Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Dawama staff on no-pay leave

A story in The Malaysian Insider says, “Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) printer, Dawama Sdn Bhd, has asked all 400 staff to take no-pay leave starting tomorrow due to financial difficulties.

It is understood that Dawama blames its ongoing school textbooks dispute with DBP, an agency under the Education Minister, for its predicament.”

Ramadan has just started, and Dawama wants its staff to take leave without pay? That's evil.

Dawama Workers Association president, Zainal Awit, is surprised to hear of the printer’s financial woes as the company was supposed to make a profit of up to RM60 million every year. He is quoted: “Dawama prints and distributes textbooks, books and magazines, where it’s not supposed to make a loss. But we understand that it... cannot even buy paper (now).”

DBP signed a 12-year contract with Dawama in 2002 to print and distribute its books, magazines and journals.

In a meeting with a former Director General of DBP (and some board members) a few year ago, I was asked if Silverfish would be willing to carry their titles. I said, we’d be ecstatic, but we couldn’t find any. Who were their distributors? Subsequently, we had a visit from a gentleman who said he was from Dawama, who promised to send us some catalogues. We never heard from him again.

It is not surprising that DBP is mad at Dawama. How many bookshops are there in Klang Valley that carry DBP books (besides the dictionary)? After taking the trouble to publish the books, one would think, DBP would expect to see them out in the market (for whatever it’s worth). Silverfish Books, for one, would be interested in the DBP backlist.

The problem is the lucrative school textbook largesse worth millions, which the rest of us minions are shut out from. Why would any printer, bestowed with such a bountiful concession even bother with any of the (slow moving) other titles, or even turn up for work?

Now, the workers are appealing to the Deputy Prime Minister to help solve the issue. How Malaysian can you get?

Latest -- 4 Aug 2011: According to The Malaysian Insider: "Dawama workers no-pay leave letters have been rescinded and they remain employees, said Human Resource Minister Datuk Dr S.Subramaniam today."

A bookless library

It is a day I have dreaded, and it is here. “At Drexel University's new Library Learning Terrace, which opened just last month, there is nary a bound volume, just rows of computers and plenty of seating, offering access to the Philadelphia University's 170 million electronic items.”

I have not dreaded it because I am a luddite or I am anti-technology. Far from it. Anyone who knows me knows how I embrace the latest in gadgetry. The problem is with technology in the hands of people who have no idea of its limitations who are simply overwhelmed by the slick and shine. (I appreciate what an iPhone does and hugely admire its engineering and design -- my son has it, but I do not own one because I have no use for it.)

I am not mushy and sentimental about the smell of books and its tactile qualities. Those can be easily replaced with an odourant spray. I object to the devaluation of the serendipitous nature of knowledge and the glorious moment when it reveals itself to you from the most unlikely places; from books.

How does one use Google, for instance. Google is a great tool to look for stuff if you know what you are looking for. Same with Amazon. Knowledge and wisdom are far more omnipresent and subtle. We (or, at least, I) absorb through a process almost akin to osmosis -- from the surroundings, from books; in moments of lucidity and semi-consciousness.

I will not be surprised if one of the local universities decide to embark on a similar project. It would look cool, certainly and, besides, the largest roti canai in the world has already been made and eaten. I suppose, one could seek solace in the fact that, at least,  they will no longer be throwing out precious hundred-year-old collections because no one is checking them out as frequently as Da Vinci Code (a major literary canon, no doubt). But then, there is always the delete key.

Qin Shih Huang, roll over in your grave and eat your heart out. Here comes a new generation of book burners.


New independent bookshop in London

It used to be that only the opening of yet another humungous mega book store was news worthy. Maclehose Press reports: “Wonderful news for all devotees of translated fiction: independent publisher Gallic Books is to open a new bookshop on Ebury Street, SW1, that will specialise in translated fiction and stocking the books of fellow independent publishers.”

In its press release, Belgravia Books (address:51 Ebury Street, London SW1) aims to be a local bookshop with “home and workplace delivery, an interactive website, free teas and coffees and a vigorous events programme with reading groups and involvement with schools a key focus. They also aim to hold book launches, discussions, children’s readings, workshops and author signing evenings. Ironically, one of the opening discussions will be entitled ‘The Death of the Bookshop’.”

They do have a sense of humour. (The promised, interactive website is not online, yet.) Publisher Gallic Books specialises in translations of the best French works into English.

Jane Aitken, Founder and MD of Gallic Books says, "We are so excited to be realising our long-held dream of opening a bookshop. We want Belgravia Books to become an integral and active part of the local community, and the Big Green Bookshop, itself a model of local bookselling, has been more than generous in sharing ideas with us. We also have the benefit of the combined skill and expertise of Operations Director, Alison Savage and Head of Sales, Guy Ramage, both former Borders managers, to help guide our way. Alison Savage, will take on the role of Belgravia Books Manager."

The next time I am in London, I know who I’ll be visiting.