Luring travellers with books

Mustafa K. Anuar

Bibliotourism can potentially revive or grow local economies and empower small businesses in the vicinity of libraries. – EPA pic, January 18, 2023.

Commentary by Mustafa K. Anuar 

PERAK has embarked on the kind of tourism with which many Malaysians are unfamiliar. This road is less travelled, but has the potential to attract local and foreign tourists. 

In contrast with the conventional notion of tourism, which often tries to capitalise on the physical beauty of a place, and historical buildings and incidents, bibliotourism prioritises physical libraries as points of reference to places and history of a certain locality.

Bibliotourism has the capacity to grow or revive local economies, where small businesses can develop around designated libraries. It is especially useful in the face of economic downturns and other challenges. 

Kuala Kangsar and Taiping have been chosen for this new initiative, said Perak Public Library Corporation director Rafidah Abdul Aziz, because they are among the country’s top tourist destinations. 

She said the Kuala Kangsar library launched its bibliotourism project early this month through the “Kuala Kangsar: Attractions of the Royal Town” exhibition in collaboration with Areca Books, which publishes books on cultural heritage, social history, visual arts, the environment, and architecture.

Indeed, places that are steeped in history, which includes libraries established a long time ago, have the potential to attract tourists, as well as bibliophiles. 

Taiping, which has also been earmarked for this project, has its own public library, which was once known as the Independence Memorial Library. The present one, which was built in 1882, is undergoing renovation. 

Similarly, the Penang Public Library George Town Branch dates back to 1817. It was then called the Prince of Wales Island Library. 

Libraries of such nature should be able to arouse interest among tourists and enhance the role of libraries in local communities throughout the country. 

Local residents, for example, who have materials of historic value like photos, posters, books and other memorabilia, can lend them to libraries for public consumption.

Certain elders in the local community who have experienced historically significant incidents may want to share their insights with library visitors by giving informal speeches.

Additional input for the local history by residents should be welcomed, especially if it helps us better understand the history of a certain place. 

Any narrative that is considered contentious could be subjected to further research so as to ensure that the approach to the local history is inclusive. 

In doing so, it is hoped that local stakeholders would be instilled with a fitting sense of belonging to the locality and of collective pride.

A possible spinoff from activities associated with local libraries is the rousing of interest among residents – as well as outsiders – to write their own books or photo essays about certain localities, which would intellectually enrich the community and Malaysians. 

These works could then be added to the library’s collections, apart from them being sold in shops around the library for wider distribution.

It is worth following in Perak’s footsteps. – January 18, 2023.

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