Elderly bookworm and bibliophile operates unique mini libraries


Literary legacy: Retired headmaster, Lee, the custodian of the mini outdoor library housed in Taman Wawasan Recreational Park. — ART CHEN/The Star

PUCHONG: Near a lakeside park here stands an 89-year-old man who made it his life’s purpose to create a conducive space for those who love and enjoy reading.

Supported by a walking stick, retired headmaster Lee Kim Siew slowly ambles to maintain five mini outdoor library stations, which he set up some five years ago.

This is not an easy task for the jovial and friendly octogenarian, who dedicates three hours of his time every Monday to Thursday to oversee the park libraries.

There, he can be seen arranging, collecting and stamping newly-donated books onto the shelves.

The five mini library stalls are whimsical book nooks scattered across different locations of Taman Wawasan Recreational Park.

Some have wooden bookshelves, while others are makeshift shelves made of Styrofoam boxes stacked up vertically.

Each shelf is thoughtfully covered with a plastic sheet or a covered shelf door to protect the books from the weather.

It is truly a book-lover’s paradise where all types of works, from novels and comics to non-fiction, are available in Chinese, English and Malay.

Lee said the library stations have over 30,000 books combined, some from his own collection and others from donations.

“My late wife and I used to have a home library with tens of thousands of books.

“In fact, our house was filled with books. The bookshelves had nine compartments, and you needed a ladder to reach the books,” he said.

After his wife passed away, Lee could not maintain the home library by himself. Instead, in an act of generosity, he decided to share his book collection and set up a public library.

“Anyone can borrow the books – no registration, no limit – as long as you return them within five years! I believe there is no other place you can find a library as unique as this.

“Everyone can borrow up to 30 books per person,” he added.

The library is open to the public every day and anyone can visit and borrow the books.

Each book on the shelf has a stamp bearing the words “Lee & Gan Library Kuala Lumpur.”

Gan is his wife’s surname.

“I put a stamp on the books so that the people will return them after reading. But if there is no stamp, then it is optional,” said Lee, who has two sons.

Managing a library is familiar territory for Lee, who has spent over 20 years donating books to build better libraries.

“I helped a library in a secondary school in China. I donated 6,000 books to them.

“I donated books to four libraries in Thailand and to over 20 libraries in Malaysia,” he added.

Lee is well versed in all the books in the library and wholeheartedly recommends some of his favourites – Outside the Window by Chiung Yao, The Legend of the Condor Heroes by Jin Yong, and novels by Yi Shu.

He is an avid reader and spends an hour every day reading.

The senior citizen said when he was younger, he enjoyed books about educational philosophy and methods.

“My library is becoming more popular with more new visitors coming to borrow the books,” he said.

Besides being the librarian, he also maintains cleanliness in the park by picking up litter.

The retiree starts his morning by picking up takeaway boxes and beer cans left behind to be recycled.

One of the frequent visitors at the park and a long-time friend, Loo Ah Kaw, 76, said he admires Lee’s dedication and contributions.

“He also cleans the area and picks up trash that fell into the pond.

“When he was younger, he even cleared the drains with a hoe. Sometimes, we help him out too.

“He is very hardworking, but now, as he ages, he is not as strong as before,” he said.

Loo added that the library station could be upgraded for better protection against the weather.

“It is not conducive for people to sit and read for long hours because there is very little shade.

“When it rains, there is a big chance that the books may get wet and damaged,” he said.

Loo also said Lee’s library is popular with community members and park visitors and that many go there to borrow the books and donate them as well.

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