Written by Ar.Bee Eu Tan
School of Housing, Building, and Planning, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Penang, Malaysia.
Problems of Reading Society: Most youth today are spending a lot of time on social media platforms via their smartphones, instead of quality reading of a physical book. Same can be seen with young children who are often seen with a tablet in hand, instead a storybook. It widely discussed that our Malaysian’s culture of reading is being eroded with fun engaging social media. Books are also seen as the younger generation as passé with the advent of e-books becomes easily available online. Kindle, (first e-book reader device) was released by Amazon on November 19, 2007. To-date, Amazon is now offering over total of 3.7 million e-books. How is our conventional Library keeping up with this changing phenomenon of youth’s dwindling reading habits and advent of digital paperless technology?
Possible Solution: World’s first Paperless Public Library BiblioTech was opened in Texas, USA on 4 February 2014. The traditional library has been replaced with high-tech gadgets that cater to both adults and children. Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Hamzah Sendut’s Library also now offers free Digital Collections of resource collating thousands of digital collections that includes subscribed journals, databases, e-books and Malaysiana collections. On 8th October 2016, the first stand-alone Penang Digital Library in Malaysia opens in a refurbished heritage bungalow in Penang, offering 3,000 curated e-books, e-magazines, and reference journals. The pilot project was a well-received by IT-savvy students and students from B40 communities who cannot afford tablets and internet access at home. These paperless set-ups provide hints of how technology can be a bridge to bring back reading habits amongst the young.
Way Forward: This paper intends to analyze the phenomenon of paperless library in Malaysia and how Public / University libraries could evolve with changing times to remain lean, relevant and effective by embracing technology.
The main Objective of this paper is to review the relevancy of our Conventional Library and understand why it gets less popular with the advent of Digital Technology and Google Search Engine on the world wide web. Is Conventional library fast becoming obsolete? Digital technology offers a possible elixir, perhaps a second life to our aging image of Public Libraries. The shift from traditional libraries to the digital is not merely a technological evolution but requires a change in the paradigm by which people access and interact with information (Bamgbade,2015). Traditional library emphasis on storage and preservation of physical items, particularly books, periodicals while digital library emphasis on virtual access to digitized materials wherever they may be located eliminating the need to allow large storage space for books (Bamgbade,2015). However, it is argued by that Digital Library should not be confused as an electronic library, 100% virtual or a library without walls. Digital libraries should be defined as libraries with the same purposes, functions and goals as traditional libraries but is based on digital formats instead of physical books and materials (Cleveland,1998). Digitalized books can be curated, organized, and stored online via cloud-storage freeing up large amounts of physical space that can be converted for reading spaces. How do we redefine role of Digital Library as possibly the library of the future? What are the advantages of creating Digital Library in Malaysia, its issues, and challenges?
2. Traditional Roles of a Conventional Library
Since ancient times of Mesopotamia, public libraries have been known as the repository and collection of written knowledge, history and stories. Before discussing digital library model, it is imperative to understand the 8 essential roles of Public Library (McClure,1987).
2.1. Community Center
The library acts as the public gathering point for communities to carry out communal activities, meetings, training workshops and learning classes.
2.2. Community Information Center
The library functions as the central source of current news, information or events by government agencies, community organisations and even non-profit organisations.
2.3 Formal Education Support Center
The library in schools or tertiary organisations assist students in strengthening learning outcomes by providing additional literature and references to reinforce lessons taught in classroom.
2.4 Independent Learning Center
The library advocates lifelong learning for all ages, by supporting individuals of all ages pursuing independent research studies or post-graduate students who will use private study carrels.
2.5 Popular Materials Library
Before advent of smartphone and internet, public libraries was the main source that offers current, in-demand, popular materials in forms of maps, magazine, journals, audio and video recordings.
2.6 Pre-schoolers’ Door to Learning
Public libraries function as an important door for young children to cultivate love for reading through children’s activities that encourages reading interests amongst young children.
2.7 Reference Library
Library provides timely, accurate, useful information for community.
2.8 Research Center
Public library also plays an important role in promoting research work that investigates specific area of studies and problems, which paves way to creation of new knowledge.
3. Challenges of Conventional Libraries in Malaysia
3.1 Internal Challenges
With the emphasis on storage and preservation of physical items such as Reports, Manuals and Historical archives, most libraries will eventually run out of physical floor space to sustain growing collection of books, archives and records. Staying lean in library management becomes a herculean task for every conventional library. Conventional tasks of referencing and cataloguing services, loan books collection and management of library space consumes time and human resource, which translates to high operation costs. Staying lean becomes a real challenge. Librarians themselves are under pressure to keep up with digital know-how, be digitally savvy and remain relevant by embracing digital technology. Conventional Libraries also struggle to justify huge financial budgets for upgrading digital literacy amongst senior staff. With effortless convenience of “Google” online search, why go to libraries? Most conventional libraries suffer an aged interior ambience, conventional passé reading rooms that look dated, unable to keep up with trendy interiors of cafes as the new meeting place.
3.2 External Challenges
Youth are so drawn to social media that genuine reading interests are declining. Online American video-sharing website YouTube has become the new learning platform. Why read a book when you can watch quick video? Declining interests in reading and literacy is one of the greatest challenges that conventional library must address, in order to remain relevant. E-books are available online, more affordable, accessible anywhere and anytime you need it. Libraries that boast collection of books are losing its appeal competing with eBooks. Social media is now the main platform to interact with friends and families. Youth spends more time online messaging, than physically travel to a Library to meet friends. Online webinars offer the much sought-after flexibility of time and duration to learn new skill or master self-improvement strategies. The internet also emerged as a competitor to library’s survival.
4. Reinventing Library into Paperless Library
Going paperless will address many Conventional Libraries’ pursuit to become leaner in management organization and space utilization. Physical shelves give way to more space for user interaction and community spaces. Book loan transactions are all carried out online in a Digital Library, which greatly reduces physical space consumption.
Figure 1: Comparison of Space Usage between Conventional Library vs Digital Library
Many questions the role of a physical Digital Library. Why need a building when all books and curated information are available online? If these books are easily accessed via internet at home/school/office, what is the justification for a physical building? Digital libraries is the digital face of Conventional Library staying relevant as a Community Public Space, Knowledge Centre that promotes lifelong learning and promotes interaction between young and old. With less space required for physical bookshelves, Digital library takes on newer roles by offering short-term learning programmes in technology, innovation, entrepreneurship at the same time advocating love for reading. Workshop labs can also be created to run training for software skills, ranging from design software, computer coding to essential computer skills. In 2015, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in North Carolina created a “maker space” called Idea Box, to promote learning and building 3D model, 3D print, knit and code. This boosts their interests in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) careers. Libraries in the 21st century are going to be less about books and more about the services that library staff provide to their communities (Martin, 2015).
5. Case Study on Penang Digital Library (Phase 1 and 2)
On 8th October 2016, the first Public Paperless Library in Malaysia opens, here in Penang. Penang Digital Library (PDL) aims to redesign how information is accessed, curate disseminated knowledge, channel needed material in the most effortless method. PDL also identifies the detached human interaction by pursuing “A Humanized Collaboration” where infrastructure and spaces are designed to encourage mingling and face-to-face discussions, sharing sessions and cross-discipline engagements. In the long run, PDL aims to be the core for collaborators to get connected and expand their networking. It devotes an entire building of 4000 sft to operate as a full-fledged digital library. With not a single physical book in-sight, the library boasts of 3000 e-book titles accessible via tablets for e- reading in a high-speed broadband service. By eliminating bookshelves, storage space and archives room, physical floor space is optimized as reading areas, discussion corners, meeting rooms, mini amphitheater and even a cozy patisserie café. To date, PDL has seen enormous overwhelming responses amongst students, young entrepreneurs, and even mature working professionals. The discussion areas are often packed with users brainstorming on assignments and collaborative works. It has become a buzzling hub of interactions and exchange of ideas, knowledge, and information. On 1st May 2017, PDL began its 24-hour operations to allow more access for working professionals pursuing postgraduate research, young techno-primeurs engaging in overseas tele- conference and college students studying in a conducive safe environment. In January 2019, Phase 2 of Digital Library was completed, and emerged as the first purpose-built physical library that boasts of online books yet various ambience for reading, discussions, and community events. Will this model of paperless library become the future of all our local traditional libraries? With PDL’s success and popularity amongst the youth, it demonstrates how libraries can emerge as a multi-purpose, versatile techno hub of information yet remain relevant in our society. Libraries in the 21st century are going to be less about books and more about the services that library staff provide to their communities. (Martin,2015)
5.1 Strengths of Penang Digital Library
Apart from space savings from zero physical books, Penang Digital Library offers a major departure of conventional library in its interior design. Its architecture and interior design incorporate natural lighting in its reading ambience. Visual comfort is also high as reading spaces are aligned alongside to windows looking into lush greenery of trees and gardens. It becomes the go-to Meeting point for short Meetings, discussions and brainstorming sessions. Parents feel assured of the digital content due to the Curated Content of E-books, magazines, and journals. As an advocator of learning, PDL carries out Computer Coding classes for children and hosts multiple governmental and private communal events. The purpose-built Digital Library includes a Multi-Purpose Hall that caters to medium to large conferences and seminars. An interesting component added to an otherwise traditional library setup, is the in-house Café that was created to serve coffee, drinks and pastries for families, students and working professionals.
5.2 Challenges of Penang Digital Library
One of the main challenges is to cultivate the love of reading in an environment of zero books in sight. The physical reading spaces were highly popular amongst students to study for their exams or completing their assignments online. However, the level of engagement on the digital library platform has a lot of room to improve. Being void of books, the elderly patrons need to be digitally literate to access books from online reading platform. The new digital face of a digital library excites the youth but may still be confusing for elderly users.
Undeniably, libraries of the future will remain as one of the most influential Social Public Space in our society. It should become a universally inclusive place for community members of all ages and physical abilities. By appealing to Youth, libraries can potentially inspire genuine human interaction and cross-fertilization of ideas with peers and members of the Community. Libraries today must evolve to become a Place to learn, no longer entirely from shelves of books but from engaging users in learning and interactive activities. Community libraries are integral part of the fabric of every city. Changing our thinking about the role of libraries as a place where communities are built and sustained, takes us beyond books. Future libraries will emerge as destinations that support Creativity, Spirit of Lifelong Learning, Community Inclusion, Innovation and Entrepreneurialism. It must evolve with Digital revolutions and lifestyle trends to ensure its survival and place in urbanization. Digital Library possess endless possibilities to transform Malaysia to become one of the top 20 countries in the world by the year 2050. The transformation and digitalization of all Conventional Libraries in Malaysia must commence to yield successful outcome by 2050.
1. Andrew Roskill, 2014, Libraries Bridging The Digital Divide, TEDX Conference.
2. B. J. Bamgbade, B. A. Akintola, D. O. Agbenu, C. O. Ayeni,O. O. Fagbami, H. O. ,Abubakar, 2015,
Comparative analysis and benefits of digital library over traditional library, World Scientific News.
3. Boucher, Julie J.; Lance, Keith Curry,1992, The Roles of Libraries in Education, Colorado State Dept. of Education, Denver.
4. Charles R. McClure ,Nancy A. Van House , Mary J. Lynch., 1987, Planning And Role-Setting For Public Libraries, American Library Association.
5. Crystle Martin, 2015, Who says libraries are dying?, The Conversation; Online Publication, Melbourne, Australia.
6. Daniel Greenstein, 2000, Digital Libraries and Their Challenges, Library Trends.
7. Gary Cleveland, 1998, Digital Libraries: Definitions, Issues and Challenges, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.
8. Michael P. D'Alessandro, MD, Jeffrey R. Galvin, MD, Stephana I. Colbert, JD, Donna M. D'Alessandro, MD, Teresa, A. Choi, Brian D. Aker, William S. Carlson, and Gay D. Pelzer, JD , 2000, Solutions to Challenges Facing a University Digital Library and Press, Journal of American Medical Informatics Association.
9. Nadatul Syima, 2014, Digital Libraries in Malaysia: Problems Faced and Factors for Future Growth,
Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia.
10. Terry Kuny, Gary Cleveland, 2000, The Digital Library: Myths and Challenges, Information Technology Services, National Library of Canada.
Ar. Tan Bee Eu is a lecturer and researcher at School of Housing, Building and Planning, Universiti Sains Malaysia. She is also a Professional Architect registered with Lembaga Arkitek Malaysia. She obtained Bachelor of Architecture degree from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and possess 16 years of professional working experience prior to beginning her career as Academician. Ar. Tan pursues areas of research such as Lost Spaces in the City, Modular Design in High-rise Buildings, Adaptive Re-use, Buildings as Second Life and Passive Design in Natural Lighting.
This research paper was presented at the 2021 CABE Malaysia Chapter online Conference.