Encouraging the reading habit

The joy of reading was instilled in me since young when I saw how my parents would sit together in companionable silence, each reading a book or the daily newspapers.

The Sultan Ismail Public Library was opened in 1964,
situated between the Johor Baru High Court building
and the Johor Baru Town Council building;
The building was demolished.*
At birthdays or Christmas, I used to receive gifts of books which encouraged me to read and explore other worlds within the stories in the books. During school holidays, books were my favourite companions especially on rainy days when we could not play outside.

From reading books by Enid Blyton, I got hooked on the mystery adventures of the five find-outers and vicariously lived out the thrills with Fredrick Trotteville, also known as Fatty, and his pet dog, Buster, Larry, Pip and his sister Bets.  

Together with my sisters’ book gifts, our collection of Enid Blyton books soon expanded with the Famous Five series and the boarding school series with The Naughtiest Girl, as well as those on Malory Towers and Saint Clare’s. 

With a healthy reading habit, it was quite natural for me to progress to reading the classics for O-Level and A-Level English literature exams.  

From plays like ‘Hamlet,’ ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘Macbeth’ by William Shakespeare, Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Persuasion,’ Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’ to E M Forster’s ‘A Room With a View,’ I found great pleasure in reading the picturesque language of a bygone era.

Shelves of books in the upstairs section of the
Johor Public Library, situated at Jalan Yahya Awal
Reading, like watching a movie or documentary, opens up new horizons and helps me gain knowledge beyond my borders that I may otherwise never know and experience if I did not read.

But unlike watching a travelogue like an armchair traveler, reading stretches the imagination and compels the reader to picture every phrase and description, in his mind’s eye.

In October 1964, Sultan Ismail officially opened the original Sultan Ismail Public Library, situated between the Johor Baru High Court building and the Town Council building.  This library was built through contributions from the Rotary Club as well as the goodwill of generous individuals in Johor Baru and Singapore.

In the 1970s, I often go to this library with my classmates to make use of the reference books to do class projects and to study in a quiet and comfortable environment.

In those days, information was not available at our fingertips from Google or other search engines and a wider source of information was obtained from reference books in school and public libraries.

So in our secondary school years, this library was a frequent destination for after-school outings not only to complete school projects but also to meet friends. We were just discovering boys and the library was often the place where we would catch the first glimpse of the guys who said were interested in getting to know us!

This library no longer exists as it was demolished to make way for other development.

Signboard outside the abandoned building that once
housed the Johor Public Library at Bukit Gambir
From 1984, the Johor Public Library was housed in a historical building located on Jalan Dato Menteri 1/1 at Bukit Gambir, a site between Jalan Yahya Awal, Jalan Gertak Merah and Jalan Mahmoodiah. 

The building was once known as Sri Gambir, the official residence of Johor’s first Menteri Besar, Dato Jaafar Mohamed.  
After the Jaafar family moved out, the building was used by Johor Civil Service Club before it was used as a library.  The building was vacant since 2004 and has fallen into a sad state of disrepair.

Reading was a hobby we shared with our dad and after his retirement, we moved back to Johor Baru and registered as members at the new Sultan Ibrahim Public Library at Jalan Datin Halimah.  

Opened in 1988, it was a short drive away from our home and convenient for frequent visits to exchange books or to extend the time for borrowing a number of books.

My dad and I preferred to read slowly rather than rush through a book so we often had to extend the return dates for borrowed books. After a while, my dad decided that he should finish reading the number of non-fiction books he had so I started to go to the library without him. 

Alone, I would take my time to select books to borrow.  Very often, when the library staff have not replaced returned books on the shelves, I would also browse through the stacks of books left on the trolleys.

The library was poorly lighted in some sections, and I recall with a shudder – the reason why I stopped going to this library.  I even wrote in, alerting them about my shocking experience in seeing a pervert lurking by the book shelves!

My sister and her family browsing for used
or pre-loved books from a street-side stall
while on holiday in Delhi, India
In July 2008, I witnessed the official opening of the new Johor Public Library at Jalan Yahya Awal by then Menteri Besar Johor.  When I told my dad and sister about the range of new books in the spanking new library, we moved our membership there. 

This library even has an elevator in service so it was comfortable for my dad to go upstairs where the books are stored.  There was also a cafeteria on the ground-floor as well as facilities to play board games, use computers and even comfortable seats to relax for a read. 

We became regulars and enjoyed browsing around the shelves to select the books to borrow. I soon discovered which were the best days and times to visit, preferably when there was less people and more parking spaces available!

With a reading habit, no time is wasted when I’m travelling, getting my hair done or even while waiting in the queue to collect prescription medicine at the pharmacy because I can read.  On my travels abroad, one of the excursions must be to charity shops and markets to browse for pre-loved books by favourite authors and allocating space and weight to pack them home! 

So start children in the reading habit while they are young and set an example by showing them your pleasure in reading. Whether it’s the daily newspapers, magazines or books, discover the joy of reading now because it’s a habit that can be cultivated and enjoyed for always.

A version of this was published in the May 2017 issue of The Iskandarian

* Old photo of the library courtesy of the Johor Baru Tiong Hua Association.

Message received from Datin Patricia Lim Pui Huen on 6 June 2017:

Dear Peggy

I am very happy to read your article on libraries in Johor. I would like to add a little to what you wrote as I was part of a small group that worked to have the Sultan Ismail Library established. 

The group consisted of  David Gunn, Head of the Education Department, Dato' Charles Lowe, State Financial Secretary, and Dato' Abdullah bin Mohamed, State Secretary. Dato' Lowe adopted the library as a Rotary Project during his tenure as President of Rotary.  The project won the support the State Government and the Town Council and Dato' Lee Kong Chian made a generous donation for construction of the building. 

At my suggestion, the Town Council was successful in obtaining the services of an American Peace Corp volunteer Rita Warpeha who was Librarian for two years and helped to put the Library on  a firm professional basis. Sultan Ismail opened the Library in 1964.  The Library has photos of the opening ceremony.


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