With no books but a ‘social agenda’, Penang’s Digital Library redefines how libraries work

Architect Bee Eu Tan poses with a model replica of the newly-opened Penang Digital Library in George Town February 18, 2019. — Pictures by Sayuti Zainudin
Architect Bee Eu Tan poses with a model replica of the newly-opened Penang Digital Library in George Town February 18, 2019. — Pictures by Sayuti Zainudin

GEORGE TOWN, Feb 19 ― Imagine a library, airy and bright with sunlight streaming in every corner with plenty of space for reading, studying and work meetings, but without any physical books.

This may sound bizarre, but this is the concept of the newly-opened second phase of the Penang Digital Library, which is aiming to challenge conventional norms and redefine the ways libraries are designed.

The RM10.8 million new library is devoid of physical books so instead of rows of bookshelves, the new space was designed for reading, studying and work meetings in a conducive and somewhat posh surroundings.

Principal architect behind the project, Tan Bee Eu, said they focused on a social agenda in the building design.

“We want a space for the community to come together, a space for families with young children and youths,” she said in an interview with Malay Mail yesterday.

The first phase of the Penang Digital Library, on a double storey mansion that was previously a teacher’s quarters next to Penang Free School, was mostly crowded with youths who used it as a study space.

The small space could fit at most 80 people and due to its popularity, the former Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng mooted the idea of building a second phase, using another mansion just across from phase one.

The Penang Digital Library in George Town February 18, 2019.
The Penang Digital Library in George Town February 18, 2019.

Tan said the second mansion was in a dilapidated condition but they did not want to demolish it and build anew.

Instead, the Anglo-Indian style mansion was restored and repurposed in which its timber floors were removed and strengthened to accommodate more people on the first storey.

Next to it, an annexe, in the shape of a stack of two books fanning out over a lawn, was built to create more reading space, meeting rooms and event halls.

Combined, the spaces in the buildings could accommodate up to 540 people at a time.

What was unique about the project was the concept of a “library in a park” as the original rainforest trees around the grounds were kept so as to cast a cool shade over a lawn fronting the library.

“I want a connection to nature so that the library has this whole natural feel to it from the lawn, the trees and the pocket parks,” she said.

The concepts of the two building were designed to allow as much natural light as possible, she added.

She said they studied the natural path of the sunlight so that when they built the annexe, it will not face direct sunlight and yet be infused with indirect sunlight.

The new space is designed for reading, studying and work meetings in a conducive and somewhat posh surroundings.
The new space is designed for reading, studying and work meetings in a conducive and somewhat posh surroundings.

There were floor-to-ceiling windows and glass frontage in the annexe so those inside can have a clear view of the lawn in front and the trees around the grounds.

Tan said the annexe ground floor consisted of a children’s room so families with young children can use it.

“They can also allow their young children to run around the lawn and the playground by the side,” she said.

On the first floor, there are several types of reading spaces, from the more private cubicles to the relaxing bay window seats to cubes for small groups to sit together.

There were three meeting rooms available for rent and a function hall for events at the annexe.

Over at the refurbished mansion, while the concept of airy bright spaces remained the main feature, seating arrangements were slightly different.

There is a posh sitting room of comfortable couches for people to relax in while they read and in the room next to it, rows of long tables with tiny moss gardens and terrariums provided conducive work spaces.

Similarly, the first storey of the mansion provided ample work and reading spaces in the form of booths, cubicles and high tables.

“We provide a range of different reading experiences, in booths, on sofas, cubicles, at the high tables and the bay windows to suit every need so users can read or work at ease,” Tan said.

The former servants quarters of the mansion were removed and turned into Wisdom Street, an open outdoor space adjacent to a cafe by Love a Loaf.

Those craving a bite in between studying or working, will get a different dining experience in the Cabin in The Park by Love a Loaf.

The digital library provides ample work and reading spaces in the form of booths, cubicles and high tables.
The digital library provides ample work and reading spaces in the form of booths, cubicles and high tables.

The small space is fronted by glass on all sides and it overlooked the natural retention pond to prevent excess rainwater runoff.

She said they also have a rainwater harvest tank to collect rainwater and use it to water the trees and grass in the grounds.

The second phase of Penang Digital Library covers about 16,000 sq ft. It is open daily from 8am to 10pm.

Visitors who wishes to access the e-library at the digital library can register as a member for RM60 per annum for normal users and RM30 per annum for students.

Related Articles