Promote Putrajaya Library to Inculcate Reading Habit and Learning Culture
This week witnesses the 38th edition of Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair (KLIBF), held for ten days from 29th of March until 7th of April 2019, at the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC).
The hashtag #MalaysiaMembaca is used, to excite reading as the favourite pastime of Malaysians. It is a tall order, facing the challenges of internet surfing and binge-watching, allured with the rise of video streaming services.
Then, on the 23rd of April, World Book Day will be celebrated globally. Designated by UNESCO since 1995, it is an annual world-wide tribute to books, participated by more than a hundred countries.
It is inspired by the Catalonian custom el dia del llibre, a festival when lovers and their beloved exchange books as gift. On that particular day alone, approximately 1.8 million books worth around € 25 million (RM 116 million) are expected to be sold. Those numbers are impressive, as Catalonia’s population hovers at less than 8 million people.
As book encapsulates its author’s thought, World Book Day is also an appreciation of authors. Good writers have furthered the social advancement and cultural progress of humanity, be it in spiritual terms or economics, politics, education, ethics, law, sciences, mathematics, comparative religion, philosophy, and literature.
Indeed, the 23rd of April was picked because it marks the anniversary of the date of death of many eminent Western writers such as Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare; the date also marks the birth of Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness and Vladimir Nabokov.
“A chief glory of every people arises from its authors,” as mentioned by Dr Samuel Johnson, arguably the most distinguished litterateur in English history.
Against those who abhor books, Voltaire once remarked that “the whole of the known universe, with the exception of the savage races, is governed by books alone.”
Voltaire’s remark was not without exaggeration; but he marshalled many witty examples to illustrate it. This 18th century French Enlightenment essayist pointed out that the Islamic civilisation is governed by the Qur’an, the Chinese civilisation by the Analects, the Hindu civilisation by the Vedas, and the pre-Islamic Persia by the Avesta.
In saying the Qur’an has governed Islamic civilisation, it is rooted on the first Divine Order to the Prophet Muhammad, which is to “Read! (Iqra’). The new Religion (al-Din) is mandated to be based on the harmony of Revelation with intelligence, perusal, thorough study, profound thinking, in-depth investigation, honest research, and exploration on significant human issues.
Such a learning culture gave birth to the leading scientists and innovators of their time. Muslim civilisation can proudly name hundreds of thinkers and discoverers among its famous sons and daughters, including al-Khwarizmi, a geographer and mathematician, from whose name the word ‘algorithm’ comes; al-Biruni, a pharmacy, medicine, physics and earth science scholar; and, al-Ghazali, arguably the greatest theologian Islam has produced.
At national level, there is room for governmental improvement by looking at model library such as the National Diet Library (NDL) of Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan, as well as the Library of Congress, Washington DC.
NDL boasts of numerous significant Japan’s special collections; while the Library of Congress has more than 32 million book collections and 61 million manuscripts. They function as world-wide resource centres, referred to by thought leaders to the extent that it is able to be a “library of last resort.”
The phrase “library of last resort” was coined by Herbert Putnam, the Librarian of Congress from 1899 to 1939. In an administrative measure worth emulating, the appointment of Librarian of Congress always taking into account that it is the leading intellectual public position in the USA.
If the government establish in that mould—say, Putrajaya Library—benchmarked against the standard of the aforementioned educational institutions, this will surely add value to our federal administrative centre.
Not unlike those two international libraries, it ought to function as research arm, especially for the needs of the members of Parliament of Malaysia, which consists of Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara, as well as the office of The Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
It should be able to perform “Legislative and Syari‘ah Reference Service,” supplying research-based scholarly answer to the needs of members of Parliament and of State Legislative Assemblies, on national matters in general as well as on civil and syari‘ah systems of law.
The ultimate vision may be to position it as the greatest library or resource centre for the Malay Archipelago, which is the second largest populated region in the Islamic World. It may later establish a system of library classification congenial to Malay-Islamic World books, parallel to present-day Library of Congress Classification (LCC) and Dewey decimal system.
Collections of rare books, and valuable and important manuscripts could be obtained by establishing proper acquisition centres, manned by experts, in foreign countries; a dedicated diplomatic initiatives (say, Library of Putrajaya Missions) may be formed, too.
Apart from printed books, materials like microfilms, maps, fine arts, and architectural drawings are relevant to the purpose; and in this Information Age, they need to be archived in digital forms, too.