KOTA KINABALU, April 9 — A week after the new Sabah state library opened in Tanjung Aru and earned admiration for its modern concept and new additions, it is on social media again, but for very different reasons.
Arguably the most impressive feature of the new library is the children’s section, with its marine-themed décor, custom-built shelves, storytelling area, swings and netting ropes for resting, all complete with bean bags and pillows.
According to the library, however, it was closing the section as of today due to vandalism including children drawing on the walls and sound absorption panels as well as damaging shelves.
Library director Wong Vui Yin expressed hurt and dismay over the vandalism, describing it as most disrespectful and the result of inconsiderate parents.
“I was notified by my staff on Sunday afternoon that the children’s area was damaged. There were drawings everywhere, the books were lying on the ground being stepped on, the toilet seat was broken and the trash bins as well,” said Wong.
Photos of crayon drawings on the walls and other graffiti on the white shelves have been circulating on Facebook.
Social media users criticised adults who did not supervise their children, talked on their cell phones, ate in the reading areas as children ran around screaming, tearing out pages in books, and pretended not to notice as children drew on walls.
“This is the result of the lack of civic mindedness of parents. They don’t know how to look after public property.
“It makes me so sad to see such damage after all the work we put into making this library what it is,” Wong told Malay Mail.
He said some of the wall drawings were obviously made by older children.
“We are a service department so we are taught not to argue with customers even if we are in the right.”
The staff approached some parents and children to admonish them for running around or messing things up, but instead of cooperating, parents would retaliate at the library workers.
Some have said it was the library’s fault for not having enough staff on site while others accused it of inviting the vandalism by providing crayons and coloured pens.
“We do not have crayons. We only have chalk, that’s because we have a big green board where people can draw and doodle as much as they want,” he said.
The library will instate several measures following the incident, such as more staff on duty, tighter security and limiting the number of people in the children’s section.
“We are still assessing but when we open, likely on Thursday, we will check bags to ensure there is no one carrying in crayons or colouring pens or watercolours.
“We will also limit the number of children who get to go into the children’s area. Those above 12 years’ old who are not accompanying children will not be allowed in,” said Wong.
The next few days will be spent cleaning up and fixing the damage caused as well as devising the new rules.
“I want to make sure we clean every trace of the graffiti. I don’t want any of them to feel any satisfaction of having their work still visible,” said Wong.
He said there was one positive to come out of the incident and that was an outpour of support from non-working mothers and others who were concerned and have volunteered their time to help with the library needs.
“They were sad that we had to close down the section today so they asked why, and when I explained, they were amazed and said they were willing to spend their time in helping wherever or whatever the library needs.
“So we will open up an online registrar in which volunteers can offer to do storytelling, monitoring children, handicraft or whatever we need,” he said.
The library opened at the new location on April 1 with the fanfare of a 36 hour launch, which included free lifetime membership for those who signed up between 1am and 7am on April 2.
The promotion attracted 1,176 new lifetime members and thousands of other applicants.
“The response from the opening has been tremendous, we had about 7,000 visitors on average during weekdays, and almost 10,000 on the weekend. In my 39 years as a librarian, I have never seen this kind of response. Even 6,000 a day is a lot usually.
“It has been so great and everyone has been giving glowing feedback, so it has been really sad to see some people disrespect and treat the library so badly,” he said.