Sarpay Beikman public library in retrospect

  • By Maung Hlaing

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When I was in my childhood, I noticed that most of my neighbours did not know how to read to gain knowledge. They were completely illiterate. Thanks to my far-seeing parents, I was sent to the monastery where I could pursue education. In those days, we had no newspapers; no radios; and no reading rooms or libraries. As the books published in those days hardly reached our rural areas, we could have access to only religious books kept at the monastery.
Compared to our childhood days, children and youths of today are so lucky that they can have easy access to all kinds of reading materials ranging from ordinary books to e-books on various subjects. Only when I pursued my middle and high school education, I could use the school Library and Information Reading Centre opened by the Ministry of Information at that time. Since then, the great value of libraries has come over to me.
Times elapsed. When I joined the Sarpay Beikman (of Printing and Publishing Corporation) under the Ministry of Information, the Sarpay Beikman Public Library and the Editorial Reference Library became a treasure-house for me.
Objectively, I cannot tell the exact numbers of public libraries all over the country. (The reading rooms, or libraries the Information and Public Relations Department has already established in rural areas may be called ‘public libraries’.)
According to the World Book Encyclopedia (Vol.12, p.216), public libraries range in size from huge city, borough, or county libraries with dozens of branches to small-town libraries that occupy only one room. No matter what their size or where they are located, all public libraries have the same goal–to be of maximum service to their community.
In this way, public libraries aim to serve all members of a community–children, young adults, and people from all walks of life. People use public libraries for schoolwork, for their jobs, and for leisure activities. Whatever it may be, such libraries, therefore, stock a variety of books and other materials and provide services for members of the community.
If we talk about the history of libraries of Myanmar, we cannot skip over the role played by the Sarpay Beikman Public Library. It was a first and foremost public library opened in the post-independence period. No sooner had the Sarpay Beikman (Institute) emerged than the Public Librarry was opened. Actually, the emergence of Sarpay Beikman (Institute) was interwoven with the independence struggles of Myanmar.
It was 7 June in 1947. Bogyoke Aung San, the architect of Myanmar’s independence, addressed the conference on rehabilitation of Myanmar held in the building of Sorrento Villa, which is still on Pyay Road. In his historic speech, Bogyoke Aung San urged the people to translate and publish the books urgently needed for the people and to eatablish a translation department.
After consultaion made among the then Prime Minister U Nu, U Thant (Ex-UN Secretary-General), Professor U Myo Min and U Khin Maung Latt, Burma Translation Socity (BTS) was emerged on 26 August in 1947. In 1948, the BTS was transferred to the historical building of Sorrento Villa. The BTS was renamed as ”Sarpay Beikman”, or ”Palace of Literature” with the motto “Light, where darkness was” (tarSmifcGif;ítvif;aqmiftHh). The motto was created by Myanmar scholar and writer Sayagyi Min Thu Wun.
However, the Sarpay Beikman was known until early 1959 as the Burma Translation Society. The name was changed because the institute’s progammes far-outgrew the original intention of its founders to simply “translate” world knowledge. (Now, the publishing programme is far more than “translation”.) The motto and logo are still used by the Sarpay Beikman Public Library.
According to the records, the Managing Council of Sarpay Beikman established the Sarpay Beikman Public Library on 13 March, 1956 in the Sarpay Beikman Building (at 529-531, Merchant Street in Kyauktada Township, Yangon.) In those days, it was one of the few free public libraries in Myanmar.

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The primary purpose of this library is to make books published by Sarpay Beikman, as well as other educational Myanmar and English books freely available to the public with a view to promoting mass education. It was known that the library, officially opened to the public by period of two years, registered 6,200 borrowers. The Librarian, who acted as secretary of Library Advisory Committee, was in charge of Library Administration under the direction and review of the Director and Chief Executive Manager.
From Tuesday to Saturday, it is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Sundays, from 9:00 a.m. to noon. It was also learnt that the Library attracted from 200 to 450 readers daily. Then, it had nearly 13,000 books, both English and Myanmar. It acquired books and peiordicals through purchase and gift.
An integral part of the Library was a Children’s Branch, situated on the ground floor of the building. Children’s Library programmes were presented every Saturday and included film shows, essay competitions, debates, magic painting, painting competitions, indoor games, story-telling and other activities which many children came to enjoy. At that time, there were 3,000 volumes of children’s books on all subjects, especially picture books, story books and comics.
However, the Children’s Library completely ceased in 1979. (The reason to cease still remains a puzzle to the reading public. In 2001, the then Minister for Information Maj-Gen Kyi Aung gave guidance to me to reopen the Children’s Library when I became the Chief Edior of Sarpay Beikman.)
In the late 1950s, another important aid to the Editorial Department was the Editorial Reference Library which provides both reference and general material for the various divisions. In those days, there were approximately 7,500 books in English, 4,000 books in Myanmar, 4,000 issues of magazines and journals, and twenty-one general and specialized sets of encyclopaedias in English. The Library subscribed to 58 magazines published in English and 20 in Myanmar.
Books for the library were procured from local as well as foreign publishers. In addition, many valuable books have been donated by the USIS Library, the British Council and various foreign embassies. The Editarial Reference Library could be called “Specialized Library” under the management of the Sarpay Beikman Public Library. Unfortunately. it was brought to an end (in early year of 2000) for some reason that no one could disclose. But fortunately, later all of the reading materials of the Editorial Reference Library were taken over by the Sarpay Beikman Public Library.
Today, the Sarpay Beikman Public Library is made up of four sections–Main Reading Room, Reference Room (Library), e-Library and Children’s Library. Since 1956 to date, it has kept a collection of over 60,000 Myanmar books (including rare ones), over 25,000 English books, over 15,000 magazines, 35,000 journals, 850 monthly files of newspapers, 110 C.Ds and 20,000 e-books. It has already organized nearly 2000 members–both special and ordinary members.
I do not mean that it is a well-stocked and modernized library like the National Library. However, I am proud of having such a free library at all dosposal of reading public in the heart of the commercial city of Yangon. Books on various subjects–ranging from encyclopaedias to the latest issue of Guinness World Records 2018— are inviting the people from all walks of life including students, teachers, businessmen, service personnel, scholars and so on.
Please come over to us to satisfy your desire for knowledge or to obtain materials for some kind of leisure-time activity. Our librarians and staff are ready to help anyone who wants assistance in finding information.
Welcome to Sarpay Beikman Public Library!

Ref : -ျမန္မာ့စြယ္စံုက်မ္းႏွစ္ခ်ဳပ္ 2012
– A booklet on Sarpay Beikman Institute, 1958.
(Hailing the 17th. Congress of Southeast Asian Librarians that will be held on 2-5 May 2018.)

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