Nurturing reading

Though Malaysians may be reading more, we are not yet avid readers.

WITH the increase in the number of bookshops, book fairs and libraries offering a wide range of books and magazines in a variety of languages on every topic under the sun, materials for reading have become more accessible to more people.

With reading campaigns, activities and ambassadors to get people to read, there has been no shortage of promotional efforts. Statistics also show growth in the membership and loans of the National Library of Malaysia. In addition, there has been an increase in the number of books, magazines and newspapers sold. As such, it may not seem fair, as the National Library director-general put it, to say that Malaysians are not reading more. But then again, benchmarked against the 10-15 books a month that Reading Ambassador Datuk Seri Michelle Yeoh is said to read, the rise from the two books read in 1995 to the eight-12 books a year in 2010 is hardly cause for great cheer.

What is clear is that while Malaysians may be reading more, we have yet to become avid readers. Certainly, few habitually read on the bus or train, or in a restaurant or park. As the highbrow in Malaysian society have observed, disapprovingly, the demand for books has been sparked by the popular taste for romance novels, chick lit, pulp fiction and other lowbrow literature. But then again, as long as people are reading, this should be the least of our worries. After all, people read for a variety of reasons and motives from the practical to the philosophical, the puerile to the sublime.

While the National Library seems to be thriving, the same probably cannot be said of most public libraries in the country. Library users also tend to be students, parents with young children and the retired. Perhaps, working makes visiting libraries inconvenient and books more affordable to buy and preferable to borrowing. So, perhaps, libraries should be in shopping malls. In this regard, the initiative to make online library collections available to desktop computers, notebooks, tablets and other handheld devices is a positive move to address the issue of accessibility. This embrace of digital technology is also timely as Malaysian reading habits are changing as content shifts from the printed word to digital material.

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