We haven’t done the ‘blog’ or ‘event write-up’ thing for a long while – it’s really a shame! Here I am with fresh thoughts from attending the Brunei Darussalam Library Association‘s Conference on Libraries Transform last month.
B:Read was invited to speak for the Let’s Talk session on “Community”. The topic was, specifically: “How do we increase traffic between Libraries and Bookshops and Reading Clubs“.
(Side note: Yes, many people still refer to us a book club, which we are not. We are a non-profit group who initiate or organise different reading-related activities, which could include book clubs. The closest thing we have to a book club are the (B)Read-A-Longs. But I think it’s ok for us to represent the reading community, in this particular context.)
I spoke a lot but had only four slides! Here are my slides that were related to the topic…
I hoped I wasn’t being presumptuous about the ‘obvious’ in the first slide; like it’s just a given when we’re talking about books in Brunei:
- The selections are limited
- The prices aren’t great
- Bookstores and libraries need to step up on how welcoming and accessible they are
(On that last point, many readers dream of beautiful and comfortable libraries, but I’d also love to see whether the opening hours of our public libraries can be extended!)
To expand a bit on the second slide, as I do believe it is less obvious…
Through B:Read’s activities, we’ve found that:
Readers want to engage with each other, as readers. Meet-ups. Online Discussions on Facebook or Instagram or anywhere. It was interesting to see that the launch of The Cursed Child – the “8th story of Harry Potter” – at the bookstore Best Eastern’s branches was so well-received. Honestly delightful that a book launch in Brunei can bring people together!
Readers want activities that are more specific to reading. Activities that celebrate themselves as readers; activities that allow them to indulge their fangirl/fanboy modes and show off to fellow readers. Here’s a couple:
- (B)Read-A-Longs: Actually reading books!
- Quizzes. Readers are fans! Try going for breadth* – ask questions about books that aren’t on the bestseller list. Or go for depth – don’t ask if the heroine of Hunger Games is called Katniss or Johanna, instead, ask about the role of Prim and to name two well-known fan theories about her… actually, don’t.
- Sharing relevant reading-related memes and articles on social media.
- Encourage readers to share what they’re currently reading, or photos of their bookshelves (#bookshelfies!).
* – honestly not a bread pun
Readers may, naturally, also want to write. Writing activities!
All of this was, perhaps, a little poke at the colouring activities so prevalent in Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka’s libraries during school holidays. Okay, they are probably fine for keeping younger children occupied, or to accommodate families or school groups where some children are readers and some are not.
I wanted to point out that activities can be much more closely related to reading, or even specific book titles or authors. This makes for a richer experience when engaging reading communities. It encourages us, as supporters of reading culture, to be readers ourselves.
What else do reading communities want from libraries and bookstores? There’s a comment box below 😉
My fellow presenters gave perspectives from libraries and bookstores. Points that I found interesting from both talks:
Bookstores, presented by a bookstore representative, Abdul Mu’iid:
- “Demand for reading is higher now”. Online shops are additional competition for ‘normal’ physical book shops.
- It’s a great advantage if staff in book shops are actually knowledgable about books, so they can answer questions and recommend them to customers. (A later point from Hjh Masdiana – staff could be encouraged to read the books they sell, or even bring them home.)
Libraries, presented by Dk Hjh Masdiana from Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka:
- “Books are still the main reason that people visit libraries”, and a greater selection of books is still the major point of appeal.
- Libraries seem to look to bookstores for inspiration when it comes to creating attractive displays and promoting new books.
- “Interestingness is subjective”. It seems to depend on opinion whether the role of Brunei libraries, as those in other countries, could or should be expanded to become community centres or to hold other types of activities.
View the presentation from Dk Hjh Masdiana here on Issuu: Day 1 conference on libraries transform lets talk community
Based on the information from BLA, I confess that I expected the Q & A session to be more interactive. It seems most participants were more comfortable with the usual Q & A format where panelists are treated as experts. (Hey guys, I’m no expert, I just help to run a “book club”).
I hope one day to see higher participation from the audience in these sessions. Perhaps ice-breaking, so that participants are more familiar and comfortable with each other, and changing the seating arrangement to make it less formal.
At these events, I enjoy hearing the experiences from participants. It is a reminder to us mere readers that libraries and library staff in Brunei have organised structures. Libraries do not just span the public libraries under Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka; there are also government department libraries, specialist libraries, private libraries, and of course, school libraries.
Did you know that many mosques have a library or reading corner (“sudut bacaan“)? A representative from Jabatan Hal Ehwal Masjid lamented that they are unsure about how to promote their libraries which seem to be awkwardly located in mosques. Some patrons have actually joked that they come to the mosque to pray, not to read books. To this, our moderator (and Vice President of BLA) Tuan Hj Abdul Talip posed a good counter-point that seeking knowledge is also a religious obligation, or a form of “ibadat”.
At the end of the session, I shared that I still could not quite see the link between the reading community, libraries and bookstores.
There had been talk of getting “user” feedback (from librarians’ perspective), and on attracting “customers” (from bookstores’ perspective). I believe that libraries and bookstores are quite aware of their limitations that drive away readers, i.e. the “obvious” points mentioned in my slides. What new perspectives could I offer? Were there any real ideas I could offer from the experience of running B:Read?
I realised: “We readers are always asking for things”, and this session was meant to be a dialogue, an exchange between different types of parties. There wasn’t much time left to this session, so I proposed two thoughts, on how the reading community could give back to libraries:
Something B:Read can share to libraries is the idea of volunteerism. Our events would not be possible without time and effort from volunteers: students, teachers, friends, family, or just book-lovers who happened to find us! It does not always have to be time spent at an event: Our previous World Book Day 2016 event for book donations & adoptions depended on the generosity of readers who gave away many good books.
- We know many people are happy to help, and give their free time, to a cause they are interested in. I am not sure if historically there have been any programs recruiting volunteers to help our libraries. Tuan Hj Abdul Talip responded that the “Friends of Libraries” initiatives in other countries could be a possible model!
- Ideas for organising volunteer tasks: Volunteers who can help keep a reading room open for extra hours in evenings or weekends? Volunteers to help organise books in storage or to repair damaged books? Volunteers to help at library events?
- Look at different types of volunteers and days or times that are suitable for them. Are they students, parents, retirees? What’s important is to be able to effectively organise the volunteers.
- Appealing to public to give donations is also possible – not just money, and not just books, but also, perhaps, stationery, or furniture, or items for display.
2) Focused feedback
What can reading communities give to libraries? How about focused feedback?
- We already know what reading communities want generally – better book prices, book availability – but what if you could identify the specific audience (or potential audience) for a single library? If the reading community of a specific kampung were to give feedback to their local library, especially very real suggestions that could be implemented and would actually result in higher library visits and patronage?
- It could be as simple as “Could there be more cushions in the reading corner on the 2nd floor, it’s my favourite spot” or “You guys have football magazines but you never put them in the lobby”.
- People who “kind of want to” visit the library could be asked what’s holding them back – parking, opening hours, shyness?
- Of course, positive feedback is welcome too: “I appreciate that the librarians don’t talk too loudly”. I would imagine that this would help to build relationships between libraries and specific feedback groups.
- Tying back into the idea of volunteerism, gathering feedback could be initiated by volunteers, or volunteers themselves could organise library visits to give feedback.
In reflection, I had gone into this unsure what B:Read could share to libraries (and to a smaller point, bookstores). I can now see more specifically:
- B:Read committee has a ‘sharing’, and ‘giving’ mindset. We believe in reuse – stationery, signs, and of course, secondhand or preloved books in our bookswaps and Free Libraries! We also like to give away things for free, and our volunteers have been lovely to give their time to our events.
- So the unique perspective we can share to libraries is this: That people want to give their time, and want to give their books, and some are generous enough to give even more – we’ve enjoyed, over the years, free cupcakes, donated stationery, free space!
Ultimately, having a community like this is something that libraries may be interested in cultivating.
If you’re interested in other talks from the Conference on Libraries Transform, the papers and presentations are downloadable from BLA’s website:
- All papers
- Day 1: Keynotes 1-4, Let’s Talk Community, Let’s Talk Technology
- Day 2: Keynote 5 and other presentations, Let’s Talk Libraries, Let’s Talk Technology
- Day 3: Final Keynote
Thank you very much BLA for having us!