I received an email from a Bruneian studying at Robert Gordon University yesterday asking me to write something about the library. In fact, this is not the first time I have received requests about writing about the library system in Brunei either through the email or through the comment box. My problem is that the last library I went into was during the four months executive program stint at the UBD and that was amost two years ago. Before that, I think the last library I went into was when I did my Masters and I don't exactly want to count the number of years in that one.
What's more worrying is that the last time I actually went into the Brunei national library I think is almost 4 decades ago! So my knowledge about our national libraries is almost nil. But then other than students, I think almost everyone is in the same boat as me. We talked about libraries and the need for knowledge but hardly any people I knew has actually been into Dewan Bahasa. The question would be why do we not want to go? Is it because it's far? The Brunei libraries are not in the right place? Or most importantly we don't think it's worth the trip. I for one, think the local library despite the 365,000 books do not have the right books that I want.
Is it because they don't have the right calibre for their staff? The sender yesterday sent me an interesting piece of information in that only 15% of all the qualified library worker in Brunei with information obtained from the published Who & Who in Brunei’s Library, 2003, has paper qualification – Certificate, Diploma, Degree or Postgraduate. I am not sure what the other 85% has. But that is an interesting figure. What does it take for one to work in the library? But to be fair, Dewan Bahasa also does other things and library is only a part of their work - in fact if you check their website, nowhere in there does it say that the objectives of their formation was they have to look after libraries.
And it shows in their financial allocation. I did a quick check on the budget for the Dewan Bahasa. For this year, they get about $10.7 million which is a fairly large sum. However out of this $10.7 million, almost $8.7 million goes towards paying salaries. So that leaves $2 million which is still a large sum. But then there are operating costs - maintaining buildings, furnitures, petrol etc still have to be paid. So how much is actually left for books? $400,000. That's the amount of money they get to spend for buying books to be distributed in all the libraries in Brunei which at the moment numbers six (4 new ones have either been completed or in the process - Muara, Sengkurong, Tutong and Belait). I personally don't think that amount is good enough to get good books for all the libraries. By comparison, UBD by the way gets a cool $1 million a year for books. So therein, lies the catch-22 situation. People don't think they can get the books they want in the Dewan Bahasa library but DBP can't get enough book funding either because people are not convinced that they will want to go to the library to get those books and libraries are not DBP's main tasks anyway.
Nowadays I hear that there are lots of talk about Brunei e-libraries. But judging by the small percentages of actual e-government project completion, so I won't comment about the e-libraries projects just yet until they have actually materialised. In the meantime, you have a choice of either visiting a DBP library to tell me that I am wrong (remember, I have not been to one in donkey years) or accept what I said which would be a great pity. Do go to a local library. Do support it. Find it if you don't know where it is. Maybe one day, with enough support, our local libraries will be able to stock the books that we all want to get.