Bangkok bookworms can expect a new reading centre in town as City Hall has decided to turn a building in the old town into a modern library — Bangkok City Library.
Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra officially marked the start of renovation work at the old building near Kok Wua intersection on Feb 28. The building is set to become Bangkok City Library, with a launch date projected for June 2017.
According to Pranee Satayaprakop, head of the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, assigned to oversee the project, the effort to convert the old building into the new city library is part of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration's (BMA) campaign to promote the capital as a "City of Learning".
Plans for the library can be traced back to 2013 when Unesco named Bangkok its World Book Capital for that year, according to Ms Pranee. The World Book Capital programme promotes reading and the dedication of all players in the book industry.
The BMA signed a rental contract with the Crown Property Bureau for the building. Under the 30-year contract, the BMA will pay the bureau 20 million baht a year. The conversion and refurbishment is expected to take 18 months.
The BMA then hired Right Man Co to carry out the renovation and design of the library. Renovation costs are expected to exceed 29 million baht.
The building set to house the library was built in 1932, taking Art Deco cues in its design. While old, the building remains in good condition.
“We looked at libraries in many cities in South Korea and in Singapore and picked out some outstanding features to be applied to ours,” Ms Pranee said.
Every step of the design process has been given the utmost attention. Work has been conducted carefully to ensure there will be sufficient lighting for library users to reading books and text on computer screens, Ms Pranee noted.
Each floor has been designed with energy efficiency in mind, said Ms Pranee, adding that natural light will be found throughout the entire building. Ensuring good use of daylight will help save energy and cut operating costs, she said.
Natural light enhances both the design and appeal of the library, she noted, explaining that proper lighting can make rooms feel spacious while at the same time provide a connection with the natural environment.
The library’s theme is “Wisdom of Light”, Ms Pranee said, explaining that "light" refers to knowledge.
The 4,880-square-metre library will offer a broad selection of material for children and adults as well as the disabled.
There will be material covering cultural, political, historical and economic issues, according to Ms Pranee.
The first floor will feature several sections including the borrowing and return section, exhibition rooms, a newspaper and magazine corner and a tourist information desk.
The highlight of the first floor is a library for the disabled which features audio materials for people who are hard of hearing and Braille materials for the Blind.
The mezzanine floor will be a sanctuary for kids. The floor will have a library for children with a collection of children’s literature and fun and exciting materials designed for children.
On the second floor, there will be international literature, reference books and general books. A multi-functional room will also occupy the floor.
The third floor will offer material about Asean countries in Thai and English, the most popular books, Thai literature, and world literature. There will also be a section dedicated to archives.
The floor will also house the Bangkok governors Hall of Fame, one of the most striking features of the library. It will feature governors' biographies, career highlights and achievements.
The Hall of Fame will also incorporate biographies of Thai writers and poets, according to Ms Pranee.
The library will showcase the city’s colourful history, culture, art and literature, making it one of the most useful sources of information on Bangkok.
Each floor will have quiet study spaces for reading, working and relaxing. Free events and exhibitions will be held occasionally, she added.
Information about BMA projects, the Bangkok Metropolitan Council, the 50 city districts and tourist destinations in each district will also be available at the library.
“All you want to know about the city, the library will have it all,” Ms Pranee said.
The governor wants to urge people, particularly the younger generation, to read more, Ms Pranee said, adding that 1.6% of young Thais regularly read books.
Many others seem to prefer reading material via electronic gadgets, she said, citing a recent study.
Apart from reading material, the library will also host fun educational activities to encourage young people to read, she said.
For example, the library plans to hold a special Harry Potter event that could feature games or a film screening to draw young people to the library, she said.
The library committee plans to discuss setting up self-service kiosks to enable the return of books and other items borrowed from the library, she said.
Kiosks could be located across the city in department stores, near railway stations and other city landmarks, according to Ms Pranee.
“People can check what books and other materials and resources are available without having to go to the library itself, which is more convenient,” Ms Pranee said.
The library's operating hours are set to be 10am to 9pm every day expect Monday, she said, adding hours could be extended if there is sufficient demand.
Charun Homteinthong, president of the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand, said he was delighted with the library and looked forward to its official launch.
He urged the BMA to focus on the management of the library and suggested activities and resources library users might be interested in.
Mr Charun also urged city authorities to place great emphasis on the selection of library material, saying the library committee should choose books that match the interests of readers, adding the committee should study users’ needs for materials when selecting subject matter to include in the collection.
He urged the BMA to invest in new books, saying new books are usually used far more than old ones donated by academics and the public.
He also urged the library to come up with new exciting activities that offer more interactive learning experiences for children to capture their attention, one way to promote reading among young people.
“A library is more than just a place where books are kept. But it must be a treasure trove of learning opportunities," Mr Charun said.
He said he supported the idea of around-the-clock opening, saying this would provide opportunities for people to visit the library after work.
Mr Charun urged the government to allocate an annual budget for projects that promote reading.
“Each year, the government allocates spending to boost tourism. But there has been no budget for activities that promote reading. The government should do the same [as with tourism],” he said.