ABD Vol.29 No.1
Reading Promotion for AII?the Malaysian Experience

Primalani M. Kukanesan


Libraries have existed in Malaysia from the days of colonial rule,but in the early years of the country's development there was insufficient money to contribute to their progress.However「with economy, more priority was given to the library sector and funds were appropriated for library development. Financial contribution towards the development of libraries has only been in effect since the Fourth Malaysia Development Plan, in the 1980s.While the main focus of the National Library of Malaysia's services is to provide reference and referral services, we have had to initiate and provide public library services until such time as those services become widely developed.

lssues and Major Problems

The culture of Malaysians from early times was based on folklore and oral tradition unlike in the west where the reading culture has existed for many centuries.So a complete revamping of the thinking, attitude, lifestyle, etc.ofthe people was required. However, a massive change of this nature would take a few generations to realize.We had to begin by inculcating the reading habit at various levels of society‐The young were eager and willing but had to rely on parents and teachers who were themselves not of the reading kind.Parents also had to be taught about the benefits of reading and how to inculcate the reading habit amongst their young‐As we are all aware, habits cannot be formed overnight, but take a generation to be come firmly ingrained. As for the old, we cannot really change their habits, and so we try and provide them with reading materials which they will relate to , e.g. newspapers and magazines.
The culture of Malaysians from early times was based on folklore and oral tradition unlike in the west where the reading culture has existed for many centuries.So a complete revamping of the thinking, attitude, lifestyle, etc.ofthe people was required. However, a massive change of this nature would take a few generations to realize.We had to begin by inculcating the reading habit at various levels of society‐The young were eager and willing but had to rely on parents and teachers who were themselves not of the reading kind.Parents also had to be taught about the benefits of reading and how to inculcate the reading habit amongst their young‐As we are all aware, habits cannot be formed overnight, but take a generation to be come firmly ingrained. As for the old, we cannot really change their habits, and so we try and provide them with reading materials which they will relate to , e.g. newspapers and magazines.
With the building of libraries, funding was required for their initial and future collections. A lot of capital as well as continuous financial allocation was required for the purchase and development of the book collection. This was a further burden because there was a vacuum in the book trade with respect to book publishing. Therefore, we were heavily reliant on foreign publications, which further burdened our finances. So we had to inculcate the writing habit to go hand in hand with the reading habit in the hope that eventually we would create writers amongst Malaysians. The publishing industry was also slow in progressing because of the lack of priority in reading. Similarly, books that were published were slow to be sold.

In this developing country, the education system also developed very rapidly, resulting in a compulsory primary education system. Because of the lack of schools, a two-session system was introduced, with children having to go to school in the morning and afternoon. As Islam is the official religion in Malaysia, many children have to go for religious classes in the morning or afternoon depending on their school session. Besides, the children have a lot of homework and the competition to get good grades results in a lot of them going for tuition after school. This allows less free time for them to go to libraries during school days, leaving only the weekends. Hence most of our activities are at weekends, as well as school holidays. Where the library is far from the home, the parents will have to accompany the children to the library.
Our education system is inclined to be exam-orientated. This imposes a further burden upon individuals/parents with their goals set on scoring in exams, rather than having an all-round education. This leaves very little time for other activities, especially reading, which it is not a priority.
The slow publishing trade results in a lack of good bookshops both in urban and rural areas. In the rural areas the situation is worse because there are often no bookshops at all. The book trade infrastructure is ineffective as a channel of the sale of books. Thus, despite successful efforts to inculcate the reading habit and arouse interest, avenues are lack in even if there is purchasing power.
Being late in develop in the reading habit, we have to compete with all the attractions a city or a big town has to offer, e.g. growing and interesting television channels sprawling shopping complexes, modern cinema complexes, various ongoing fairs, and with technological development-the computer. In today's world where children are not easily satisfied, the inculcation fo the reading habit becomes a harder task.


Role of National Library of Malaysia

Under the National Library (Amendment) Act, 1987, the institution is responsible for library development in the country. In relation to this the National Library is provided with development funds to channel to various bodies nationwide. Funding is provided both for the physical development of libraries in all states, and for reading promotion activities which include the provision of books, activities, workshops, funding for projects. etc.
The National Library of Malaysia was appointed the Secretariat for the National Reading Promotion Committee under the chairmanship of the Honourable Minister of Education in 1991. The members consist of all state library committee chairmen, representatives from related organisations (e.g. Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Development, National Literary and Publishing House, Reading Association of Malaysia, Library Association of Malaysia, Book Publishers Association, and others).
The role of this committee is to oversee activities on a national basis and to have a coordinating and decision making body that can bring together activities as well Malaysia has for many years conducted a Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair which is held in August, although now a private organisation handles it. In 1995 National Library proposed, and the government accepted, that August would be the "reading month" every year, using the Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair as the anchor event. While reading promotion activities are being conducted all year round there is an effor by all organisations to concentrate on them in August. The National Library takes on the responsibility of initiating this by producint posters annually and having a number of activities for the month of August. We also invite government organisations, private organisations and non-government organisations to join us in organising activities to enhance the effectiveness of having a reading month on a national scale.

Efforts to Gain Access to Readers in Remote Areas

The National Library, in providing services to rural areas, only supplements services provided by the state library network. In Malaysia all the 14 states have a central or state library as well as regional libraries, branches, village and mobile libraries. We try to provide library services on a wider scale and bring books to rural folk where there is no service. However as the network of library services in the states expands, we will withdraw our service or move it to another required area.
Like many libraries, we provide bulk loan services to institutions which can provide the transportation and have some form of reading room or similar setup. We provide a bulk loan collection fo 200 books (adults and children inclusive) and the borrowing institution is responsible for the service. This bulk loan can be extended, if the users in the specified area have not finished using them, or it can be changed for new titles.
As I mentioned before we are still developing the library sector. As an interim measure the National Library has, together with the Malaysian Postal Services (a private organision), developed a system to bring books to the people known as "borrowing of books through the post", but not in the traditional sense. A small town is chosen where there is no form of library service provided- no branch, no village library, no mobile library. However this town must have a post office and the service will be confined to defined post codes, the enabling the postmen to deliver and control the service. The National Library will prepare a list of 200 boos that can be borrowed consisting of 100 children's and 100 adult titles. The books, fiction and non-fiction, will be housed in the National Library in Kuala Lumpur. For a new launch there will be a briefing on the project chaired by an important local person form the district. All government departments, relevant representatives of other organisations as well as schools in the area will be invited to inform them and to help facilitate this profect. About two weeks later t he programme will be launched and those interested in the project will be registered. A permanent list of books that can be borrowed is displayed at the selected post office. All government departments and schools in the area will also be given a copy of the book list. Registration forms and the book selection list will be available at the post office for continued service. The registration is similar to that undertaken at the National Library except that they do not have to pay RM 1.20 for the form and the card. When they fill in the form they need confirmation of their residence in the at area which can be provided by signatures of government officials or other designated authorised personnel. This is to ensure that they do actually reside within the defined postal code areas.
Each individual who registers is allowed to borrow two books for a period of one month. In the event that one of the requested books is unavailable there is an potion for a third title. However since the collection for each centre is kept separate, and there are 4 copies of each title in stock, form our experience the chances of getting a book are very high. Once these titles have been e exhuasted they will be swapped around with others form one of six collections. The National Library will post the book to the individual concerned and the individual will post it back. The date to confirm the one-month period is the date of posting, thus the time taken for delivery on return is not included. The members have to pay RM1.10 for postage to return the books, which is a very reduced rate that the postal service has consented to gibe us.
The advantage of this system is that all documents go directly to the Post Office concerned and vice versa. This kind of collaboration has been very beneficial and since the project was started in 1993 there have been no books lost. Currently there are six centres providing this service.
With the provision funding for reading promotion under the development plans, funds were allocated starting from 1997. There were many institutions interested in inculcating the reading habit but which did not have the finances to purchase books. Thus a major portion of this allocation is used to buy books for hospitals, orphanages, remand homes for children, prisons, community centres, etc. With the economic slow down there are other categories for libraries that now do not get funding or have had their funds drastically cut. TO cater to these need, for the current year we will be giving a major portion of our funding to schools for book purchase.Plans for coming years include the provision of light reading materials for government department libraries. Besides this there are organisations that require our services to help conduct workshops to teach story-telling handicraft and simple puppetry‐Starting this year the National Library will conduct workshops for the Federal Land Development Authority(FELDA)in rural areas. The National Library will provide the resource persons for the seminar and the workshop and the organisation involved will provide the place and house all their participants. Supervisors of reading centres within a specified area will be brought together to learn skills and they will be expected to use them use the multiplier effect to impart these skills to their counterparts who could not attend due to limited places and finance.

Challenges of Utilising New Media in Reading Promotion

Reading promotion has always been thought of as being confined to books.With new technology we now have:alternatives to inculcate the reading habit.The National Library has developed a hypermedia centre for children which comrises new technology to teach children to develop their creative skills. Five different sections are available where children can have hands-on experience with interactive story‐telling, write and create their own stories, produce and edit videos using a computer, create music and scores,and find information. Our avenues have been widened with the availability of interactive CD‐ROMS which allow children to listen to stories,interact with them,learn to read and spell and find out things. Since it allows them to repeat words it is a very good means of teaching themselves to read.This concept allows children to have fun and learn at the same time.While children are allowed to freely use these facilities on a daily basis we do conduct workshops on creative story‐writing particularly during the school holidays.The children learn to use the software and they produce simple illustrated story books.Once a year we conduct a computer cam p for about 25children(the maximum computers available in the hypermedia centre)either selected from all over the country or from a selected needy institution.Here the children are given training on all the available sections.To use the music facilities however, it is more beneficial if the children know about music themselves.

For Future Applications

In the National Library the services and activities conducted draw a large crowd which in itself is an indicator of the success rate.Our activities when conducted have a huge response.Some of the state libraries have also given this feedback in terms of activities conducted.The loan of books through post as indicated has a 100percent success rate.Our bulk services are also successful and in demand.Activities conducted during the reading month have m ore often than not had a full house.The National Library also commissioned a private organisation to undertake a survey of reading habits in Malaysia.The survey showed that 93percent of Malaysians aged 10years and above are literate.However the actual practice of reading is 87percent.When the details of this survey were made known , it indicated the need to inculcate reading with respect to specific target groups.Our success may be due to the wide publicity of the activities conducted and working with other organisations.As a government body we are in a better position to initiate and carry out activities.We sometimes use the media, newspapers mainly as well as advertising early on our notice boards so that our users get to know about it on time.We put up posters as well as producing pamphlets about the activities.Besides this we also target audiences and put our information out to them e.g. if we are targeting schoolteachers we write to the state education department and they send them. In some cases we work with other organisations, which helps to draw a crowd. Lack of activities of this nature in and around Kuala Lumpur also helps to draw a good response.Furthermore, there is a lack of public libraries in the Federal Territory and thus a large crowd converges on the National Library at the weekends. In fact,most of our activities, especially those designed for the general public, are conducted during the weekends.

Conclusion

The services o the National Library are many and it is not possible to cover all or go into depth in this article.l hope however that what has been stated here will be use and benefit to parties interested in furthering reading promotion. While many of the basic activities may be similar we need to tailor them to our needs or find activities that w川fit into our social environment.

Primalnani M. Kukanesan
After obtaining a Diploma in librarianship in Australia, Ms. Kukanesan joined the National Library of Malaysia in 1975. She has served in various fields in the National Library including cataloguing, administration and development, conservation and binding, and the children's section, later becoming Chief Librarian, Head, etc. of various divisions. She gained her Master's Degree in Science in the U.K. and has been Director of the Reading Promotion Division since 1991. She has also been active as a committee member of Penang Public Library Board and Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair, Secretary of the National Reading Promotion Committee, and various other committees.