National Library becomes key digital hub

New project sees creation of connected co-working space and release of mobile app

Losing appeal: The main study area at the National Library of Thailand at Tha Wasukri is almost empty. It recently opened a new smart library building to boost numbers. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)

A recent survey by the Thai Publishers and Booksellers Association found that 88% of Thais read and spend an average of 37 minutes a day reading.

Unsurprisingly, the internet is where Thais do most of their reading as almost half of Thailand’s population are now smartphone, tablet and laptop users.

Technology has changed people’s reading habits, and the National Library of Thailand (NLT) has recently launched a project called the National Digital Library, or D-library, and opened a new library building in the same compound to improve the quality of its service as well as the convenience for readers.

“We only had around 10,000 visitors per month last year and we want to increase these numbers as well as inspire more people to keep reading and coming to our library. Therefore, we decided that we needed to transform our library into a space where people can spend time on a variety of activities,” NLT director Kanok-on Sakdadate said. The NLT last month opened its new smart library building that provides readers with access to over 10,000 ebooks via the internet, and offers free Wi-Fi so it can also be used as a co-working space.

The smart library building is equipped with special terminals that connect visitors to operators in case they need some assistance.

Moreover, the 113-year-old library also has developed its own NLT app for both IOS and Android. The app provides a search engine to search the library’s 2 million entries.

“It’s not convenient that people can only access government libraries between 7am and 5pm,” Mr Kanok-on said.

"People’s needs have changed, and at our new smart library they can stay until 8.30pm. Additionally, they do not have to worry about operating hours if they use our mobile application."

The NLT director said the application will allow readers to use the library anywhere, any time. They can get access to thousands of books while sitting at home.

“We have some very old books, hundreds of years old, and also ebooks. This selection will serve different demands of readers from young to old. I hope this will help increase the time Thai people spend reading. I invite everyone to try our new convenient way of accessing knowledge,” she said.

Ngampee Yawong, a librarian at NLT, said the new building has been visited by hundreds of visitors a day since it opened and has received excellent feedback. “It’s convenient for visitors as they don’t have to seek the information manually at the NLT any more.

“They can now search via their smartphones and tablets, book the items they want in advance and pick them up on later days,” Ms Ngampee said.

She added that the new system also benefits the library itself as it reduces repetitive tasks for staff, who can put their skills to better use elsewhere. “Public libraries are like public parks,” Ms Ngampee said.

"People like having them around, and are angry if they close. But as for using them, well, there is so little time these days.

“As a library staff member, I think we need to adapt our services to match the changing behaviour of readers."

Sasiyos Karnprasertkul, 35, a visitor to the new NLT smart library, said he was impressed by the new service. “I live nearby, so I’ll come here more often because it can now also be used as a co-working space,” he said.

Rossukon Naksenee, 21, a university student from Pitsanulok province, said that without the online services, people who want to see ancient manuscripts have to spend days looking through the list of documents that are available.

“For people from the provinces like me, this also means a lot of money. When they travel to Bangkok, they have to pay for accommodation,” she pointed out.

Ms Rossukon said she hopes the NLT will upload more material to the application so people don’t need to come into the library to borrow books.

The NLT smart library is open Monday to Friday from 7am to 8.30pm.