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Why not libraries?

Publication Date : 04-10-2012


Friends working and living in Singapore will often brag about the libraries there. In the tiny republic, libraries are as commonplace as supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice stores or banks, and every Housing and Development Board (HBD) estate has one.

I have always been dreaming of visiting a library close to my home in Malaysia, but what spring up like mushrooms after the rain are Internet cafes, tuition centres and mamak stalls (Tamil Muslims food) instead.

As nations in the world are racing to establish knowledge-based economies, the Singapore government is well aware of the fact that it needs to mobilise its people to learn and read more in order to maintain its edge in the age of knowledge economy, public libraries among the most important enablers.

To promote national reading habit, libraries have to be closely knit into the everyday life of people. They have to be situated near the homes, transit or bus stops, and have to stay open until late, including the weekends, allowing people to visit them after school or work.

Another thing is that Singapore's public libraries are people-oriented. It is said that public libraries in the city-state operate in accordance with the characteristics of the local neighbourhoods. For instance, those set up in HDB estates offer plenty of books on parent-child relationship, with children's needs being a major element in their designs so that more children will be lured to use the libraries and enjoy their comfortable and hassle-free reading environment.

As for those established near the industrial estates, the library collection is more towards science and technology, while libraries in commercial areas have large stocks of business and management books.

Such arrangements are meant to facilitate the users to get the books they need. Housewives can leave their kids alone in the libraries, or they can join their young ones in acquiring knowledge together.

It is not hard to see that Singapore's government has indeed invested massive fiscal and planning resources to promote life-long learning among its citizens.

Over here in Malaysia, government libraries are hardly built around the needs of the reading public. Even though some of them might boast posh interiors and state-of-the-art facilities, they are nevertheless inconveniently located and can therefore hardly convince the public to visit them more often.

Our libraries operate during the normal government office hours, giving office workers hardly any chance of visiting them. In addition, they don't open during weekends and it is natural that Malaysians would prefer to throng the countless shopping malls during their off-days.

Another country that has made landmark achievements in knowledge economy is Finland, which claims to have one library for every 250 people, the highest ratio in the world. It will take us almost forever to reach that ratio!

I am not saying our government is not doing anything to promote life-long learning in a bid to establish a knowledge-based society, but we are simply galaxies away.

After the Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia offering goods at its 1Malaysia minimarkets at lower rates than ordinary shops, our government has now come up with the idea of setting up 1Malaysia book shops. It has been reported that 57 such shops have so far been set up nationwide, selling books at affordable prices.

There is still a very huge gap between the standards of developed countries and how our government thinks, or we wouldn't have possibly conceived the idea of opening cheap book stores instead of libraries.

Translated by Dominic Loh


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