There is a good reason why many Malaysians prefer to buy books and form their own personal library than visit a public library: Our public libraries just aren't very good.
This is not true for all libraries, of course. In fact, I grew up in Johor Baru and my childhood memories was filled with weekend jaunts to the magical place of books with my dad and sister.
But Selangor. Oh, Selangor.
When I moved to KL from JB, I was shocked by how deplorable the libraries were. Selangor may be richest state, but what in the world happened to its libraries? They were hard to get to, and their books were old and it didn't seem as if the library added new books to its collection very often.
So, over the years I relied on book exchanges, second-hand bookstores and yes, bookstores. I spent a lot of money on books.
But it's 2012 and I hope things have changed.
I heard about the Raja Tun Uda library, saw pictures of its lavish buildings, read posts raving about its 6D theatre and gyms, but I was still concerned. There was noticeable silence about its books!
So I made my way to the library, which was located in the middle of a golf course.
Yes, in a middle of a golf course.
I have no idea if there are public buses going in there but it would seem that the only way to get to the library was by car.
Worse, I realised there weren't many parking spaces available. Ah, the marvels of bureaucracy: You build a four-storey library without at least, an underground parking space.
So I had to park by the side of the road, which I was told later, wasn't very legit. Wonderful.
Rules, rules, rules
I went inside and was immediately reminded of how to dress in the library. Yes, in Malaysia, you can get booted out of libraries if you dare to wear sleeveless tops into the building. So I came conservatively dressed.
But more rules awaited me. I wasn't allowed to bring my bag into the library. So, I placed my bag in the lockers next to the entrance of the floor (they're found on each floor). Guess what? Many were broken. And the damn machines only accepted old 20 sen coins. And I didn't have any.
Irritably, I marched to my car, stashed my backpack into the boot, took out a file and placed my car keys, wallet and Kindle into it.
Grumbling, I walked back in with my file and headed back into the library and explored each floor.
Was I impressed by the building? Sure. But it's just garnishing to me. I wanted the real meat: The books.
I was unimpressed by what I saw.
For such a big library, there were only two rows of English fiction. The non-fiction selection wasn't terribly extensive either.
There was a smattering of modern titles by authors like Danielle Steel and James Patterson. Most of the books were old and yellowed.
Now, I don't care if books are old and yellowed, honestly. What I care about is - are there new books in the library?
I can tell you that the Subang Jaya Book Exchange, which has a ramshackle tiny cabin with space the size of a large master bed room, has a far, far superior selection of titles.
Back in Adelaide, I lived near the Goodwood library which was my favourite book haunt. It was tiny in comparison to Raja Tun Uda but it managed to squeeze an amazing selection of books in just 10 shelves. It was also connected to the network of libraries in South Australia, so I could browse book titles in the library and "order" a book from another library. It would be delivered to the Goodwood library for me to pick up a few days or weeks later. Amazing stuff.
There were always new books being promoted at the front of the library. And by new, I'm not talking about "printed sometime in the 20th century" but those published in the current month.
As a reader, I'm looking for a library where I can discover books. I'm not as keen on shiny facilities, because maybe I'd rather read than study or watch movies. And even if I'm a student, how am I going to reach a library deep in the bowels of a golf course?
It's sad that in Malaysia we choose to impress people with our tall, large, latest-technology buildings but fail to deliver where it counts. A library doesn't just need to have a good selection of books but to promote new titles and authors, and be a central place for the community to gather and learn. But how do you become that when you're located away public transport?
I left the Raja Tun Uda library barely half an hour after arriving there, eager to get home before cars clogged the road.
1. Well-equipped with computers that you can use.
2. High-tech 6D theatre. Apparently. I didn't really check it out.
3. Located near a gorgeous golf course.
4. Awesome place to study. If you can get there.
1. Accessibility is poor. Hard to get to if you do not have a car.
2. For now, parking is pretty difficult. A temporary parking site is found 200m from the library. Apparently, according to a friend there are buggies to transport you there, but it's not reliable. She was forced to wait for a long time under the hot sun once.
3. The book selection is poor. See above.
4. Ridiculous rules that inconvenience the reader.
Final word: A great place to study, but the voracious reader will leave disappointed at the poor selection of books.
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