This library in Penang safeguards the island state's precious historical collections


An archival image showing bullock cart transports at Jalan Maxwell in George Town. It is one of the thousands of old photographs in Penang Public Library Corporation's archives. Photo: Bernama

Since it was built in 1817, the Penang Library, which is now known as Penang Public Library Corporation (PPAPP), has been safeguarding more than 10,000 rare archival collections, each with its own significant historical value.

Librarian Azizah Zainon, 39, pointed out that among them are hundreds of scholarly books, magazines, old photos, agreement letters, religious texts, newspapers and hand-drawn maps, which are hundreds of years old.

She said that the collections were materials donated to the library by certain parties and individuals, when the library was widely known as the Penang Library.

"All the collections reflect the identity of Penang at that time, and there are collections that are over 400 years old, originating from the 16th and 17th centuries, ” she said at the library located near Seberang Jaya recently.

Azizah revealed that some of the most precious items are a Bible published in 1677 and a hand-drawn map of George Town in 1877.

Azizah looks through old newspaper archives, which are being digitised for broader public use. Photo: Bernama Azizah looks through old newspaper archives, which are being digitised for broader public use. Photo: Bernama

"These rare collections in PPAPP are kept in the Penang Special Collection - a special room, supervised by four librarian officers on a rotational basis. In fact we do not allow any access to the room to outsiders.

"This is to protect the quality of the collections from being damaged, because there are textures of pages inside the books which have rotted and need to be carefully preserved and maintained, ” she said.

According to Azizah, the special room is equipped with a tight security system and has a heat and dust absorber, as well as 24-hour temperature control that will ensure the room is always dry.

"If anything were to happen to the library, this room will be saved first because the resources and materials will never be found at any other library in Malaysia or even the whole world."

Explaining further, she said that PPAPP is now digitising selected rare collections onto discs and microfilms, to facilitate historians and any individuals who are interested in using the collections as references.

"As of now we have digitised 60% of the selected rare collections. In fact we will try to digitise as much material as possible... the collections that are deemed to have significant historical value and related to the development of Penang’s history, ” she said.

Azizah added that the conservation efforts for rare collections involves scanning processes with an electronic scanning device known as i2 Copibook Open System, managed by certified librarians.

One of the Bibles - dating back nearly 350 years ago - is seen in the library's archive storage. Photo: Bernama One of the Bibles - dating back nearly 350 years ago - is seen in the library's archive storage. Photo: Bernama

"With this, it will not only maintain the quality of writings and photos inside every book, but will also facilitate historians, academicians, educators and students, including interested individuals, to make clearer reference or study of any of the rare collections, ” she said.

The library's newspaper collections include news print from the British and Japanese occupation era, such as Malai Simpo and Penang Shimbun (English Language newspapers during the Japanese WWII occupation), as well as Sunday Gazette and The Straits Echo (newspapers published during the British era) that have been bound by PPAPP. - Bernama

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