Friday, November 28, 2008

Best is less

The Singapore National Library (NLB) is a great institution. Over the years, it has grown from strength to strength. Its decision to site its branches in busy shopping malls was an inspired move that has brought its books literally closer to a wider reading public. There is much to say for this institution, which services remain free of charge.

But I was choked when I read its READ! Singapore 2009 campaign. It isn't a new idea, but its still a great campaign, except when it asks the public to "recommend their favourite inspirational books to be promoted for nation-wide reading during READ! Singapore 2009" ( It then goes on to stipulate that the recommendation must be an international bestseller or an award-winning title which length is "between 50,000 to 75,000 words (less than 380 pages), and should reflect the theme of READ! Singapore 2009".

To start off with, these conditions do not exactly inspire. If the NLB wants international bestsellers, it can just go up the already published popularity/recommenation list from publishers, book reviews, etc, which are readily available. Why get recommendations from readers? These bestseller lists are a result of public 'voting' through their purchases. If it is an award-winning book, well, there aren't that many awards anyway (if there were, the awards become dubious). With only a handful, what's there to exclude? My point is, what is the point of recommending what has essentially been recommended? Isn't it a waste of time? Further, the restrictive conditions prevent people from recommending a book they have read and were genuinely inspired by notwithstanding that it is not an international bestseller or award-winning book. These are called gems which are not easily found and may have missed the popularity stakes. Not all bestsellers are, after all, inspiring. Some of them are 'engineered' to be bestsellers for wholly commercial reasons.

I think, in this instance, the NLB has mis-directed the public, which is a shame.

Image: Author: Clara Natoli

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