A few months ago, I received an email informing me about an award called the Book Award 2020 organised by the National Library of Malaysia. Within the text of the email was an invitation to submit a publication of my choice to be considered for the award. I thought it was a hoax and wrote back to ask if this was really true. Lo and behold, it was! So began the process of submitting The Age of Smiling Secrets for consideration by the experts. I was very grateful for the support from family, friends, the readers of this webiste and also subscribers to my newsletter. As it stands, my novel, The Age of Smiling Secrets, is now on the shortlist (2 categories) for this award. Unfortunately, like many other events this year, the ceremony to announce the winners of these awards has had to be postponed several times because of the pandemic. Instead of wallowing in this malaise of sorts, I decided to take the opportunity to get to know those behind this award. I wrote to the National Library with a request to interview its Director-General. I am mighty pleased that the Director-General consented to this request. Without further ado, I have much pleasure in introducing you to Maizan Ismail.


Aneeta: Let’s start with something about you. Where were you born? Where did you grow up? Where do you live now and what do you do for a living?

Maizan: I was born and grew up in Klang, Selangor then later furthered my studies at UiTM. I started my career as a Librarian in 1986 and was appointed as Director-General of the National Library of Malaysia on 17 June 2019

Aneeta: Before we talk about the Anugerah Buku 2020, I would like to ask about the National Library of Malaysia (NLM). Can you tell me about the history of this library?

Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

Maizan: The NLM is a Federal Department under the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Malaysia (MOTAC) and was established under the National Library Act 1972 (Act 80). The functions and objectives of NLM as stipulated in Part II, Section 3 National Library Act 1972 (Act 80) are as below:

  • To ensure the availability of a national collection of library resources for the use of present and future generation
  • To facilitate nationwide access to library resources available within the country and abroad
  • To provide leadership on matters pertaining to libraries

The NLM was housed in various locations in Kuala Lumpur until 1992 when it found a permanent home in an iconic building at Jalan Tun Razak, Kuala Lumpur.

Aneeta: In this digital age, do you think that a physical library is at all necessary? Let me explain by giving you an example. There was a time when we had to refer to actual books or dictionaries to do research. Today, the first thing everyone does is to whip out their smartphones and ask Google. So, my question is this: is the physical library still useful when Google has become the ‘go-to’ library? If your answer is yes, why?

Maizan: It is undeniable that seeking information in our society is “Google-based”. We have this kind of mindset nowadays of “asking Google” and “Google will give you the answer”. Yes, this is true most of the time. However, can we be sure that the search results are quality information/data? Google can give us millions of results from public web pages in seconds, but it cannot guarantee that the information provided is the correct or accurate. The results by Google are often based on the popularity of previous searches.

This is where the library plays a role in ensuring that the data provided is authentic. At the NLM, we ensure that we stay relevant to our users. Since 2011, we offer digital library services u-Pustaka (ubiquitous library), to cater to the needs of our users and also to attract new users especially the millennials to use the services offered from our portal at https://www.u-pustaka.gov.my. Via this portal, users can borrow books from 12 consortium libraries from all over the country and we will send the books to their doorstep.

Other than this, we also offer digital reading materials. Currently, our digital collections number 13.2 million and encompass electronic books, journals, magazines, newspapers, e-learning materials for students and many more. It is open and free to all Malaysian.

The truth is libraries will remain relevant now and beyond because libraries are almost like a curation system where you can find everything under one roof. It is true we will not be able to replace the speediness of the internet, but libraries will always able to provide in-depth information to our users from our vast resources. Libraries, therefore, are still relevant and the internet complements our services.

The physical library is also a place of wisdom for those who appreciate the value of knowledge.  Libraries provide physical spaces and a conducive environment for its users. Information in physical libraries store information from hundreds or thousands of years ago. Referring to them allows us to learn about the past, like our rare collections and Malay manuscripts. It is the centre of the nation’s civilisation.  Without libraries, what do we have? We have no past, no present and no future. Digital library does not have to compete with physical libraries. They complement each other to provide effective information services.

The Age of Smiling Secrets is shortlisted (2 categories) for the Book Award 2020 organised by the National Library of Malaysia.


Aneeta: Let’s talk about the Anugerah Buku 2020. What is it about? Why is the library organising it and what do you hope to achieve with this award?

Maizan: The rationale in organising the NLM 2020 Book Award 2020 is to appreciate industry players comprising of writers, publishers, readers and associations for their contribution towards book industry development in Malaysia. NLM is an agency that supports the book industry in the country in order to uphold the knowledge and culture of reading in Malaysia. NLM Book Award 2020 is the best platform to place quality books in the list of local publications. The NLM Book Award 2020 will be given to publishers who have submitted materials under the Deposit of Library Materials Act 1986 (Act 331). Awards will be given to several categories namely Children Award, Adult Award and Special Readers’ Choice Award that includes Malay Language, English, Chinese and Tamil.

The objectives of organising this programme are:

  • To encourage the publishers to deposit all their publication to the National Library of Malaysia under the Deposit of Library Materials Act 1986 (Act 331) as a national heritage treasure;
  • To support the National Creative Industry initiative in line with the recognition of Kuala Lumpur as the 2020 World Book Capital;
  • To appreciate and recognise writers and publishers in Malaysia as well as to elevate Malaysia’s best work to the International level;
  • To inculcate the culture of reading among Malaysians in line with the movements of the National Reading Decade;
  • To support knowledge tourism through PNM Book Award Exhibition.

NLM Book Award 2020 is expected to have a big impact on the book industry in Malaysia. This award will be a catalyst to support the National Creative Industry initiative in line with the recognition of Kuala Lumpur as the World Book Capital 2020. This award also will be the platform to appreciate and recognise writers and publishers in Malaysia as well as to elevate Malaysia’s best works to the international level.

Aneeta: As you know, this website caters to storytellers. What advice would you give to those who would like to venture into storytelling?

Maizan: NLM plays a role to promote and inculcate reading awareness and reading culture among Malaysians through various reading promotion programmes such as workshops, competitions and literacy programmes.

For instance, earlier this year, NLM has participated in the storytelling programme called ‘Read Me A Book: ASEAN-ROK is Reading’ and this programme was organised by the National Library for Children’s and Young Adults, Republic of Korea. Its aim was to highlight the importance of reading aloud and storytelling activities with children to develop their creativity and language abilities. Malaysia, through NLM, won the competition and defeated 9 other ASEAN countries.

Previously in 2018, NLM held a Storytelling Techniques Workshop to enhance the storytelling skills and aims to produce more creative and innovative storytellers among the librarian and library staff.

NLM has also participated in a training programme organised by the National Library for Children’s and Young Adults, the Republic of Korea which trained librarians and library staff to become a good and effective storyteller. Since then, NLM has produced many good storytellers among librarians and they conduct their own storytelling activities in libraries or schools.

Apart from these, most of our programmes include storytelling activities to cultivate an interest in reading among children because it is undeniable that storytelling activities are a fun activity and can attract children to enjoy reading. Among the programmes are the Read & Relax @PNM, Children’s Literature Festival, Let’s Read Together and others.

Going back to your question about storytelling, my advice is that before venturing into storytelling you need to have a passion for and love reading. You need to read and explore the content of the books especially children’s books to get to know the authors of books and the titles of popular children’s books. In addition, I would also like to suggest that storytellers enhance their knowledge and skills in storytelling by attending various storytelling courses organised by various parties.

In the age of ICT (Information Communication Technology), there are many new methods that storytellers can use to make their storytelling sessions more interesting and creative. As an example, they can use e-book or AR (Alternative Reality) books for the storytelling sessions which make the sessions more lively and capture the attention of the audience.

Aneeta: Puan Maizan, this is all I have to ask. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Maizan: Through the National Reading Decade Movement, the Government has targeted that Malaysia becomes a reading nation by 2030 and Kuala Lumpur has been officially declared as the 20th World Book Capital 2020. Therefore, reading activities need to be enhanced and intensified in order to make reading part of our culture and lifestyle. In this regard, I urge all Malaysians, no matter where you are, not to distance themselves from books and other reading materials because reading will widen your knowledge and make you a wiser person with a great mind. By reading you can explore the world without boundaries.

Aneeta: Thank you, Puan Maizan.


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

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