THE sweet scent of paper. The comforting feeling of a hardcover in your hands. And the thrill of turning to the last page to know how the story ends.
These experiences from reading books, novels and others can never be replaced by our handphones and digital devices.
But even at a time when everything is online and available at the tap of a button, Malaysians seem to love the written word in print.
In fact, the National Library of Malaysia has recorded more membership applications and higher number of borrowed materials over the past few months.
A check by Sunday Star on the library’s website showed that more people have applied to be members from 2,563 applications in February to 4,153 in May this year.
More reading materials are also being borrowed, steadily increasing – 27,293 in February, 32,390 in March, rising to 34,111 in April and 34,436 in May.At present, people can choose to enjoy audiobooks, e-books and other digital reading material.
But printed books are still a strong choice among Malaysians when it comes to leisure reading, deep dive reading and the non-fiction category, says Malaysian Book Publishers Association president Arief Hakim Sani Rahmat.
“This is especially when people want to turn off from social media noise,” he says.
However, while Malaysians love to read, Arief Hakim Sani points out that there are areas which can be improved.
“We hope that the new #MalaysiaMembaca reading campaign initiated by the Education Minister will get serious funding and receive public support,” he adds.
The Malaysian love affair with books is also evident during book sales and festivals, with crowds making a beeline for them, happily carting away their purchases.
About 650,000 people visited the BookFest@Malaysia that ended on June 9, an event by Popular Book Co (M) Sdn Bhd, which has grown stronger every year.
Malaysians also flocked to previous sales like the Big Bad Wolf book sale, which opened 24 hours for avid readers to shop at any time of day.
These signs show a healthy love for reading but more still needs to be done if Malaysia is to be on par with developed countries.
Citizens in such countries read an average of 40 books a year, the Education Ministry said in reports.
Malaysians, in comparison, read only 15 books a year, based on an interim study done by the National Library in 2014. In 2005, Malaysians only read two books a year.
While the ministry is embarking on efforts to boost reading through the National Reading Decade, the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) also suggests that school libraries be revamped to attract more young minds.
“Make the library a place of choice and what students want,” says NUTP secretary-general Harry Tan.For one, the selection of books should be contemporary to reflect the times.
He observes that libraries in local schools are somewhat conservative.
“Our knowledge doubles up every few years but most of our books are still the same,” he says.
To make it attractive for students, libraries should also be a more welcoming place.
“There should be beanie bags for students to read in a relaxed setting. Lockers and coffee machines could also be included to create a friendly environment and encourage more to step inside a library,” he suggests.
In December, the ministry declared 2020 to 2030 as the National Reading Decade, to foster a reading culture among Malaysians.
The ministry had said although 87% of Malaysians do read, there was still a need to strengthen the habit across society.
“A campaign to inculcate reading among Malaysians has been implemented for over two decades through various programmes.
“However, there’s still not enough impact and participation,” the ministry said.
As such, the ministry has ongoing plans to increase efforts to encourage reading through national reading campaigns until 2020.
Then, from 2021 to 2030, during the National Reading Decade, the ministry wants to transform Malaysia into a reading nation.
It was reported that Malaysia ranked as among the world’s highest spenders on books based on a recent study by Polish e-commerce firm Picodi.According to the report in April, 76% of Malaysians bought at least one book over the past year.
However, the study noted that this does not reflect actual reading habits.
A main factor to boost the reading culture is starting them young.
Tan admits that while students do read, it just isn’t always knowledge-based information or what their teachers want.
“They know about the latest apps online. They can also read and sing Korean pop songs, and they do it on their own,” he observes.
As such, Tan says the challenge is to make students want to read about educational material, either through physical books or through digital devices.
“Perhaps one way is to spark curiosity and interest through science-based comics.
“We need to embrace new ways to reach out to students and learn to change the stuff they read to what we want to teach,” he adds.
Nevertheless, the love for books burns bright, despite it being the digital age.
Popular Book Co (M) Sdn Bhd executive director Lim Lee Ngoh says youths have many distractions like social media and video games.
“As a bookseller, it’s always our role to encourage Malaysians to read. This year, we want to urge youths to cultivate the good habit of reading.
“But despite the Internet and digital devices, Malaysians in general still love reading and buying books.
“From our observation, people purchase books based on their preference for authors while some buy books to add to their collection,” she says.
Lim adds that parents also prefer buying physical books for their children because it is difficult to control content their kids view online, which can include pop-up ads.
“Malaysia is still a developing country. We have to be knowledgeable and the fastest way to do this is through reading,” she says.
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