By JO TIMBUONGbytz@thestar.com.my
CYBERJAYA: Libraries are usually quiet places where studious scholars can be seen pouring over books but the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (SKMM) wants to make it an even more vibrant centre for knowledge sharing through its virtual library network, called U-Pustaka.
Developed as a solution to include everyone in the digital community, U-Pustaka aims to be more than just a book-lending solution for people who live far away from libraries to have access to books and knowledge.
Indahsah Haji Sidek, its technical advisor, said that when SKMM identified existing libraries nationwide as tools to get Malaysians, especially those living in small towns and rural areas, into the digital age.
"U-Pustaka stands for ubiquitous pustaka (ubiquitous library) where services can be accessed from anywhere and at any time," she told Bytz.
U-Pustaka works like any other library. Members can borrow up to three books for up to a month from any of eight state libraries - the National Library, Intan library in Bukit Kiara, Kuala Lumpur library, and those in Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Sabah, Sarawak and Selangor - by simply putting their orders online at www.u-library.gov.my.
The books will be delivered to them via post and the borrowers can return them by simply placing the books into drop boxes at the participating libraries or by sending them through the post office.
Although the World Wide Web is a deep resource for knowledge, Indahsah said, libraries can still be relevant in this age, especially when they are equipped with U-Pustaka or linked to local Community Broadband Centres (CBCs).
"We want U-Pustaka to be more than just a virtual library; it should also be a place where communities can gather to share their knowledge about various topics.
"The Internet is a great resource for information but you still need to make it attractive for people to use," she said.
Indahsah said U-Pustaka has a huge potential to help communities understand the power of information and communications technology (ICT). It enables such communities to interact with subject matter experts and to participate in discussion forums online.
For example, she said, a library can organise a workshop on any topic - anything from cooking to videogame development - which can then be broadcast to the other libraries or CBCs via a "webinar" (short for web seminar).
"From these workshops, the participants can apply their knowledge to create new products and services, or an app, or even write an e-book.
"This can lead to the development of more local content," she said, adding that this is also a form of e-learning that the community can participate in.
People can also discuss the books that they have read and this "lends a sort of social media interactivity between the libraries and the users," Indahsah said.
U-Pustaka has been identified by the Government's Economic Planning Unit as an effective solution to bridge the "digital divide" because it uses traditional resource centres like libraries to push the digital inclusion initiative.
The digital divide is the gap between the technology haves and have-nots.
U-Pustaka has also won an Apicta (an Asia Pacific ICT Alliance Award) for best e-inclusion and e-community solution, last year.
With more than 180,000 U-Pustaka members, SKMM continues to work on improving the virtual library.