BMA defends library outlay

A cosy reading corner in the new Bangkok City Library. The BMA is under fire for spending too much on the building and not enough on books. (Photo by Sirinya Wattanasukchai)

Deputy city clerk Pranee Satayaprakop has defended City Hall's budgeting to the new Bangkok City Library amid claims it has spent too much on the building's conversion and too little on the books.

Since the soft launch on April 7, netizens have shared photos and reviews of the library, claiming that despite its beautiful interior and conversion job, the library appears to have spent too little on the books which are supposed to be the heart of any library.

The BMA says about 295 million baht was spent on improving the historic building and installing facilities while the 30-year leasing contract between the BMA and the Crown Property Bureau for the site has cost the BMA 600 million baht, or 20 million baht a year.

Many observed the budget for the books, which initial reports said amounted to just five million baht, is less than 5% of the total budget.

The library hopes to buy about 45,000 books with its budget but the rest of the library's stock is expected to be donated by companies and people. The library is big enough to hold more than 100,000 books.

Located at Kok Wua intersection, the library is one of the nine projects pursued by City Hall to honour its being named by Unesco as World Book Capital 2013.

The three-story library, converted from an historic building erected between 1939 and 1948, comprises 4,880 sq m of facility space.

Ms Pranee said the library has been contacted by the National Library, Maruey Knowledge & Resource Center, Thai Health Promotion Foundation, Chulalongkorn University, Thammasat University, Silpakorn University, Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University and embassies with offers to donate books.

Former city clerk Khunying Nuntaka Suprapatanont, former city clerk Prasert Samalapa, the family of former prime minister and Bangkok governor Samak Sundaravej had also approached the BMA with offers of donations, she added.

A French author whom she didn't name also wanted to give a personal collection of more than 1,000 books to the library.

The new library welcomed the first bunch of visitors during its soft launch, which the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration said it would test the library system. The launch was presided over by Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang.

"People just want to participate in the project by giving books they have to the library. Technically, we avoid using the term 'donate' the books to the library," Ms Pranee said.

"Bangkok City Library is for everyone, by everyone."

Ms Pranee said a BMA committee has sorted the donated books and carefully selected rare and limited edition copies to go on the shelves.

The rest will be given to libraries in 36 districts citywide and seven mobile libraries run by the BMA, she added.

The official launch is earmarked for April 28, when Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn is scheduled to preside over the ceremony.

During the governor's inspection tour of the library, he urged people who have good books they want to share, and companies and bookstores which have some interesting books they want others to read, to donate them to the library.

Correcting figures circulating online, Ms Pranee said a budget of more than 7 million baht had actually been set aside for books and materials both in hard copy form and online.

More than four million baht was spent on buying more than 44,000 books for the library, she added.

Ms Pranee urged people to understand the library management and the good-intentioned people who want to take part in the city's project.

In response to claims the library is equipped with extravagant facilities, Ms Pranee said it aims to provide convenience for users.

The furnishings including lamps, tables and chairs weren't as luxurious as claimed by netizens. "We want comfortable reading and to attract users to the library," she said.

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