural areas are generally involved in activities that are time-intensive (eg. Farming or shopkeeping) so they haven't the time to read really. Unless this is fixed they will not have the time to read.

And wanderer, I think it's wrong to assume that they are _our_ leaders instead of vice versa. They are our employees in a sense, since we pay them.

bibliobibuli said...

anonymous - i take your point ... but there are for sure kids, students, office workers, housewives too ... you have to create the opportunity even if not everyone can take it up

i used to live in a village in UK where most of the inhabitiants were farmers and shopkeepers. we had a tiny library in a single room, open just 2 evenings a week. if not for that library i would have gone mad.

solutions need to be tailored to situations, and although i don't know how a rural community might best be reached, it is totally unfair to leave them out

Anonymous said...

That's true.. someone needs to be talking about _that_ instead of what sells.

Anonymous said...

How about driving out there and handing out books from the car ? don't have to rely on the government for everything eh ? :) another thign is that they hardly have any English skills, so it's unlikely that they could read anything beyond the very basic books.

Madcap Machinist said...

There was a place in Plymouth called the Caffeine Club -- wonder if you ever went there -- just down the road from the art college. They had a little room upstairs with a mini-library, mostly donated books I think. Read everything there over the bottomless Jamaican Blues (2 pounds and free refills all day!) I don't think anything ever gets stolen.

There was also a hotel in NZ that had a bookshelf in the lobby. They were books left by travellers. Anyone could take one and nobody actually manages the collection -- it is up to the reader to treat the books well and then return them. There was some very good books too! I managed to read two while I was there.

Libraries like these are not difficult to set up. The bigger challenge, in my opinion, is to maintain the collection's condition and curb book-theft.

Anonymous said...

Found a place like that in PJ.. it's called Ipoh Street. Toast and bottomless coffee and tea.. and Magazines to read ! :) I think the coffee was Rm1.80.. that's um.. about 30p ? :)

bibliobibuli said...

i didn't find that place machinist. wish i had. i used to hang out at the arts centre which i think had books to read.

anonymous - that sounds a wondefrul reading corner

and it strikes me, i should put up a corner where readers could swap notes about good reading corners - i already have a couple of places to feature

Anonymous said...

GREAT idea.. toyed with the idea of starting a reading corner myself :)