Sharing love of reading

Wong runs her monthly book exchange activity in Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur.

READING can be an expensive hobby, especially when an average price of a new book ranges from about RM40 to more than a hundred ringgit.

Some of us wait patiently for year-end book sales to fill our bags with not-so-current titles but book hoarding may not be a good thing either. We often purchase too many books and don’t know what to do with them after we are done reading.

In Klang Valley, several people have begun clearing their bookshelves by sharing their old books with others. Exchanging books isn’t new but it has regained popularity in recent years with more organisations introducing the idea to urbanites.

StarMetro met up with four book groups to see how they are changing the way we look at old tomes, one title at a time.

Kuala Lumpur Book Exchange

It all began when Gladys Wong found old storybooks being delivered to the monthly recycling collection centre where she was actively volunteering at.

“It was painful to see these books being sent for recycling when someone else could benefit from them,” she said, noting that most of the books were in good condition.

Feeling it was a waste to send them to be recycled, she decided to salvage them. Wong then started an online book rental site as well as a booth in flea markets but response was poor. She gave up after a few months until a friend introduced her to book exchange groups.

With a few boxes of books she had collected, she opened her makeshift stall in 2014 next to the recycling collection centre where she was assisting in Taman Desa.

“In the beginning I was a bit worried that I would be laughed at, so I kept it small but over time the residents who came to drop off their recyclables noticed me,” said Wong.

It has been five years since and she continues to run the book exchange programme from 8.45am to 10.45am every first Sunday of the month.

Her rule is simple: you have to bring one book (of any genre except academic) to exchange for another book.

“It is a one-for-one exchange. If you have nothing then you can purchase a book at RM5 each and I will donate the money to a charity,” she explained.

She said people would bring more books to donate which in turn increased her collection over the years.

In 2015 she introduced the concept in Penang, where a stall was set up in Beach Street. Today the exchange programme on the island is being run by volunteers and Wong no longer needs to travel there every month to manage it.

“It is so much easier today when people understand what you are doing,” said the 31-year-old. She admits it is very taxing but she enjoys meeting book lovers who spend hours perusing her collection.

“Sometimes they will find a good book that they have been searching for a long time, and that makes me happy too,” said Wong who recently added Sunway Velocity in Kuala Lumpur as her second stop after Taman Desa. She is stationed at the mall in Cheras from 2pm to 4pm.

“The response at the shopping centre is still slow but I hope it will pick up in the next few months when shoppers are more familiar with the concept,” she said, adding that she aimed to bring the book exchange programme to other states but was still looking for sponsors and active volunteers.

Books on the Move Malaysia

Inspired by British actress Emma Watson who leaves books all over the London subway through a collaboration between Our Shared Shelf – her book club – and the Books on the Underground movement which hides books around the Underground train stations to be shared freely by commuters.

The idea led Carol Koh to introduce Books on the Move Malaysia to encourage the public to read more.

With books donated by close friends, Koh began dropping them at cafes around Kuala Lumpur city centre but not many understood the idea behind it.

“A security guard once ran to me with the book I had dropped off, thinking I had forgotten it,” she related.

After that incident, Koh decided to work with Prasarana and ThinkCity in a pilot project to come up with creative bookshelves to be placed in selected train stations.

Her duty is to fill the shelves with books and explain the concept to the public. She then began a social movement with the hashtag #TakeReadReturn and made sure the public was aware of it, with stickers explaining it on the cover of each book.

Borrowers are encouraged to snap a photo of the book they returned and post it on social media with the hashtag so that others know that the book is available.

“It is like hide and seek, if you find the book you wanted, that will be a bonus,” said Koh.

Every week she is greeted with positive encouragement from the public when they see her filling the shelves and thank her for starting the movement in Malaysia.

The pilot project, which ended in July this year, saw pop-up libraries in KL Sentral, Ampang Park and Pasar Seni train stations.

Koh is now looking to bring the concept to other spots, including shopping centres. At present, KL Gateway Mall has adopted one of her pop-up libraries. There is also a book donation box placed there. Koh sorts out the books every week to ensure the reading materials are suitable before they go on the shelves.

Setia Alam Book Exchange Club

When Dr Norashikin Yunus was looking for similar-minded individuals in Shah Alam to exchange books with, she found Agnes Yeoh.

“It was just the two of us then and we thought, why not find more people in the neighbourhood so we can have more variety,” said Norashikin.

That was why the duo began occupying a bus stop in Setia Alam with boxes of books on weekends.

On good days they would get a few residents stopping by but other times it would just be the two friends snacking on cupcakes while reading their favourite books.“We wanted a permanent spot so we drove around searching and saw an underutilised community centre,” said Yeoh who then shared their idea with Shah Alam City Council (MBSA).

The women were surprised to get the nod from the authority shortly after and the local council even sponsored the cost for minor renovations, bookshelves, lighting, air-conditioners and monthly maintenance.

The book exchange centre opened in Jalan U13/7G, Setia Impian in 2016. Today, the club has five active volunteers, including Yeoh and Norashikin who open the centre twice a month.

It is well stocked with books for both children and adults as well as arts and craft materials to keep younger children occupied while waiting for their parents. The centre does not accept academic books and magazines.

It is opened every second and fourth Sunday of the month from 2pm to 5pm.

“We would love to open the centre more often but we are short of volunteers to run it,” said Norashikin, who hopes more book lovers will come forward to help them in ensuring the book exchange session is conducted smoothly.


After completing his studies abroad, UEM Sunrise managing director and chief executive officer Anwar Syahrin Abdul Ajib returned home only to find himself missing the libraries he once spent most of his time in.

“We want to bring back that culture, the good old days where you get to enjoy a good book instead of being caught up with work,” he said.

He had several discussions with his colleagues and realised that many of them miss having a quiet spot they can relax in during lunch breaks.

Consequently, he opened up BukuHub at Publika Shopping Gallery in March, followed by another in Avenue K’s Feebay.Co cafe, both in Kuala Lumpur.

“There are only so many shelves you can have at home and since we have benefitted from the books we read, why not share them with others who cannot afford to buy them,” said Anwar, a self-professed bookworm.

Over the months, he said Publika also launched a “BukuDrive” for the public to drop off old books and response has been very positive.

“The box is filled with books every week and our volunteers spend long hours sorting through them,” he said, adding that all of BuKuHub’s volunteers were staff of UEM Sunrise.

BukuHub is also present in Johor, located in UEM Sunrise’s property galleries at D’Maris in Desaru, Imperia in Nusajaya and PPR Uda Utama in Skudai.

Anwar said BuKuHub would be introduced in more spots around the Kuala Lumpur and Johor soon.

“We have collected more than 10,000 books and we need to expand BuKuHub so these books can be shared with more people,” he said, adding that Publika itself would see additional bookshelves being put up along with comfortable seating spaces for shoppers to enjoy some reading time.

BukuHub in Publika Shopping Gallery is located on level G3 behind Feebay.Co while the BukuDrive donation box is placed next to the information counter.

Although BukuDrive prefers fiction books, educational and academic books are also welcomed and will be donated to selected schools via UEM Sunrise’s Pintar programme.
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