Brunei's National Library

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.


Anonymous said…
Good Morning:

Thanks. Have a nice day!

Anonymous said…
I recently visited the Dewan Bahasa in the town for the first time ever in my life... It was quite an old building, especially if you go to the section where they kept books published before 1980s, the atmosphere was horrifying - dim and dusty. It was quite disappointing that the library failed to impress me with the books I was looking for. I seriously think that we should have more funding for books and reference materials and a proper computerised library catalogues database, that will certainly make our searches easier. I believe one day we will have that!
Anonymous said…
DBP is a source for Malay books. My mother and her coursemates (they are Malay Language postgrad majors in UBD), goes there for her references. She finds the library at the old airport really useful, not the one in Bandar, mind you.
For English books, or for English language based courses, one better go to the UBD library. It's easy to search for books thanks to the computerised system, and one will only have to pay $200 yearly (if I'm not mistaken) to be an external member.
Anonymous said…
I go to the Seria Public Library for the sake of my daughter. I used to visit the Adult Section years ago but the quality is disappointing.

I think the problem lies in putting Library under the DBP jurisdiction. DBP, as in DBP Malaysia has a very different role to play and the government has to realize that promoting Malay Language (DBP) and promoting reading (Library) has to be run independently.

Being Malaysian, what I can suggest is that the local Bruneians themselves have to make a stand and ASK for a better Library service. The government is probably is not doing much in this area because they feel that Bruneians do not like to read and so having a big budget for Libraries is a waste of money?

As for whether a qualified Librarian is important or not, what I say is that the Brunei National Library is probably a result of it being run by non-professional. Sabah spent millions on library professionals and take a look at our library. It is not the best but it is 100% better than Brunei Library.

p/s This is a subject close to my heart because this is the one gripe I have about living in Brunei :-)
Frankly, I have only visited the local library a couple of times back in the 80's and i do recall them running some sort of children reading initiative week there when i was younger....i have to say that was intellectually stimulating. I guess with the computer gaming and MTV era on the go....reading has become redundant in many of our people's eyes. They say there aren't any good book places back home....true...but look at Solitude!....those guys are trying to rekindle the reading culture by making it more interactive/internet freindly and food friendly!
Anonymous said…
I was a DBP bandar library-goer during my primary school years and sec3-5 in the 90s.

in the early 90s my parents usually send my sisters and I(bcoz i forced them to) to the library where we would spent an hour or two in the childrens section reading those local malay picture books which is fun. i got to know the Mekar magazine for kids(now the cover has been revamped and cooler-saw the display during DBP customer day recently).

my malay wasn't very good but i had the confidence to enter the mari bercerita contest in my school(hehe) pasal gunung emas and ketupat. only managed to get to the quarter finals tho' but was proud of myself.

my aunty and uncle also brought me to the library in Belait whenever i stay over their place. its not too bad(this was in the early 90s dunno the state now)

in the late 90s my friends and I,we usually held study groups with friends from other schools there mainly because most of our parents work around bandar area. our parents would send us off just before 2pm and then pick us up at 4.30.

we would spent 1 and hlf hr studying and then spent another hr hanging out and eating. where? at yayasan ofcoz. it was quite new then and it was fun walking with your friends.

during that time i remember how boring the books are. it's not even updated. regardless that, being a book lover i would search for some 'interesting' ones on saturdays where we only revised for an hr so hlf hr was spent on reading storybooks.

IMO, DBP is trying its best to instill a love of the Malay language in its young readers but nevertheless they need to do better.

at the same time they must remember that Malay and English should co-exist. meanwhile they should also provide books in other languages to encourage the youth to take up a third language or more. it is easier to acquire new languages in the first 12 years of one's life.

the youths are Brunei's greater resources and the leaders of tomorrow.

despite the stereotype, libraries are not meant to be dark, dusty and boring. try making it a 'cool' place to be seen at and youngsters will flock.

design a place where they can read, surf and also have a place to refresh themselves(drinks and light food).

i'l drop by one of these days and check the library out. i hope i wont be transported back in time.
Anonymous said…
I think that if Bruneians want a stellar library with all the trims and fittings, then we need to ask for it. Loudly and clearly enough. Give preliminary suggestions as to what could be done to improve their catering to Brunei's enthusiastic readers.

If there's no demand, then there's no point for a major upheaval to be carried out to meet one. Especially since, as Mr. BR points out, DBP only has so much funding to spare on books. Once the stage is set, it can only get better and maybe in the future, DBP can satisfyingly answer the demands of their readers=)
baz said…
i went to the singapore's central library off victoria street (nearest MRT is bugis) and its very impressive, they even have our borneo bulletin off the shelves. they have a children;s section where there are many books in malay, chinese, indian etc (my daughter enjoyed the "low and red round tables" very much, she says its like her school in Stella) and also we can surf wireless internet using our own laptops so long as u get the librarian at the info desk help u set it up and its free! so, with the trawih ive experienced at Al-Istigfar Mosques in Pasir Ris (8 rakaat only!!), asar prayers (together with the free porridge as well as its nearby various foodstalls) at Kassim Mosque in Kembangan (near Bedok), i think my two weeks in singapore was well worth the holddays besides visiting friends and relatives.
Anonymous said…
How can you promote a reading culture when the library itself is not even inviting. One of the problems I noted is the accessibility of the library. No nearby availiable parking spaces. (well you could park in yayasan but one has to pay - a big turn off for the young and unemployed). Another reason is that its just plain dim and dusty, as one commentator said. It seriously need a major face lift. Make it bright, more sitting arrangements, with a choice of comfy sofas here and there. And definatly an intergrated (not a seperated area) cafe that serves excellent coffee, teas and small cakes. One can just grab a book, sit comfortably and relax with a cup of coffee. I would definately hang out in such a cool place. Oh yeah.. most importantly it needs new books and magazines, graphic novels etc.. else its all rather pointless having an outdated library.
Anonymous said…
To save money, I suggest to have inter-library collaborations. You don't need to stock up books but you can get the books.

To make it attractive, for a start: clean up the library, make it bright. Next, subscribe important weekly and monthly business/economics/political journals (and I believe B$400K should be enough). Next, provide wi-fi zones at cheap rates (c'mon you don't need much money to setup one), make arrangement for investor to set up coffee shop outside. In the meantime, you can organise regular school trips to the library (more regular than you normally have now).

Yes, do change the image of library. When the library has an image of a dim place (or place for nerds), then nobody comes. But if you project it as a fun place to be, then even kids will come. And again, it doesn't take much money to change image. You always can do much with limited amount of money. The key is: creativity!

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