IN AN AGE where physical books are increasingly becoming more expensive, being able to have access to paperback could be considered a luxury.
In Brunei, a typical paperback runs on average, around $10 with best selling novels or books by well-known authors edging closer to $20. Books that had academic research incorporated or non-fiction material could run closer to $50.
It is possible to argue that the price is attached to the cost of printing, but even then there is the cost of knowledge itself, which comes down to the time and effort of the authors, artists and editors involved in creating the final book.
Even in the digital format, the price is still there, perhaps driven up artificially in order to cover the human cost to produce books.
Apple and other major publishers are in fact, also facing a lawsuit by the US Department of Justice over collusion on e-book price fixing, which was arguably forced onto them as they felt E-books were being sold at too low a price.
While the dust is still in the air over that situation, and the debate of how much an 'e-book' should cost might run for the next few years, there's still an immediate need to address; getting books to those who currently need them.
Physical libraries are still being used, those in schools as well as independent libraries run by the Language and Literature Bureau in the four districts are still a place where students and scholars can go to study and read. However, with books being priced as they are, stocking the School Library with a large variety of books can certainly be a budget headache, especially to new schools or those interested in growing their own collection to suit the needs of their students, especially those under SPN-21, where they are driven to find knowledge from other sources.
It is in this area, the central libraries are trying to play a role in assisting schools in all four districts to provide more books.
While there are multiple libraries (Muara, Bandar Seri Begawan, Lambak and Sengkurong) to facilitate the needs of the capital and the surrounding suburbs, there aren't as many serving in Temburong, Tutong and Belait where the population isn't as centralised and is spread out over dozens of villages and mukims (sub-district).
One idea, that is currently in service- though not as well known- is the Mobile Library Service provided by the DBP (When I asked a friend about it, she was momentarily confused and thought I was talking about library on a cellphone).
It is an idea with a long pedigree, where in America, it began with horses and carts in the 1900s. Brunei Darussalam implemented its service in 1970, and continues to run today with 61 stops. It originally began with 73 stops, but was reduced after introduction of new libraries in Kg Pandan, Muara and Sengkurong.
The service, which is essentially a bus loaded with books, goes mostly to schools, making one or two hour stops every day to lend out books, then returning around two weeks later to collect them back. According to the DBP, in addition to boooks, they also provide magazines, journals and examination papers. Supposedly in July, the service will be expanded in Tutong, which currently has 11 stops serviced by the Sengkurong Library. It is interesting to also note that in other countries, the Mobile Library play a significant role in the community. In an article by UK's The Telegraph, the 'cutting back' of Mobile Libraries "are having a disproportionate effect on the elderly and people in remote communities, who rely on the library vans for their reading material". It cited an author, Joanna Harris that "reduced access to books" was a dangerous thing, and also noted that mobile libraries play an essential role in many communities, noting that "...their loss will hit people least likely to embrace alternative ways of reading, such as via ebooks". In a 2010 article by the UK's Guardian, Mike Brook, treasurer of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals' Branch and Mobile Libraries Group noted that despite the digital age, some areas still enjoy the services of the mobile library. "The ones with onboard computers targeting residential homes and silver surfers are doing really well," he says. Perhaps it is time to expand the idea of the mobile library, to not just serve schools, but also rural communities. The views are author's own and do not necessariliy reflect those of The Brunei Times.
The Brunei Times
Thursday, July 26, 2012
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