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TK Park: A haven for booklovers of all ages

When the invitation to speak at a two-day Thailand conference on reading in Bangkok early last year came, I must confess that I was ready to dismiss it as a scam. I have been to several reading conferences before in the United States and in Europe and was familiar with the lead organizers for such events on literacy, the International Reading Association and the American Library Association.

At every turn, there was reason to lead me to doubt. There was so much lead time to the event, all the details about full hosting and podium fees and airfare were laid out without my having to inquire, plus the host, TK Park, was an agency I had never heard of. Googling it did not help, because the Thailand Knowledge Park website still said it had closed because of the civil disturbance on the streets of Bangkok.

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The only time I buckled down to work on my paper on the Philippine experience with literacy efforts was when I was presented with the names of the other invited speakers from Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam—and was given a strict deadline as they wanted all papers to be translated into Thai and be published in both English and Thai editions for the conference proper.

What a curious name, I thought about TK Park until I discovered that this is their jazzed up concept of the traditional library. Thus, the name to distinguish it from the still revered and operational National Library. A living library, it is called, to promote the love of reading, lifelong learning and creative thinking. And because it is located on the 8th floor of the Central World Shopping Center—a mall known to Bangkok tourists in the heart of the city, it is accessible to everyone. That also explains why its location was a favorite spot of mass protests.

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Established in 2005 to address what the government observed as an alarming trend of children becoming less and less interested in books, TK Park has emerged as the prototype of a library bound to attract the young, departing as it is from the old concept of a library as a “book warehouse” that has become irrelevant to modern living.

The late August conference informally began for me with a visit to TK Park. It was a Thursday midafternoon and the welcoming state-of-the-art space seemed to offer something for all ages and all persuasions. At the children’s library, two mothers were reading a book to their toddlers. Although TK Park’s target clientele are children and teenagers, everyone is welcome to use its facilities. In another section, a number of senior citizens were preoccupied with recreational reading. Another section dedicated to performing arts was being readied for a youth band’s rehearsal. There were a few other venues, depending on audience size, for meetings and discussion groups.

It is a sleek and handsome library prototype, whose design was inspired by the Bpi Public Information Library at the Pompidou Center in France, UK’s Library Learning Information, Japan’s Sendai Mediatheque and Singapore’s Jurong Regional Library and [email protected]

TK Park is generously funded by the Office of Knowledge Management and Development directly under the Office of the Prime Minister, clear evidence of literacy being a priority concern of the government. A boost in the country’s reading campaign in the past two years was the government’s move to make reading a “national agenda” and the designation of the years 2009 to 2118 as the decade for the promotion of reading.

The government fiat has generated a high level of library consciousness in public and academic libraries and the birth of what it calls 3D and electronic libraries. There is a heightened sense of urgency for replicating the TK Park experience in other communities because Unesco has designated Bangkok as the World Book Capital for 2013.  TK Park president Pramode Vidtayasuk, a former corporate executive who has turned to government service and the French-speaking vice president Dr. Tatsanai Wongpisethkul will continue to play a crucial role in 2013 and the years ahead.

Thus, this year’s conference on reading in “recognition of the goal of creating an Asean community” by 2015. (And it was some comfort that our Asean neighbors were grappling with concerns similar to ours.) The previous annual conferences sponsored by TK Park were on “Enlivening Libraries,” “Encouraging Thai Children to Read,” “Opening Up the World of Children’s Libraries,” “Opening Up the World of Reading with Stories.” For the last one, I was informed by the TK Park staff that they had Alitaptap founder Manolo Silayan as a most enjoyable storyteller.

There are libraries and libraries. Those I have visited and loved evoke in me a sense of awe and wonderment and the heady feeling of total surrender to all that it offers. TK Park awakened that in me. Were venues like that in our midst to lure reluctant readers, literacy and lifelong learning would not be a major concern.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of the Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: featured column, library, literacy, opinion, Reading
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