Tun Razak Library along Jalan Panglima Bukit Gantang Wahab used to be open on all days except Mondays from 10am to 8pm. Recently, the opening hours have been reduced to 10am to 5pm from Monday to Saturday and is closed on Sundays, the day people are free to visit the library. During the fifties the library was opened on Sundays.
I used to visit the library at least twice a week to read magazines and newspapers and made new friends there. Recently my daughter, who is settled overseas, gave her old iPad to me and I only go the library occasionally since all the magazines I read are subscribed to in the iPad. People who don’t have this opportunity have to go to the library to read.
I was informed by one of my friends on the new opening hours and shared his frustration. I spoke to regular visitors like Hamid Lee, Eddy Chong and S. Anandan who received the Avid Reader Award. All of them are not happy with the new timing. They said that Malaysians are not fond of reading and the library can encourage people to read. Working people cannot visit the library.
The other people present in the library refused to talk to me because they thought that it was a waste of time. The authorities have made their decision and would not change.
When I spoke to M. Kasturi, the Librarian, she gave the following main reasons for restricting the opening hours:
- Parents are using the library as a free day care centre and drop their children there to pick up late afternoon. When the children feel hungry they approach the library staff for food. The canteen is closed.
- It is a requirement that parents look after their children playing in the children’s section. This is not practised and children get hurt and expect the library staff to treat them.
- Teenagers behave indecently mainly along the staircase.
- Comparatively not many visitors come in the evening
- On Sundays the staff would like to be with their family.
These are not major problems and can be solved and these issues cannot be used as justification to restrict opening hours. Staff can work on shifts like when I worked in the oil and gas industry where people work offshore on shifts ranging from weekly to monthly.
For more than three months I am trying to talk to Mohd Zakuan bin Haji Zakaria, MBI Secretary who is head of the Library Committee. On the day of the appointment given after one month he was busy and instead Mohd Syahrizal, Public Relations Officer met me. I told Syahrizal, it was a waste of time talking to him. Zakuan is reluctant to meet me because he has no answers to my questions and has no justification for his decision.
This shows that MBI make decisions for its own convenience and is not interested in public opinion.
I have worked in Kuantan, Johor Bahru, Miri and Kuala Belait (Brunei) and the library in these towns are open on Sundays. There are only a few visitors and if the number of visitors is the criteria to keep public libraries open, then most of them will be closed down.
UNESCO has published a book titled, The Public Library Service, IFLA/UNESCO Guidelines which can be downloaded from the Internet.
This book states the primary purpose of the public library is to provide resources and services in a variety of media to meet the needs of individuals and groups for education, information and personal development including recreation and leisure. They have an important role in the development and maintenance of a democratic society by giving the individual access to a wide and varied range of knowledge, ideas and opinions.
Opening hours: In order to provide the best possible access to the library service, the library must be open at times of maximum convenience to those who live, work and study in the community.
Anti-social behaviour: In any building freely accessible to the public, staff will occasionally encounter users who behave in an unpleasant and anti-social manner. Staff should be trained in how to deal with such situations.
Library staff should be trained to use communication media to promote the library service and respond to media enquiries.
It is said that Malaysians only read half a page in one year. The government wants to create a reading society. Libraries can do this. Instead of conducting Let’s Read Together programme once a year, it can be done weekly. The library can ask Sharpened Word Group to conduct their activities in the library. The library can engage NGO’s like PAGE (Parents Action Group For Education) and others to attract more visitors to the library.
What regular visitors to the library want is to keep the reading section open till 8PM; the lending section can be closed at 5pm. The majority of people visiting the library come to the reading section to read papers and magazines. The library must be opened on Sundays. I hope Zakuan can implement these.