Bringing Books to the Public

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The building on the right, formerly government offices on what is today's Lebuh Downing, was one of the library's early homes in the 1800s. From The Wade Collection, reprinted from Penang Postcards Collections: 1899-1930s by Khoo Salma Nasution and Malcolm Wade.

The first library in Malaya was built in Penang, but its beginnings were uncertain.

It was 1806 and C. Smith Esquire had a problem in Penang. Someone had borrowed the second part of the second volume of his Encyclopædia Britannica’s supplement and it had long been missing.

While a situation like this may not pose much of a problem today, it was a big deal at the start of the 19th century. Books were scarce to start with, especially in a tiny British colonial settlement in the Straits of Malacca.” Malacca. Any book found in Penang had been personally carried across the sea by its owner or was a long-awaited order that had arrived off cargo ships.


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