A book town is a small rural town or village in which second-hand and antiquarian bookshops are concentrated. Most book towns have developed in villages of historic interest or of scenic beauty. The first book village was established in Wales in 1961.
Mohd Syairoz bin Mohd Odzman, the director of Book Village Foundation Malaysia cum board member of the International Organisation of Book Towns was inspired to develop a similar entity in his hometown, Ipoh.
The earlier book villages in the country were established in Lubuk Semilang, Langkawi in 1997 and Ayer Keroh Botanical Park, Malacca in 2007. Book towns all over the world are governed by International Organisation of Book Towns but owned by the local community. A European Union (EU) project, Malaysia was the only non-EU member in the book town movement in 2006.
“When we become member of a book town, it’s a jump-start promotion for tourism, as we belong to a worldwide network of book towns and engage in book trail activities. People will travel from one book town to another. For instance, people visiting Belgium would know about Langkawi when brochures are scattered throughout these book towns,” said Mohd Syairoz during a brainstorming discussion held on Saturday, April 9 at Cititel Express Hotel.
Every two years, 38 book towns all over the world will take turns to host the International Book Town Festival. Members from each book town would showcase and trade their materials. Thousands of people would travel to buy second-hand books and memorabilia. This will benefit the local hospitality and the food and beverage industries. Langkawi was given the honour to be the host country in 2012.
Old Town has now come to life with its wall art murals, historical buildings, trendy cafes, boutique hotels and scrumptious food and beverage. All it needs is the addition of second-hand books and antiquarian collection to the area, a crucial element of the book town concept. In short, visitors to Old Town would enjoy value-added travel thanks to this edu-tourism factor.
Never a library setting, a book town is a place for all age groups with a melting pot of activities where arts and culture flourish. Visitors could rent a magazine or a book while enjoying a cup of coffee. It is an area where cultural festivals, food fairs, sports carnivals and flea markets could be held.
The discussion was helmed by, Hj Mohd Odzman bin Abdul Kadir, President of Perak Tourism Association; Mohd Taib bin Mohamed, Chairman of Perak Heritage Society; Peter J. Bucher, founder of Sharpened Word Literary Matinee; Maggie Ong, Chairperson of Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH Perak Chapter); Ron Low, Vice Chairperson of MAH Perak Chapter; Mohamed Daniel Kadir, President of the Malaysian Association for the Disabled (PPOC Perak); Chan Kok Keong, Deputy Chairman of the Perak Academy; Fathol Zaman Bukhari, Director of Ipoh Echo; Mohamed Hisam of Aidil Travel and Tours; and Cecilia, Manager of Burps and Giggles.
Odzman insisted that this should be a private-sector-driven effort in order to ensure success. “Let interested parties in the private sector take up the challenge, as the involvement of government agencies would be a non-starter,” he lamented.
Everyone present pledged full support. A working committee was set up with Perak Tourism Association acting as the secretariat. A follow-up meeting is fixed for Thursday, April 21. Stay tuned for more exciting updates.