Book lovers on a budget can’t go wrong with Kuala Lumpur’s National Library. Boasting free membership and an extensive collection of millions of items, from the frivolous to the serious academic, the building is also an architectural landmark, designed in the shape of an abstracted tengkolok, or traditional Malay headgear.
However, the Malaysian capital is also littered with branch libraries, private literary collections and community libraries that can be accessed by bookish KLites. Choosing our top three was not easy!
L45 Kurau Community Library
Nestled unassumingly amongst other houses on a residential street in Bangsar is a hipster bookworm’s dream.
Reportedly designed by Tetawowe Atelier, with a helping hand by celebrated local architect Ng Seksan, the renovated house makes liberal use of natural light, concrete, and steel mesh for arguably the most stylish location to read in all of KL.
Fittingly, the building also has a small number of equally gorgeous student accommodation available for rent, with full access to the library. The concept is to blur the line between public and private space.
The community library also puts on educational activities for the neighbourhood children during school holidays, including crafts and cooking classes.
The library is open to the public 3 days a week, Thursdays to Saturdays, from 3 pm to 6 pm.
Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas Library (SMNA)
SMNA Library serves the International Institute of Islamic Civilisation & Malay World (ISTAC), which was set up in 1987 by the famed scholar whose name graces the library.
“Professor Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas was the founding director of ISTAC,” explained Professor Datuk Dr Osman bin Bakar, the current Director of ISTAC.
“He also designed the unique architecture of ISTAC, inspired by the Islamic period in Andalusia, Spain,” Professor Datuk Dr Osman added.
The beautiful exterior grounds are matched by the stunning interior of the library, home to a collection of around 178,000 books, publications and manuscripts, including a wide variety of works by major thinkers, covering philosophy, history, theology, literature, and even fine arts.
A true treasure of the library is the display of artefacts, including rare manuscripts, textiles, weapons and ornate art forms, reflecting the rich intellectual and cultural heritage of the Islamic world.
The library is currently only open to students of the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) and independent scholars who have obtained permission to access the collection.
However, plans are afoot to launch a teaching museum within the library that would be open to the public.
Kampung Attap Library & Collective
The cosy Kampung Attap Library occupies one of the top floor spaces of the Zhongshan Building, an arts hub housed in interconnected 1950s shophouses. The breezy atmosphere complements the homey living room feel of the library, where users can choose to work on tables or curl up on the couch with a book or magazine.
Visual artist Au Sow Yee joined forces with two NGOs, Amateur and In Between Cultura, after deciding that they all needed a physical space to anchor their respective activities, which all centred around exploring socio-cultural issues and histories in Malaysia.
The collection of books and publications first came from a now-defunct humanities library run by a Chinese association, including resources covering Chinese literature, arts and philosophy. Over the past two years since the library opened, more publications were sourced from donations, and now books in English and Malay are also available.
“Another major part of the library is the discussions, events and film screenings that we host,” Show Ying Xin, one of the founders, said.
“We get people from different backgrounds, speaking different languages, and even translating for each other, so everyone can join in,” she added.
Kampung Attap Library is open on Friday evenings, 7 pm to 10 pm, and on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 pm to 6 pm.
BONUS: Drop by another of our favourite archives, the Malaysia Design Archive, in the same building as the Kampung Attap Library. Be wowed by their collection of visual materials from Malaysia’s graphic design history, such as old postcards and government posters from the Merdeka period.