Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Romance of Libraries: Celebrating The End Of Intelligent Endeavor?

Keynote Address

The Romance of Libraries:

Celebrating The End Of Intelligent Endeavour?


Presented at  the

 5th International Conference on Libraries, Information and Society (ICOLIS 2014)

4 – 5 November 2014

Boulevard Hotel. Kuala Lumpur

Let me begin by saying: Libraries are dead.  Hear me first, for I represent mankind – the real people out there – who believe libraries are out of sync, out of touch and irrelevant now.

It is surreal to have structures around the world housing millions of books and other reference materials when one of those little, smart gadgets and a lively finger or thumb can do the work in the comfort of one’s cubicle, home or office or when on the move.

The notion of“knowledge at your finger tips”, dream up by clever people, is now a reality.
Libraries are simply a medieval thing, a construct of bygone years, in the era of the First Enlightenment.

In short, they are things of the past.

Not of now. Not of the future.

I was scouring the Internet for something like the future of libraries. Sadly, I read mostly literature of its demise. And an exaggerated one at that. The end is near for libraries. Ingloriously. 


There are more naysayers than defenders. There are many prophets of doom in the vocation you are in. 

People these days have two perspectives – one, their own, and two, taking the Schopenhauer-ean view, that libraries are doomed.

I am addressing the best and brightest in the world of libraries and I should mind my words. It is like telling an editor of a newspaper that the future of newspapers is zilch – zero, nothing. Or pointing out toa morgue-keeper that morgues are things of the past. Of course, they will react emotionally.

I’ll turn defensive, naturally, if you were to tell me that journalism, as we know it, is fast becoming irrelevant. I spent my entire adult life, well almost, as a journalist and an editor. And I believe, the naysayers are dead wrong. Even if the realities are saying otherwise. I believe journalism is too serious a profession to be judged by anyone else.

After all,I still believe in the romance of journalism. I don’t need ‘The Newsroom’, HBO’s popular TV series,to remind me of the romance of journalism. Of course, what you see on TV and film is seldom the reality. Our newsroom is never shy of social misfits, charismatic class clowns, dangerously opinionated honchos, bubbly individuals and marauding by-line seekers, all drawn to the lofty notion that journalism is a sacred pursuit, a public trust. But who needs journalists today when the social media is bringing news every second. Now, everyone is a reporter or journalist, just as anyone can fly, thanks to low-cost airlines. 

However, we soldier on.

Yes, sales of newspapers are plummeting and advertisement revenue from print media is on the downtrend. Many newspaper companies are folding up – or facing massive losses. Some of the great newspapers are names only now, buried in the footnote of history.

We have to make amends. We have to adapt. In fact, we have to resurrect ourselves to avoid being marginalised. We have to rebuild ourselves, to redeem our past sins, if you like, believing that we are invincible and will be here forever, and ever.

We erred. Journalists are humans. We report deaths, calamities, not to mention the misfortunes of others. It is incumbent upon us to tell the truth. Then again, truth is a double-edged sword.

 Truth is as elusive as it is debatable. Someone mentioned that journalists are too fixated on sex, lies and pseudo-democracy. There is a danger that the press is “hurtling out of control” and our “herd mentality” is seen when chasing stories. I am not a believer in the idea that consumerism rules. We don’t sell newspapers at the expense of civility, good manners and truth. We shouldn't harp on other people’s miseries. We have a role to play in nation-building, whatever that means to us. Of course, I am worried about “the tabloiding of Malaysia” – I don’t mean the format, but the mentality. Journalists are responsible people. Freedom of the press is a virtue, not a licence to abuse. We should take pride in reporting happiness, triumphs and successes too. 

That keeps us going.

But things are changing. Societies too. And people.

The different between you and me is that we have our voice. We write. We have our platforms. You see, us, read us, hear us. You seldom do. Even if you do you write in obscure journals or articulate your positions in conferences like this one -  talking among yourselves, about things than only you know best. Not unlike the writing on an apron that distracted me once, “only hairdressers know what hairdressers do.” In your case, “only librarians know what librarians do.”  

I know you are a passionate lot. I went through some of the papers that will be presented at this esteemed conference. I come across topics such as "A study of the Singapore Sports Council Library in post-colonial and post-war Singapore, 1974-2014. Issues and challenges in the provision of information sources in sports and leisure.” I am attracted by this topic to be discussed: “Abuse of library materials in the main library at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka: An overview of the library staff.”

Certainly very specific issues. And very focused. And very “library”.

You guys are the experts. The ones who know more and more about less and less pertaining to libraries. You are the creme de la creme among the species that roam the land of the quiet, the space of the learned and the hall of the clever. The shifu, the master, the expert.

You are the Chosen Ones!

So, understandably, you are a very passionate lot about, of all things, libraries.

Let me tell you of my encounter with libraries. The year was 1960. I was seven; my illiterate rubber-tapper father decided to be a contrarian and took the audacious step of placing me, not in a sekolah Melayu or Malay school, but an English school. The school, Peserian Primary English School, was the first rural English school some 28 kilometers from the nearest town. I knew hardly three words of English – yes, no, thank you. My first English Master was an Irishman, whose name was Mr Gun, and the first thing he said was, “In my class no one speaks any language other than English. I will happily fine anyone who does otherwise.” I got the message loud and clear. I was mute for three months.

There was no library in the school. Most of the books came from England. I never owned books, my house was devoid of them. It was hell on Earth. But I soldiered on, depending on borrowed books from my teachers and stolen ones from a village convict, who believed that stealing books from houses of the rich in town and giving them to me was a noble thing to do. Mat Gomleh, his name, was my intellectual Robin Hood.

I was lost without a library. It was a painful experience and really an eye-opener. I learned the hard but exciting way, through nursery rhymes, gospel songs, dramas and composition. And yes, Mr Gun spoke about a particular Mr Shakespeare – whoever he was – who was the best writer in the English language. I gathered my courage one day and requested of him to lend me one of those “Shakespeare books.” He was probably more amused than bewildered for he lent me Macbeth, probably one of the toughest of Shakespeare’s plays. I could understand perhaps, the, a, their, our, to, be and such. And I copied everything in an exercise book. Xerox was many years away.

My secondary school had a library – a shack actually that would benefit a cow more than students. I knew what libraries could do for students. Together we organised a malam amal(charity night) to collect money to build a library. I was privileged to join Muar High School, which was well equipped with books back in 1972-73. And at the University of Malaya from 1974 to 1977, I honed my skill as the permanent resident of its luxurious library.  I couldn't afford to go back to my tiny room some 20 kilometers away, hot and sweltering, so spending time at the UM Library was the cleverest thing that I did in my years at the university. This university is still the best in the land and the UM library, still the finest.

The UM library has certainly come along way. I joined the UM in 1974. Students of my generation remember the library for things that happened around it too  – the hugely popular Speakers’ Corner, our very own students’ Hyde Park believed to be the idea of one Mr Ravee Raghavan back in 1966.  The corner has nurtured oratorical skills of some of the best, brightest and the crappiest future politicians and accidental politicians, civil servants, businessmen, and perhaps some conmen too.

But more importantly the library has expended into three major branches and seven specific disciplines of knowledge  over the years. It is now home to some 2.3 million items and titles of books, monographs, manuscripts, journals, you name it, and it has 24,391 items in its digital inventory, manned by 47 professional and 167 support staffs.

The main libraries and its branches are where students spend many hours researching, studying, reading or just getting the feel of being among books.

The UM library is nothing compared to some of the largest libraries in the world today.  Take the US Library of Congress:It has 158 million items on over 1,290 kilometers of bookshelves manned by a staff of 3,624. It collections include over 34 million books, over 3 million recordings, over 13 million photographs, over 5 million maps, over 6 million pieces of sheet music and over 66 million manuscripts, and 700,000 “rare books.”

See, I am a believer in libraries, still believing that there is more to them than just being snake temples, places where one seek solace in trying to get knowledge, with the capital “K”. 

And yes, I find the theme of this conference tantalising – “Our Story, Our Time, Our Future.” It is apt to say that, under current circumstances, your profession is being questioned as never before. Tell anyone what you do for a living and there will bean uncomfortable pause, and perhaps a faint smile, “Ah, so you are a librarian.”

It doesn't help that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has this to say about you:  A librarian (noun) - “person in charge of, or assistant in a library.” Even a morgue keeper or taxi driver has a longer definition.

It reminds me of an unpleasant experience telling my barber one day that my rubber-tapper father was a barber in the afternoon. He looked at me, annoyingly I could see, “Sir, I am a hairdresser.” I was like, “Oh, ok!” Now I understand the meaning of “only hairdressers know what hairdressers do.”

Perhaps names matter.A profession is defined by how it is named. A reporter and a journalist are actually one and the same. But the name journalist brings a different a connotation – some recognition of its importance, a certain legitimacy, a particular seriousness and a smack of professional pride in it. So, I always introduced myself as a journalist, not a reporter. An editor rather than a word and sentence morpher or linguistic janitor. Names, labels do matter; I learned that over many years as a journalist, an editor and currently the Chairman of the largest media group in the country.

Now I understand why David Beckham isn't the only one who needs re-branding. We too. Us. You and Me.

Brand it like Beckham, is the title of the book. Let’s re-brand ourselves. Re-brand librarians. Brand it like a librarian.

Why not? We need to tell our stories. Your stories. You are not the guardians of snake temples. You are, in fact, the guardians of Knowledge. Keepers and custodians of Knowledge. Knowledge facilitators. Again, Knowledge with a capital “K.” This concept has elements of cleverness, of renaissance, of wisdom, of mental capacities, of greatness, of the story of the human mind, of intelligent writings.

That is why I give a provocative title to my keynote address – “The Romance of Libraries: Celebrating the End of Intelligent Endeavor?” I want you to realise that you are an integral part of mankind’s intellectual history. That you vocation is one that posits wisdom and intelligence. And your endeavor is a noble one. And libraries can be hip, cool, even sexy. Thus the word, “romancing” the libraries.

So, you shouldn't be apologetic. Cars are hardly 110 years old. Yet some semblance of a library had been discovered during the time of the Sumeriansaround 2600 BC. You think the UM library is stacked with books in the 20th and 21st Centuries? Think again. Over 30,000 clay tablets were discovered as part of the Library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh in Iraq in the 7th Century BC. Very organised forms of libraries were already in existence in Greece in the 5th Century BC. They were talking about “great libraries” in Constantinople and Alexandria as early as the 6th Century BC.  

So libraries are almost as old as mankind. Who said that the wheel was the cornerstone of human civilisation and the greatest invention of mankind? Think again. Libraries are. People were already keeping clay tablets while they were hunting animals for food and building civilisation. What inferior complex are you talking about? Prostitution is the oldest profession? OMG! How wrong can that be?A librarian is!

Cars kill two people every minute. In the last 110 years, cars have killed 28 million humans.
Libraries have not killed anyone. 

So, seek solace in that incredible story of yours. That is the great narrative that you should be proud of. The fact that librarians have been a profession earlier than the existence of the Pyramids is something to shout about.It was trendy even for the Pharaohs to be buried with their own libraries back then.

But librarians are by nature shy. They walk silently on floors made of marble, hushing anyone making the slightest noise. They have perfected the art of peering from their glasses and speaking in hushed tones. Shout about their achievements? Oops, that’s not in their genes.
Guys, that needs to change!

Muslims in the early years of Islam understood the importance of books and knowledge, both mentally and spiritually, leading to the greatest intellectual adventures then. The epi-centre of the Muslim world revolved around the pursuit of knowledge and intellectual exuberance. Muslim scholars and thinkers were learning from the best and the brightest and they themselves pioneered new discourses and explored new disciplines in learning and scholarship.

The intellectual adventures of humankind have a lot to do with books and the impact of those books.

Libraries tell those stories. Libraries are manifestations of that pursuit. And libraries are the greatest legacy of the intellectual prowess of mankind.

Libraries are not just about books. We all know the story of books today. According to Gabriel Zaid in So Many Books, a book is born every 30 seconds. Books are published faster than humans can read. When the Gutenberg came into the picture in 1450, about a hundred titles were published in the first few years. In the 1950s, some 250,000 titles of books were published. In 2000, a million titles were published. You say, TV kills books? Think again. Back in the 1950s, when TV made its mark, there were 100 books per a million inhabitants. In 2000, there were 167. In fact, more books are published after the ICT Revolution than ever before. If the average thickness of a book is two centimetres, you need 24 kilometres of shelves just to keep those books published in a year. Imagine 564 years of book printing and publishing.

Since 1450, some 50,000,000 titles of books have been published. A person would have to spend 15 years just reading the titles. And another 250,000 years to read every single book published so far. In short, 99.9 percent of those books published are beyond our reach. And humankind writes more than it can read. If a person reads a book a day, he would be leaving out 4,000 other titles on that day.

It is a clever guess at best, a conjecture at worst, on the number of books in the world today. Books of the world, stand up to be counted! Google did that. On August 6, 2010, Google’s advanced algorithms put the figure at 129,864,880 books in the entire world. That’s 130 million books, folks. But then again, there are 7 billion humans. That’s still about a book for every 17 individuals. And remember, there is no fairness in the distribution of such books. More than 90 per cent of those published books are in 10 major languages of the world. There are 6,500 spoken languages and about 500 written languages.

The demise of books? Not yet.

Now, about these times in which we live.

As I have written in one of my pieces in the New Straits Times, it was Justin Timberlake who got me thinking hard about social networking. Yes, that Timberlake – songwriter, singer and actor. It was the character Sean Parker that he played in the 2010 movie The Social Network, who pricked my consciousness about how addicted I am to social media. The fictionalised version of the President of Facebook famously said, “We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we are going to live on the Internet.”

How true! 

The movie about the drama, intrigue and betrayal involving Facebook founders was anything but astonishing. The tagline for the movie is “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” Today the number of Facebook users is a staggering 1.3 billion, or equivalent to the population of China.  Every single day in June 2014, there is an average of 829 million FB users in the world. There are 645 million registered Twitter users today and another 500 million WhatsApp users worldwide. And many have all three accounts.

The Internet is now home. Social media is where we live now. We are not defining the way we communicate. The Internet and social media are redefining us. Online social revolution is changing the world and us. The dynamics of communication is undergoing massive transformation, so too how we live in today’s world.

But are we more informed? Are we more enlightened? Or are we a lot friendlier to start with? The debate will rage on. Detractors are finding fault with social media. Ban them!, some would argue. Supporters believe it is the greatest creation by mankind after the invention of the wheel. Thanks to the Internet, we have access to almost everything now. Wikipedia is fast making libraries irrelevant. Knowledge, as I have said earlier, is now at the tip of one’s finger, literally. We are inundated by facts and figures by the billion – information that is fast choking us. The Internet is the river of knowledge as well as trash.

We are becoming a society unsure of what to do with the loads of information that descend upon us every second.

We need better understanding of the brave, yet frightening new world that we are entering. The maturing of society took a long winding road back then. Now, we are being painfully reminded of the overload of information that informs, educates and entertains us. We are simply forced to mature quickly. Societies are in disarray, social norms are things of the past, while children are dizzyingly embracing everything online. What kind of society are we expecting in the future?

The social media revolution is here to stay. We are being coerced and seduced to embrace it. The argument is, we can’t stop it. It is with us. The young are using it. We need to embrace social media to reach out to them. And one simply can’t fight the digital tsunami.  

Andrew Keen warned us in his daring 2012 book, Digital Vertigo, about the social media revolution. He argues that today’s social media revolution “is the most wrenching cultural transformation” since the Industrial Revolution.  The transformation sadly, is weakening, disorienting, diminishing and dividing us more than ever before. Instead of heralding the dawn of a new era, the revolution is suffocating humankind. We have lost the ability to stand apart from the crowd, to be our own self, to act as individuals, not as a herd.

There are times when I wish I could prove Sean Parker wrong. But alas, like everyone else, I am shackled by the yoke of social networking. I tweet. I use the latest gadgets. And I selfie. At my age!

We are merely slaves of technology. We are but part of the technological herd.
Now, where do you stand in the social network revolution? That is where the issue of “time” in your theme comes in. And the challenges that entail. We must understand the changing dynamics in society. Understand them. There are two ways of looking at things.

1. The users of libraries

2. The potential users of libraries.

Libraries at schools and institutions of higher learning will continue to be visited and utilised for obvious reasons. But you are losing the second part of the equation, the potential users.

I am not sure if there have been studies pertaining to the number of public library users today. That will give us a good picture of the users and potential users. But understand this. The future of libraries depends on these people: get used to the word, millennials. The Y Generation. The millennials are said to be those born between 1980 and 2000.  There are 80 million of them in the United States alone, probably about 11 million in Malaysia. They represent probably a fourth of mankind. They are a generation to be reckoned with. They are, as Time magazine puts it, the “Me, Me, Me Generation”.

Some even predicted they are going to be the Next Great Generation after the Baby Boomers.
Take notice, they will redefine societies, lifestyles, the economy (yes, that too) and politics (that can be scary!). They are changing the look and feel of nations. They are largely well educated, articulate and independent. They can be intensely cynical and distrustful of establishments – including governments.

And they, among others, will help redefine how libraries will be utilised in years to come. My belief is that there are four major issues pertaining to the future of libraries, in so far as regarding the new generation of users:

1.    The new spectrum of library users
2.    The information overload millenials
3.    New technologies replacing the old ones
4.    The migration to digital libraries.

Libraries need visitors and users. It will make a lot of sense to look at how effective libraries are from an investment point of view. No, I am not referring to Return of Investment (ROI) per se. But there must be some tangible ways to appropriately measure investments on libraries. The measurement is critical in understanding how significant libraries are to societies.

Library users have changed in terms of demographics in line with changing times. The demands and requirements are changing, so too the applications and technologies to comprehend the changing patterns. While “traditional libraries” catering for the masses are still in demand, especially in areas that are less wired, the requirement for new “spaces” is equally important.

This is where the millenials come in. They are overloaded with information, good or bad, right or wrong, the truth or otherwise. They believe that what they read on the Net is the Gospel truth until proven otherwise. They believe that the half-baked information and ‘instant mee’ facts and factoids they download are correct. There are simply too many useless facts out there, not to mention those that blithely confuse dubious information with knowledge.

Google Search is not everything. Wikipedia is one of the many sources of information. Twitter has many “handles” disseminating facts and factoids, some of which are idiotic, ludicrous and downright lies. Those are merely dramatic factual window-dressing with the intention to awe and seduce, nothing more.

Factualism used to be a virtue, but facts that lie and figures that are showy are having the upper hand. This is not a problem with Twitter or applications of the cyber world. It is something wrong with the Internet at large, which is harping on the dangerous conflation of information and knowledge.

The Internet is hailed as the contemporary symbolism of the New Enlightenment or an Infotopia. But it is not.  And the sad thing is, people don’t check. They absorb. They swallow whole. Someone famously said, “Googlecan bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.”

I agree.

So, capitalise on that.

Here is where libraries play a new role. But first, libraries must be equipped with new tools to face the brave, new world. Libraries must embrace the latest, state-of-the-art technologies to engage the users. We are talking about the migration to digital applications.

I concur with one of the statements made in the programme book of ICOLIS 2014 about how  time “underscores the new information paradigm and access to all accumulated knowledge, provides users with unique and unprecedented opportunities to make lifelong learning a reality.” It stated also the need “to rekindle our passion in providing services as the answer to uncertainties and fast-paced changes.”

A tall order indeed. But those statements should be part of a mission statement for librarians to face the next challenge. I always remind myself that my first tryst with a computer was the hugely popular Commodore 64 back in 1982. And as the name shows, it has 64 bytes. Imagine what you can do with that amount of “memory.”

One must remember, books are taking a different form these days – online books or books on tablets like the Kindle are making waves. Amazon admits that since 2011, for every paperback sold online, 115 Kindle books are being bought. At HarperCollins, e-books made up 25 per cent of the all young-adult sales in 2011.  And the numbers are improving.

Libraries must not compete with social media for reference and information. Leave commercial information setups alone. Libraries can’t compete with digital gadgets such as smartphones, tablets or even geosocial networking. This is not the movie, The Hunger Games.

This is about legitimacy and providing acceptable, reliable, tested, proven facts and information.

It is also about taking ownership of knowledge.

We all know the three criteria set by Plato for anything to be labelled “Knowledge” – It must be justified, true and believed. This is the thing that you do best and know best. The collaboration that is needed to create an environment that makes knowledge “workable”, “translateable” and “acceptable.” The dynamic interaction of knowledge users is key to exchanging ideas and information. And dispersing them to the stakeholders. You are managing knowledge. So it is more of the action rather than space that matters.

I don’t mind not having a library that is made up of posh facades and startling interiors. I believe a truly digital library is cheaper to construct and easier to manage. Like all things out there, migration to digitalisation is not an option, it is a necessity. But what is the library of the future if it is not steered by forward-thinking librarians? We need a sea-change of attitude there.

The scions of knowledge, the guardians of information, must move on with the times too. They must think differently, out of the box, and be contrarians. Knowledge is not owned by the privileged few. Knowledge is being democratised as never before. And we all are stakeholders of knowledge. A new mindset that is in tune with changing times is demanded of librarians.

 Here comes “the future”. Let me pick one critical point raised in the programme book. The bit about the future that is anchored by the tenets of “information without borders.” Librarians must refrain from thinking they are operating from cubicles and silos. They must think of a knowledge-laden information eco-system other than books or printed documents or digital information.

The future is now for librarians. It is not just about improving services, it is also about reinventing libraries. That needs a lot of rethinking for libraries to remain relevant.

The key word here is relevant. Are libraries to remain as warehouses of books? Libraries, mind you, are not stores for dead books. Or should we make them community centres that they once were? Or look at them from different angles and perspectives, tailoring them to the requirements of particular communities?Or as some libraries have done in the US, take a new twist by lending tools for DIY just to be relevant in the midst of sceptical community members about their existence?

Of course,not all libraries are created equal. A community library in a village where I grew up has different requirements than those in Petaling Jaya.

But let me, as an outsider, try to answer why I believe libraries are not obsolete.

1.   The Internet has its limits. Not everything is available online.

2.   Digital libraries are not Wikipedia.

3.   Books are not dead, at least not yet.

4.   Libraries are not morgues. People still frequent them.

5.   The Internet is not free.

Libraries must be powered by the needs of communities and not what librarians want them to be. Pay attention to the people. Libraries must take a people-centricapproach with the best understanding of their users, not what librarians envisioned they should be. Rewrite the rules of engagement, if need be. Rethink library, that should be the mantra.

Will libraries be a vital, relevant element in communities? The good news is studies have indicated that, despite the information and digital revolution, library usage in advanced countries, a critical indicator of its relevance, has been rising the last 10 years. In the US, a study by the University of Washington and the American Library Associations (ALA) in 2010 indicated that public library visits in 2009 totaled 1.4 billion, a 5-point increase over 2016, while circulation of public library materials was 2.2 billion in 2009, showing an increase from the year 2006. Another study shows that 69 per of Americans or 160 million over the age of 14 visited a library at least once in the period of the study.

But the bad news is, the perception about libraries being a medieval construct lingers on and the feeling is, we don’t need them.

The key word is still the transformation of libraries. And it should begin with you folks – the keepers of the flame, the protectors of Enlightenment and the crusaders of free information. Libraries are the “living room” of democracy, where openness is the rule and ideas flourish without fear and favour.

It is like water cascading down from the temple of knowledge to the needy,tested water, not merely darkish or convoluted effluents taken for granted as truth.

In April this year, the ALA Executive Board Spring Meeting came out with a 2015 strategic plan that includes “transforming libraries”. This calls for the Association to “provide leadership in the transformation of libraries and library services in a dynamic and increasingly global digital library environment.”

They spelled out four objectives (verbatim):

  • Increase opportunities to share innovative practices and concepts across the profession, nationally and internationally, and among libraries;
  • Increase recognition of and support for experimentation with innovative and transformational ideas;
  • Help libraries make use of new emerging technologies by promoting and supporting technological experimentation and innovation; and
  • Increase leadership development and training opportunities designed to support the ongoing transformation of libraries.
Remember the Encyclopaedia Britannica?It has been around for 244 years, with the first edition coming out in Scotland in 1768. At its peak, it consisted of 65,000 entries, in 44 million words, covering 33,000 pages with 24,000 images. There were 9,500 contributors for the 32-volume set, not including its indexes and a Propedia, an introductory volume started in its 15th edition.

Wikipedia killed the Britannica.

In 1996, Macmillan’s Dictionary of Art was published. It was an ambitious project. It took 14 years involving 6,800 contributors. There were 45,000 entries on 670,000 subjects using 26.3 million words and 15,000 illustrations.  The publisher spent RM125 million. The first 6,000 sets were sold at RM19,000 each.

Who needs those with Wikipedia around?

Wikipedia is touted as a “free-as-in-freedom” online encyclopaedia. Although Wikipedia (according to Wikipedia itself) was formally launched in January 2001, the idea of an online encyclopaedia started earlier. Wikipedia matters to you. So pay attention to its strengths and capabilities.

Remember, to stay relevant, you have to understand your competitors.

You job is to address the future of learning in a networked and connected society.

And to bring back the exuberance of knowledge to humankind.

The intellectual future of mankind is in your hands.

Remember these words written by one of Malaysia’s best poets and our best known literary laureates, the late Datuk Usman Awang about a library, immortalised on the wall of the University Malaya main library:

Kota kebenaran penaung kebebasan ucapsuara
Dari ruang ini bersinar-sinar keagungan pemikiran
Menghayati teluk-teluk zaman demi zaman
Tanpa prasangka apa tanpa batas benua

Loosely translated:

The fortress of truth, champion of free speech
Excellence of thought shines here brightly
Debates through the times are examined closely
Without presumptions, crossing boundaries deftly.

I wish you luck.
Thank you.