When Own Your Story started our first ‘Think Tank’ initiative, we believe that every one of us has a voice to shape the future of Malaysia in the topics relevant to all of us.
For this think tank session, our team decided on the theme ‘reading’ since the community started from a book (The Art of Owning Your Story), while we have organised a few book sharing sessions that were well-received in the past.
According to “The Adult and Youth Literacy: National Regional and Global Trends report” published in 2016, out of 85% of Malaysians who read regularly, 77% preferred newspapers, 3% read magazines, 3% read books and 1.6% read comics — should we be worried?
In ‘Community Think Tank: Reading is fun’ event, we invited community members to brainstorm ideas to spread the joy of reading, individually and collectively!
Discussion about the roles of books and reading
1. Reading books as a knowledge/ experience sharing medium.
2. Books as a legacy of a person, a community or other entities.
3. The decline of printed reading materials and the proliferation of electronic media (Kindle, e-books, etc). Convenience and accessibility to books which may not be locally available plays a huge role in the shift from ink and paper to bits and screens.
4. The viability of bookstores in this era (big-chain bookstores such as Borders and MPH as well as independent bookstores like Lit Books).
5. We found that within the participants, 80% of us opt for non-fiction books instead of fiction
How might we encourage reading?
Books and reading materials need to be easily available and seen to generate interest. Bookstores, reading nooks, libraries, and public book clubs are presences which aid in this endeavour. Authors who do book signings and talk about their work on live events also promotes visibility to this initiative.
Having an influential person to encourage reading can go a long way in inculcating an interest in reading. Everyday folk look up to these personages and seek to emulate them for self-improvement. Examples of influential individuals who encourage reading are Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and other millennials influencers with huge followings.
3. Special-interest groups
A more targeted effort would be to have events or gatherings featuring speakers who specialize in certain talents or niches who will ideally encourage their fans/ followers to read their works. Women’s rights activist could introduce their followers to their biography depicting their experiences, a zoologist could probably interest school children in his book about the local fauna and a savvy investor would probably encourage young workers to pick up his book on how to generate passive income.
4. Support from business entities
Discounts/ freebies to encourage reading. Mechanics could be a free curry puff/ a discount on bubble teas for something like a synopsis of a book or a questionnaire filled with the intention for the customer to read certain books to find answers to the questionnaire. Some shops can also sell little excerpts or quotes from books on tiny trinkets such as key chains or bookmarks to spark some interest towards the quoted reading materials.
6. Community effort
Utilising digital platform such as Meetup and Facebook, it is easy to discover like-minded people and organise book club in public spaces such as cafes and parks. Cafes can also curate book collection or mini library to encourage customers to read.
Education institution can cultivate reading habits by promoting creative writing and storytelling among students. When students are driven to tell stories, they will naturally read more to gain more knowledge and improve their skills.
By the end of the session, we have a list of actionable ideas that we can act upon, especially those at the community and individual levels.
Among OYS community, we will continue to design more book sharing or book oriented events to explore different territories such as philosophy, travel and fiction. This session also reminded us of one of the ‘what we do’ pillars that we can focus more on — content creations and publication.
Aside from the outcome, we found that most participants enjoyed the process of putting on their thinking hat at different level (government, NGO, institution, private entities, community, individual) and tackle the problem from a different perspective.
At the end of the session, our host Kevin asked a thought-provoking question: what would happen to us, to the world if all physical and digital books vanish one day? What would we miss in a world without books?
We believe that books are an important heritage and asset across all cultures. It is up to every one of us, individually and collectively, do our part to preserve the role of books in our society.
Own Your Story (OYS) is a community-run platform I co-founded that bridges creators and spaces through ‘fun, experiential & explorative’ experiences in urban centres, fostering a conscious community through connection and creation.