13 Signs The Condition Of Our National Library Is A Reflection Of Malaysia's Governance

A recent Facebook post by Ong Kian Ming about his visit to the 'Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia' in Kuala Lumpur details why little to no one visits the national public library.

  • With an iconic architectural design, the "Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia" is located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur

    • The National Library is located just off Jalan Tun Razak, near Jalan Semarak in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

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    • The National Library of Malaysia is a Federal Department under the Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture. The National Library of Malaysia as a world class leader in library development, services and leadership.

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    • The pride of the National Library’s collection is the Malaysiana Collection. It comprises library materials published in Malaysia and overseas whose whole or larger part of the content is related to the publications date or the language used.

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  • According To Ong Kian Ming, despite an overall budget of RM54 million in 2013, the National Library is a disappointment. This is why:

    • Despite its sizeable overall budget of RM54 million in 2013, the flagship library of the National Library system is disappointingly poorly designed and not public friendly, focuses on the wrong priorities, has poor ‘software’ and is not representative of a truly ‘national’ library.

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    • Ong Kian Ming is an academician, political analyst turned Election Strategist for Democratic Action Party (DAP). Ong was formerly a prominent political analyst in the Malaysian political scene.

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  • 1. The building is poorly designed and not easily accessible

    • Even getting to this building was tricky. We had to walk through the front of the main library complex (Anjung Bestari) to the back and there were no signs as to where exactly Menara Warisan Sejarah was located.

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    • It’s not really convenient for people to trudge all the way to the back of the library complex and go up to the third or fourth floor of the building to borrow and return books.

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  • 2. The library focuses on wrong priorities. The main library complex is reserved for exhibitions, while only two of three of the building is dedicated to books.

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        Main hall of the main library complex (Anjung Bestari) – with a lot of empty and underutilized space
    • For a National Library that is supposed to promote a culture of reading, only two floors out of 3 buildings were dedicated to books and materials which the public could borrow. And both these floors were located in Wisma Sejarah, which is to be found at the very back of the National Library.

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    • Instead of putting the books which the public could borrow in the main library complex (Anjung Bestari), this space was reserved for exhibitions instead. There is a lot of material here promoting the Minister in question – Rais Yatim – and of course, 1 Malaysia propaganda, but also a lot of underutilized space.

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    • Wouldn’t it be more productive to use this space to put reading materials which the public can borrow and have access to, and to put in a nice café where people can sit and read instead of these largely empty exhibition spaces?

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  • 3. The facilities are not exactly disabled-friendly

    • It is also very difficult for a disabled person on a wheelchair to get to this building. Even though there was a disabled ramp that led to this building, from the photo below, one can see that the ramp is far too steep for someone on a wheelchair to go up and down easily.

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      • B9fd Image via akamaihd.net
        A steep disabled ramp leading up to the Menara Warisan Sejarah which houses books which the public can borrow
  • 3.The National Library is not designed to handle high-volume traffic due to the poor allocation of parking space

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        Sheltered parking annexe at Menara PNM – each floor had about 20 parking spaces
    • In other related news, we did not see any outdoor parking lots specifically reserved for disabled drivers although we drove around the entire library complex twice. We might have missed them but if there were any specifically reserved slots, they were clearly not marked or visible to visitors.

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    • As for parking lots in general, there were certainly enough for us given that the National Library was largely deserted of public visitors during the times (weekdays and weekends) we visited. However, the sheltered parking annexe in Menara PNM (the tallest building with 15 floors, which houses special collections and government documents) had only just over30 total parking spaces for the public, with parking slots on the first 3-4 floors reserved exclusively for Library directors and staff.

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    • This shows that the National Library is not designed to handle high-volume traffic, should more people decide to visit in future.

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  • 4. Five floors in Menara Wisma Sejarah are rented out to third parties, including private companies

    • When we got to Menara Wisma Sejarah, we were surprised to find that 5 floors have been rented out to other parties including a law firm and an event management company! One really has to wonder about the rationale of this rental agreement and how these contracts came into being.

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  • 5. Poor maintenance and organisation of books

    • This kind of maintenance would be a disgrace in any public library. That this would occur in the flagship National Library building is utterly shocking! We may have all the funds in the world to buy the newest books but if we cannot even shelve our books properly, then all this money spent has clearly gone to waste.

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    • And even the small space that was allocated to public rentals was not properly maintained. Stacks of books were found piled up on shelving carts and strewn haphazardly all over the floor.

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  • 6. Literatures on prominent display are of "government propaganda"

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        Literature published by the National Library featuring the usual cast of suspects
    • Even the types of books published by the National Library and put on prominent display smack of government propaganda. Not surprisingly, many of the books on display feature the accomplishments of Dr. Mahathir, Najib and the other Prime Ministers of Malaysia.

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    • Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that we shouldn’t publish literature on our past PMs but a lot of other people and institutions such as the Perdana Leadership Foundation (PLF) are already doing things like this. Wouldn’t it be better for the National Library to focus on publishing and promoting literature which is not covered by the mainstream but which is important to the culture and heritage of our country?

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  • 7. The National Library does not seem to give importance to other prominent languages of Malaysia

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        Opening times of the National Library in BM and Jawi
    • And yet, this seems to be the case for our ‘National Library’. A sign which is prominently displayed has “Membudayakan Bahasa Kita” as one of the tag lines as well as “Membudayakan Tulisan Jawi”.

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    • Even though BM is the national language and should be given the most important status, other languages used in Malaysia have also produced important literary contributions which are of literary, cultural and historical significance and therefore should not be ignored.

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    • Many of the signs at the National Library have both BM as well as Jawi featured which is a bit odd to me – since Arabic speakers from the Middle East who may visit the library would not understand the Arabic words in Jawi, and Malaysians who can read and understand Jawi would also be able to read and understand the words in BM. Why not state basic visitor information, such as opening times, in Chinese and Tamil in addition to BM?

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  • 8. "Kedudukan Istimewa Bumiputera"

    • One of the other odd things I found on one of the posters at the National Library was this poster emphasizing “Kedudukan Istimewa Bumiputera”. The special status of the Bumiputeras in Malaysia is found in Article 153 of the Federal Constitution. I have no dispute with that but I was left to wonder why this specific issue is highlighted in our National Library?

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    • In my humble opinion, a national library should be a progressive institution that aims to preserve, highlight and conduct research on the literary traditions of all communities and cultures in the country.

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  • 9. Plagiarism and lack of research

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        Photo of the Temiar children taken by the Center for Orang Asli Concerns and featured in a Nut Graph article (http://www.thenutgraph.com/left-in-the-margins/) The poster in the National Library does not attribute credit for the photograph to either the COAC or the Nut Graph.
    • Ironically, the photo of the children in this poster is actually a photo of 3 Temiar children who are part of an Orang Asli kampong in Perak. And the Orang Asli are not recognized in the Federal Constitution as belonging to the Bumiputera population in Malaysia.

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    • Photo of the Temiar children taken by the Center for Orang Asli Concerns and featured in a Nut Graph article (http://www.thenutgraph.com/left-in-the-margins/) The poster in the National Library does not attribute credit for the photograph to either the COAC or the Nut Graph.

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  • 10. Documentation problems

    • Even in the area of collecting government documents – which the Library should be good at since it is a government agency – the National Library fails miserably. I was looking for education statistics at the state level and I found out that the various state education departments stopped submitting their records to the National Library in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

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    • When I asked the person in charge why these documents were stopped in the early 2000s, she said that these government agencies simply stopped sending their reports to the National Library, and the National Library never followed up to ask them to do so (even though they are supposed to by law).

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    • Our National Library can’t even keep track and collect all of the government’s own documentation, much less the other books which are published in Malaysia.

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  • Ong Kian Ming pinpoints the poor management of the National Library to problems of leadership that stems all the way to the Ministers in the Cabinet

    • I think that many of the problems I’ve highlighted with regard to the National Library starts with the issue of leadership. If the leadership, starting with the Minister, cares more about public appearances and publicity – which explains the large exhibition area and the 1 Malaysia propaganda stuff – then this will filter down the line and into the mentality of the organization.

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    • The leadership in charge of the National Library will then also focus on the wrong priorities – making themselves look good in the eyes of the Minister – by organizing events that will help promote themselves and the Minister rather than to focus on what is really important – to increase the reading culture in our country, to make our national library system into one that is widely accessible, frequented and used by the public and that is truly inclusive, and to protect, promote and conduct research on the important literary contributions in this country in all languages and traditions.

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    • No amount of money spent on building new libraries and procuring new books and developing new apps can make up for this shortcoming in ‘software’ – the most important of which is the issue of leadership.

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