JB outdoor library encourages reading


Azwana (left) and Allysha (third from right) guiding children to help improve their reading skills.

WHAT started out as an effort to engage with basikal lajak (modified bicycles) kids about road safety led to the setting up of an outdoor library in Johor Baru, Johor.

Azwana Mohd Hasan, who is part of Happy-Riders Connect which advocates safe cycling, said the group went to schools a few years ago to spread safety awareness after a series of basikal lajak accidents involving children.

“We wanted to teach them about reading traffic signs and road safety but through our engagement sessions, we found that many of them actually do not know how to read or cannot read well.

“This made us think of other ways of helping them and that was where the Mari Membaca initiative came about to provide a safe space for underprivileged children to read and spend their time,” she told StarMetro.

Participants being engaged at the outdoor library in Kampung Dato Sulaiman Menteri, Johor Baru.Participants being engaged at the outdoor library in Kampung Dato Sulaiman Menteri, Johor Baru.

The initiative began with a library kiosk set up at the playground of Kampung Dato Sulaiman Menteri in Johor Baru in November 2020.

“Mari Membaca, or ‘let’s read’, aims to bring books to children from low-income households and help them develop a love of reading.

“We have been working with the public and private sectors and non-governmental organisations to host other interesting activities such as storytelling, pop quizzes and camps for children aged two to 15,” said Azwana, who is also a resident there.

The humble-looking kiosk, made from a repurposed shipping container, opens up to reveal shelves of books and makeshift benches.

It is open every Saturday from 4.30pm to 6.30pm.

The group has since established a second library in Permas Jaya, which is also a depot to store more than 4,000 books under their care.

Azwana said her group included three others – Allysha Umbau Dennis, Stephen Ngu and Mohd Ibrahim Azman – who all had day jobs but were doing it out of passion.

Allysha, the programme’s library manager, said the group also made it a point to be digital-forward, which led to a digital system to borrow books.

“Thanks to our generous donors, we have thousands of good-quality books in English and Bahasa Malaysia in our collection, all of which have been catalogued and fitted with barcodes for easy tracking,” she said.

Borrowers can sign up for the digital library system via a QR code available at the kiosk, giving them the convenience of scanning barcodes to borrow or return books.

“Children, especially from B40 families, are free to borrow any of the books and bring them home or simply pick a spot at the playground to read.

“We want to close the gap by making book access available and curb illiteracy,” she added.

Allysha said some of the children were initially shy and reserved during activities.

“As time passed, we noticed that they became more confident, proactive and more willing to reach for the books.

“We saw improvements in their literacy skills too,” she said.

She said the initiative was made possible with support from Johor Baru City Council, Rotary Club of Johor Baru Sentral as well as community volunteers.

Nur Arissa Zahirah Jamaluddin, 10, said she looked forward to visiting the library every Saturday as she enjoyed reading novels.

“I have been participating in activities at the library with my little sister for the past two years.

“It is fun to read because I can imagine what the characters look like and the clothes they wear,” said the SK Majidee Baru pupil who dreams of becoming a fashion designer.

Nur Arissa said she also enjoyed arts and crafts activities conducted at the library.

Another frequent visitor, Mohamad Iqbal Kusairi, 13, said it was convenient for him to borrow books as his house was just across the street.

“On Saturdays, my friends and I go to the playground and when we need a rest, we pick a book to read. I prefer comics as they are more entertaining,” said the SMK Tun Syed Nasir Ismail student.

Meanwhile, Allysha said since some of the participants lived nearby, they were given tasks such as opening the library and rearranging the books to give them a sense of responsibility and belonging.

“We are open to collaboration with other organisations but they will have to be vetted for child safety as we want to provide parents peace of mind when they leave their children with us.

“We hope this initiative can be emulated by others in more neighbourhoods to nurture a generation of book lovers and build a well-read and knowledgeable society,” she said.

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Outdoor , Library , Reading , KDSM , Mari Membaca

   

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