Picture this: you’re on your usual way back from work on the LRT, or having a drink in a cafe. Or maybe you’re having a walk through a mall.
And then you see it. A book, unattended, just lying there by itself. Your first impulse is someone left it behind. But a sticker on the cover removes all doubt: this book has been left here on purpose, by a local literary group.
The hope is that you enjoy the book, and then pass it on. Or perhaps, drop it somewhere for another lucky person to find it.
This has been the modus operandi of Books On The Move Malaysia, a non-profit organisation, which aims to promote reading culture.
Founder Carol Koh says she was inspired to start this local chapter after she heard about the global Books On The Move movement in 2017. This movement originally started in London in 2012, and was then known as Books On the Underground in 2012. Since then, it has expanded to over 20 outposts in 14 countries.
Koh contacted founder Hollie Fraser, who had started the movement in the United States and Britain.
Kickstarting the mission
Fraser encouraged Koh to start it up in Malaysia. At the time, Malaysia was one of the few Asian countries to participate in this initiative.
“In adopting the concept from the global movement, we have ‘book ninjas’ who go around to hide books for others to find. Each book shared will have a sticker to educate others about the movement.
“People are encouraged to follow our social media and post photos via the movement’s hashtag #takereadreturn,” says Koh.
“Through such activities, we hope to create excitement about books and reading, and encourage more conversations and content around reading, especially in the social media space, ” she adds.
The group currently has about 3,000 followers on social media. Koh estimates they have shared 5,000 free books so far in the Klang Valley, Penang, Ipoh, Johor and Sabah.
While book dropping is perhaps what Books On the Move is most known for, it is definitely not all it does.
The group has also created community libraries. In 2018, it set up three libraries at three LRT stations (Ampang Park, KL Sentral and Pasar Seni) for 10 months. These were then adopted by three malls in the city.
The project was made possible with support from Think City, Prasarana, Biji-Biji Initiative and other partners. The library structures were designed by school students who participated in the Youth Made Malaysia Design Technology Programme, working with experts from Biji-Biji Initiative who built the structures with upcycled materials.
The libraries also serve as an art installation, each of them telling a unique Malaysian story, with hand-painted murals by students from the Malaysian Institute of Art.
“It was a key milestone for the movement. Having the designated spaces for others to share books complemented our existing book drop activity. This also helped make books more accessible, especially for those who don’t have disposable income to buy books, ” says Koh.
The group also opened an outpost in Segamat, Johor earlier this year.
With the current conditional movement control order (MCO) in the Klang Valley affecting the group’s activities, Koh says it is harder to go out and drop books, and the community libraries are closed.
“With the conditional MCO, we are planning to start sending book mail again and probably stop dropping books for the time being. We will encourage people to stay at home and help flatten the curve," says Koh.
"We will post photos of books (that we plan to drop) on social media and mail them to readers who would like a book to read them, and they will then have to pass (the books) on to others. We will also include secret notes in the book to encourage readers to get through the book. We are grateful to still keep the movement going virtually,” she adds.
Last month, Books On The Move Malaysia also assisted local businesses affected by the pandemic. They tied up with design outfit Projek SembangSembang and Petaling Jaya-based bookshop Gerakbudaya to launch the “All Books, Move It" campaign.
Together, they curated a reading "starter kit" to sell, which featured book-themed merchandise designed by Projek SembangSembang and a signed copy of Bernice Chauly’s Incantations/Incarcerations book (published by Gerakbudaya). It also included a pledge card to write your name and make a pledge to read more.
“We wanted to inspire reading and promote local literature and art through the campaign. I guess the pandemic also encouraged many to start reading, as people are expected to stay at home and reading is a great activity to do at home,” says Koh.
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