Presently, Sabahans have a very special and singular achievement to be proud about. The remarkable Tanjung Aru State Library is a newly erected and sophisticated feat that serves to be a reservoir of knowledge for our local community. Parents Avenue was lucky enough to have a chat with Tanjung Aru State Library director, Mr. Wong Vui Yin on discussing the changing roles and concepts of libraries over time, targeting younger readers, and the challenges faced in maintaining the Tanjung Aru State Library.
CONCEPTS OF LIBRARIES OVER TIME
Sitting with the director at the Newspaper and Magazine area of the library, he begins the conversation by starting at the very beginning, the launch of the Tanjung Aru State Library, “We finally opened on the 1st of April, officiated by YB Datuk Dr. Yusof B. Yakob. The response from the community in Kota Kinabalu was fantastic. I’ve been in this business for 39 years and I have never seen such enthusiasm.” Indeed, the overwhelming response from the community outmatched the number of personnel assigned at the library, “We underestimated the response in terms of the number of staff we stationed in KK in this library and we immediately had to add 14 additional staff, and, even that wasn’t enough” he says excitedly.
Off the back of the launch, the director returns to the central theme of our discussion with a deeper take on libraries. “In the past libraries used to be a place to borrow books, or, sit and do some reference work. But now, the concepts and roles of libraries have changed over time along with people’s expectations of them. Today, libraries are a more interactive place to meet your spouse, siblings and friends. It’s a place for you to read and enjoy your experience,” he explains. To further instil this belief, The Tanjung Aru State Library is looking to imbue young children with the love of reading. “Why children?” the director asks, “Reading is a process where you have to inculcate when they’re young. You can get older children and teenagers to read, but by that time, they’re attention will be focused on something else. Attracting children when they’re young will develop this habit of going to the library and read. Our children’s library mirrors this effort.”
However, any effort made is met by it’s own unique set of challenges. During opening week, the children’s library was riddled with issues of vandalism and strewn books that were scattered all over the floors. “When we first opened, it was madness. The children were out of control and the parents weren’t controlling the kids, a lot of people said it was a playground. The children’s library is not a playground.” The director asserts and clarifies, “It’s a multi-sensory situation because we’re all different in the way we live, learn and absorb things because we have different backgrounds and experiences and each of us learn in our own individual ways. We at the library want that experience to be available to everybody.” To accommodate and fulfill the multi-needs of the readers and users, the director turned to unconventional means to adorn the children’s library. “The main attraction is the Octopus, and the tentacles are places where you can sit, put your books within so that you can read in the Octopus setting.” He said, “other than that, there’s a raised platform and a reading net.”
“Unfortunately, children come in and they will climb up the net and slide down, so it becomes to them a playground. This is not the way to use the reading net and if you go to the teen library, there’s a reading net there with the same concept; for you to lie down and read whatever you’re reading,” the director says. Returning to the topic of vandalism, “we know that children like to draw, that’s why we’ve provided two areas for chalkboards and we provide the chalk for children and teenagers to draw and it was very popular.” However, the unexpected took the turn for the worst, “somebody came into the library and brought a box of crayons in the children’s area and left it there. What disappointed me most was some of the graffiti was done by children, and surprisingly enough, teenagers as well.” The director expressed his dissatisfaction with the current situation and the behavior displayed by these certain users. “I was so sad, and so angry. We just opened one week and this has already happened.” The director said. “The first impression is very, very important, I don’t want people seeing these drawings everywhere in the children’s library. So I said okay, we close it and clean it for three solid days. We used all kinds of detergents to clean it up and we managed to clean it up within 3 days. So when you walk up now, you can’t see the residual vandalism because we’ve cleaned up 95% of the vandalism.”
However, one silver lining emerged from the vandalism issue, the gracious outpouring of countless volunteers. “We were understaffed, and I had to operate with what staff we had. So, after discussing with my management, we decided to put up a call for volunteers. Within 48 hours, we received 249 responds from the people of Kota Kinabalu,” said the director, who presumed the amount of response was the result of the outrage when they saw the vandalism. “So we had a first meeting with the volunteers. Some of them said they want to do story telling and some of them are expatriates and they say, ‘I used to be an English teacher in my country and I’d like to teach English to a group of youngsters’ and this was fantastic!” the director said enthusiastically. Meaning, teaching English to youngsters will be listed as the serviced provided by the state library. “We’re never supposed to be teachers, we’re libraries. However, we support informal education. So, we’re using these volunteers to assist us in expanding the role of the library to make us even more relevant to the community we’re serving.”
LIBRARY BUILDING DESIGN
Coming to the concept of the building, “when you look at the library building, it could be in any city, anywhere in the world. It’s very modern, very iconic but it’s also very local. Local in the sense that when you look at the front façade of the building, it is made from the Murut motif where you have two men and two ladies coming together and it symbolizes two things; unity and the meeting.” The symbolical meaning behind the “the meeting” is profound to the relation of the library as elucidated by the director, “Your economic, racial or religious background doesn’t matter. It’s a meeting place for everyone and this is what we try to inculcate this modern concept of the library.” He goes on to add that the states in Borneo, Sabah and Sarawak are very accommodating and understanding. “We embrace each other’s culture and one another and we want the library to be a reflection of that.” Furthermore, he touches more on the ethnic influences on the identity library building “When you walk into the library, the first thing you see is our counter, the concept of the counter is taken from the Wakid, which the Kadazan-Dusun community is very familiar with. And if you look at the individual design of the Wakid, it also symbolizes the logo of the library” the director says to further explain the marriage of culture and architecture of the Tanjung Aru State Library.
The Tanjung Aru State Library is equipped with more facilities and even numerous newer features that’s being introduced such as the Paper and Ink café, “Petrosains Maker” Studio, Music Studio, Nursing Area, Infinity Mirror Room, Sick Bay and more! The director gives us behind-the-scenes of the ideas and inspiration that resulted in some of these incredible new features.
“When my son was studying in Taiwan, I started visiting Taiwan very regularly, and in Taipei, there’s a contemporary museum with a room that mirrors thousands of yourself, and I thought, this is a very novel and interesting concept for the Tanjung Aru State Library.” Once he returned to Kota Kinabalu, he began working towards this vision. At first, it was met with hesitation by the architects. “So when I first introduced this idea to the architect, they were telling me it can’t be done because we don’t have the technology we don’t know how to do it.” After some encouragement, they got to work and the final product was suprising! Actually, I was quite pleased. It was not as good or sophisticated as the one in Taiwan but it’s something new and different and people loved it.”
“What?? You have a jamming studio in a library?? What for??” is the most frequent response the director has gotten for installing a jamming studio in the library. ‘The artistic aspect of a person in Malaysia, we don’t appreciate,” the director explains, using P. Ramlee’s posthumous Datukship as an example. “We have to look at people’s talent differently. Some people are good in reading and smart in their education. Some people are very good in singing, some people are good in drama, we should embrace all aspects of talents within our society. So by providing a studio, we are hoping that we can encourage our youngsters.”
“The reading net is a feature that is very new. A lot of parents on Facebook told the library, ‘remove the net, I don’t want to see this. It’s causing so much noise’ disclosed the director. The management team was also divided on the Reading Net, some sided with the parents while some sided with keeping the Reading Net exactly as it is. “A lot of people say, Sabahans aren’t ready for something like this. My question is if we’re not ready for something like this when are we going to be ready? 10, 20, 30 years from today?” The director asked. “We introduced an idea and if they don’t know how we use it then we educate them,” he said.
Generous Opening Hours
“We want parents to come use our facilities and use it aggressively because we are open from 9am to 9pm. The opening hours is so long including public holiday, there is no excuse for parents to say ‘I couldn’t go because the library was closed’ that excuse doesn’t hold water anymore because our opening hours is so friendly.” He beckons the KK community to use the facilities, however do so in a proper, respective manner. “Don’t abuse it, because a book is just a book until someone opens it and reads it. You may gain some knowledge or information from that particular book.”
MESSAGE TO READERS
“We know books are expensive and you can only buy so much depending on how big your budget is, but when you come to the library, everything is free.” The director shares. The public are welcomed to use the facilities and the books as often as they want, but at the same time, as mentioned before, libraries are no longer about reading and doing research. It’s also a place where one gains new knowledge. “We’re going to have proper programs for young mothers and teenagers even for elderly, older population. So that anybody who comes to the library, we’ll have all kinds of programs for them specifically.”
For more information, you may give them a call at 088-214828 or visit them at Tanjung Plaza to experience the joy of reading as they are opened everyday including public holidays from 9am to 9pm.
Interviewed and Written by Eve Bandusena, Editorial Assistant