6 June 2024

Have you read more or less during the pandemic? More and more people have been getting back into reading as a way to unwind and relax during these tough times. And Kwachuen Bangkombang says reading has become a much-needed escape for her family as they are forced to stay at home. 

“Reading stories like fantasy and e-cartoon books could keep my daughter’s pandemic stress away,” she says.

She adds the pandemic has impacted her personal reading habits too. 

“With more time at home, I’m probably reading more. I would say that my daughter and I and others I know are reading a bit more than we have in the past. Personally, I think reading is probably one of the best hobbies. It keeps your mind sharp, which is very nice. Reading is fun, cheap, and good for you,” says Kwachuen, editor of Combang Publishing, which is owned by her family. 

The publishing firm has put out some must-read novels like Jod Mai Theung Duang Dao (literally Letter to a Star) and Banthuek Jak Look Phuchai (literally Men’s Notes) penned by the 2014 national artist in literature Chamaiporn Bangkombang, who is also Kwachuen’s mom. 

A recent survey carried out by the National Statistics Office and Thailand Knowledge Park (TK Park) revealed that Thais spend around 80 minutes per day reading, mostly electronically, online media that include e-books, e-magazines, articles from online platforms and websites. So, let’s put aside the long-held idea that Thais read just eight lines per year.

Library e-book lending surged during the lockdown 

TK Park Bangkok had been closed for months because of the lockdowns but during the long days indoors, the knowledge center found that patrons turned to it for personal growth and development, with a surge in the lending of e-books and self-help books as well as workplace skills and investment books.

The center reported that Jang Hai Koh Mai Kod (literally Never Get Angry) and 61 Kamtham Scan Nisai (literally 61 Questions to Find Out Your Habits and Personality) were among the most requested e-books from TK Park Online Library. While The Midnight Library, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos and One of Us Is Lying were among the popular e-books borrowed from the Libby By Overdrive app.

TK Park Online Library has more than 16,000 e-books, magazines, and audiobooks, all in Thai from leading printing houses, while the Libby By Overdrive app offers more than 5,000 English books and online courses.

“Many people want to be better persons and improve themselves during this time. Some have made the most of their time to learn new skills or even stretch them in order to remain competitive at work,” says TK Park director general Kittiratana Pitipanich.

Since March 2020, the knowledge center has seen a 100% increase in people borrowing its e-books, e-magazines, and audiobooks. 

“We think this trend does not seem to be slowing,” he adds.

From January to September, over 290,000 items were borrowed from TK Public Online Library, with 92% being attributed to e-books, 4% to e-magazines, and 3% to audiobooks. While digital loans of over 17,000 items were made from the Libby by Overdrive app, of which 80% were e-books and 19% audiobooks. 

Library membership has also soared, with more than 26,000 people signing up for online membership cards to use TK Public Online Library’s digital services during the past nine months. Now, the online library has about 300,000 members.

More than just a library 

With most patrons turning to the digital world, people are concerned that TK Park may not use physical space anymore. But the center’s director-general has given assurances that the center aims to have a balanced blend of traditional face-to-face and virtual library services to create a unique learning experience. 

“Of course, we really do focus on on-site services because we are more than just a library,” Kittiratana says.

The center has improved its physical space, which is located on the 8th floor of Central World on Ratchadamri Road to include public health and social protection measures.

After a month-long makeover, TK Park has reopened its doors with a new look to meet the ‘new normal’. Conceptualized by Journey to the Next Chapter, the knowledge center is now blessed with five well-designed zones: a check-in station or the so-called a “Start Your Journey” point; a smart library; a toy library; a reading space; as well as a book wall and TK café.

To use the knowledge center, patrons are required to download the ‘My TK’ app with a QR code and scan the code before entering the premises. Patrons interact with the library by moving from the front desk into the library space and to the self-service equipment without staff being nearby, Kittiratana explains. 

“By letting patrons handle the lending and returns process by themselves, it reduces physical contact,” he says.

The toy library is one of the center’s highlights. It offers a wide range of toys made of natural materials designed by PlanToys, to make them safe for kids.

“We also have books which go with the toys. Books and toys come on the same theme, so kids enjoy them more,” he adds. 

Committed to creating a lifelong learning ecosystem

TK Park is committed to serving people from all walks of life. In addition to young patrons, the center has also worked to power lifelong learning and workforce development by offering tools for employees and non-traditional learners in local communities. This has enabled them to advance their knowledge and open doors to new employment opportunities and career progress. 

“Learning is not confined to classrooms and textbooks. Our center can serve as the vehicle of lifelong learning in today’s global society. We have tools and arrange creative activities for employees and learners who want to acquire knowledge and improve workplace skills,” Kittiratana says. 

According to him, TK Park now has a network of 29 knowledge centers in 22 provinces nationwide. The center has also worked hand in hand with over 300 learning centers in local communities and other organizations as well as supported learning tools for centers in need. 

“In my view, a collaboration between the state agencies overseeing education and learning and knowledge centers is key to support lifelong learning. It means we can share knowledge, tools, and resources and we can even work together on a common project. By doing this, we work faster and more smartly, and ultimately save money and time,” Kittiratana says, urging local centers to adapt themselves to provide digital services.

Reading is a wonderful hobby 

As most people are turning online reading, the reading process itself shifts. Kwachuen points out that we don’t read the same way online as we do on paper. 

People tend to skim what they read online, she says.

On screen, they tend to browse and scan to look for keywords and read more selectively. On the page, they tend to focus more on following the text, she notes, referring to a research study.

In recent years, studies have been carried out to compare the advantages and disadvantages of paper reading and digital reading.

The shift from paper to online reading may affect reading speed and how people analyze and evaluate a text, a study finds.

Many readers feel more emotionally attached to physical books. But Kwachuan believes that they, herself included, prefer physical books to e-books because they provide a deeper reflection for reading and comprehension.

“The physical presence of a book whether it’s the heft, the feel, the weight and the order of its pages – has more than just sentimental value. Books also make me feel nostalgic for the past,” she says.

Either on screen or on the page, reading is an incredibly inexpensive hobby that provides so many benefits, she says. It gives knowledge and entertains us as well. The local library has thousands of books that people can borrow for free. On top of that, the act of reading improves people’s ability to absorb and comprehend written information. Reading also improves our cultural literacy, making it easier to find shared points with others. 

“Book are great companions. They can give us a little hope in a dark time. They also help us get through obstacles and inspire us to come out stronger. They nourish our souls.

“A book makes a perfect gift, especially for children. It encourages a life-long love of reading. It’s truly a gift for life.” Kwachuen says.

 By Veena Thoopkrajae with additional report by Sukhumaporn Laiyok

PHOTO COURTESY OF TK PARK