After many years of seeing the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck public library in Thimphu languish in its ancient cramped quarters while enormous structures like multi story buildings housing bars and snooker halls, and six lane highways constructed around it, it is indeed welcome news that the Centre for Bhutan Studies will construct a modern library in the city by next year.
The government has declared this year as a Reading Year and many have channeled their energies towards getting the young to read. But the year is coming to an end and we must ensure that this energy is sustained so that every year becomes a Reading Year.
Having more libraries is one way of achieving this.
Having a library that is architecturally inviting, which is being accorded priority by the centre, is another plus.
But in this digital age, books are competing with smart phones and tablets, YouTube and Candy Crush. The visuals, sounds, and interactivity, that such devices offer is more pleasurable than reading a book, and having to imagine all these on your own. It’s hard work imagining.
Today, toddlers seem to know how to operate a smart phone even before they speak their first word. Both young and adult do most of their reading only on Facebook.
The National Library in Thimphu is more of a site for tourists to visit, rather than for research.
After years of pleading and budget unavailability, a new building for the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck public library has finally received the municipality’s approval.
But for these libraries to remain modern temples rather than disintegrate into museums, there is a need, a challenge, of ensuring their utility. And that can be achieved by embracing developments in technology: the smart phone, social media, YouTube.
We can’t simply rely on inculcating a reading habit by professing its benefits or by talking about the beauty of imagination. The times have changed.
We have to compete with the entertainment industry by using technology to attract our children to read. There may have to be compromise in balancing reading material and entertainment but it may result in youth discovering it is actually enjoyable to read and imagine.
But to achieve combining the book with technology, and in making libraries more accessible, entertaining, and useful for the community, we need to have the right people working or heading these libraries. The government must make the necessary investments when it comes to recruiting and training, and paying good salaries when such people are found.
But alongside that, it is important that those of us, who recognize the value of a reading and writing culture, support and encourage the government, or any other organization that looks to promote reading.
But to inculcate a reading habit, we’ve to go even further.
Research has shown that children who grow up in homes where parents read and have books, perform better in school. This is perhaps because they copy what their parents do.
Parents need to set an example. If we parents are always on our smart phones, then how can we expect our children to read. Putting down the smart phone, picking up a book and reading together can be a start.