Saturday, July 11

Another endangered species

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Who is going to read these books when everybody is reading from the mobile phone?

OTHER than reading online about political intrigues and scandals in high places, many people in Sarawak have been talking mostly about the fate of the flora and fauna. As more and more forests are being cleared for land development or for sale of the jungle produce, they are concerned about the possible extinction of the orangutans and the man-eating crocodiles.

However, seldom in their daily interactions with one another do these Sarawakians refer to the impending disappearance from the face of this earth of another species: the book and print newspaper publishers and their editors. As a corollary, the book collectors and, to some extent, the authors of books and magazines are all in the same boat. Not forgetting those who produce the stuff in the first place: authors and journalists!

While the act of reading as such remains as it has always been, the art of reading books and other publications has been displaced by the mobile phone and the Internet. People search for information from cyberspace. They communicate in telegraphic symbols and mess up the language in which all good books are written. They do not need a dictionary; many may not know of the existence of such a book of reference as the Thesaurus. What’s that – a kind of dinosaur?

For the past 10 years, I have not seen anyone reading a book during a bus or boat ride, or on board an aircraft. They are reading from the screens of their mobile phones or from their computers.

Concerned about the adverse effect of the decline of the print and the paper-and-ink, there is a group of people in Sarawak who care about the effect of modern technology on the culture of book reading. And they hope that a book “will have the desired effect of creating a resurgence of interest in reading the conventional books”. This they hope “would lead to people to speak and write better … The electronic advancement has resulted in people not being able to spell or write well because of the influence of what is called the computer language”.

The Pustaka Negeri Sarawak’s noble objective to “remedy the current trend which is endemic all over the world, where people, especially the younger generation, are no longer interested in reading and buying books”, is commendable, the situation now is like paddling a boat against the tide.

Nonetheless, whoever conceived the idea of getting owners of private collectors of books to collaborate with the Pustaka is to be commended. While the 19 past and present owners of private libraries  are mostly based in Kuching, there may be more private libraries in other parts of Sarawak; they should be brought on board in any future edition of the book.

By their very nature, the private libraries are not adequate enough to cater to every need of the owner/reader. The owner needs to resort to the public library for an additional or the latest information that they may require.

The managers of Pustaka Negeri want to do something about inculcating and supporting “the culture of reading among the people of Malaysia, especially among the younger generations”, writes Tan Sri Datuk Amar Hamid Bugo, chairman of the Board of Management of the Sarawak State Library, in his foreword to ‘Unravelling the Private Libraries of Sarawak, 2016’. Most commendable.

The book

The project, researched and written by Rosenah Ahmad had been commissioned by the State Library. The result is a book full of beautiful photographs in colour. Containing a bit of the biography of each collaborator, the book should be made available for reading by the public at the library.

Don’t judge the book by its cover, though. I suggest you skip pages 93 to 98 and proceed on to the next page and discover one of the jewels in the crown.

I got three copies of the book from the chief executive officer of the library Dr Rashidah Bolhassan for whom grateful thanks yang tidak terhingga (endless gratitude) are sincerely due. Though not specifically said in so many words, I got her subtle message: one copy to add to my collection of books and one each for my children, to pass to my grandchildren, to make sure they read (books).

Against the tide 

In the fight between electronics and print, the latter seems to be losing. However, the authors and publishers must never give up. Let the advocates of paperless medium of information know that what these youngsters can do can be done in many other ways too. Such as in print!

Age doesn’t matter as long as the grey matter does not age. Bookstores in town should give a discount on every purchase. In fact, bookstores should be members of the Kenyalang Gold Card, so the oldies can go and buy books from them.

The not-so-computer-savvy must learn how to handle two methods of reading: reading the actual books as well as reading publications online. The end objective is that we all become a bit more educated, old or young – agree?

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