In Myanmar, rental book shops are one such casualty.
A rental book store is a place where people can rent books, much like a library. Unlike conventional libraries, which allow people to borrow books for free, the rental book shop operates more like a private business. People pay a small fee to borrow books, magazines and comics.
Rental book shops played an important role in keeping Myanmar literary traditions popular, giving people access to many authors. Before 2000 there were almost two book rental stores in each ward. They were just like a small university for book lovers.
With the appearance of internet cafes in the early 2000s, the role of the rental shop slowly began to decline. VCD film vendors and recording artists had competition from YouTube, and Myanmar books began to appear on the internet too. Now, anyone with a smart phone can access a PDF version of a Myanmar classic novel or historical book.
As the numbers of renters declined, rental shop revenues suffered too. Today it is very difficult to find rental shops in any Yangon wards, let alone the city’s townships.
Though these rental shops have declined across the country, one such shop remains open today. Its name is “Htin Paw”, which means “famous” in Burmese. The store is located on Aung Thabyay Street in Sanchaung, and opened its doors some 15 years ago. Having updated its appearance over the years, today it looks more like a small library because of its interior decoration and display of books.
Htin Paw has over 20,000 books – both fiction and non-fiction, all available to browse in its small shop.
Pictures of famous writers hang on the library wall, and small stools are available for those wanting to read before they borrow.
Popular and rare books sit side-by-side, along with works by famous Myanmar writers, translated novels and illustrated books. Htin Paw also displays collections of Shwe Thway journals, magazines, short stories and comic books.
The shop’s owners are Dr Htay Aung and his wife, Daw Sandar Win. When they opened in 2004 they started with around 700 books; now it’s a collection of several thousand.
Dr Htay Aung, who is an avid reader, opened the store because of his love of reading.
“Books are my first love. I was very stingy when I started lending books. I had to tell the borrowers to hold them carefully. Some books are even older than the borrowers,” said Dr Htay Aung.
He started by lending out his own books and later, as he gained more knowledge of his customers, gradually added more reader-choice books. From the beginning they had enough items to start a book shop, so after discussing the idea with his wife they opened Htin Paw’s doors to the public.
As times have changed the number of borrowers has declined. The shop only sees around four or five customers per day, so they’ve had to change their lending policies to make ends meet. Whereas they previously lent book for a day at a time, now they have extended the lending period for up to a week – sometimes giving people a one-day grace period.
Dr Htay Aung said that these kinds of lending periods also allowed for people to travel further distances to borrow books, which can be an issue for those travelling on the city’s congested streets.
After changing his lending policy he saw a rise in the number of book renters. Dr Htay estimates that there are currently around 20 renters per day, not only from Sanchaung but neighbouring suburbs too.
Some customers mentioned cost-savings as a good reason to borrow books from the store.
“In past, I bought books with my pocket money, but I can save money if I borrow books from Htin Paw,” said a fourth-year law student Ma Htet Nandar Aung. She also wanted to read more books, being impressed with the wide range available.
She is a resident of Hlaing Township, and has been visiting the rental shop in Sanchaung for about a year. She first heard about the book store from a famous writer who wrote about it online.
At the shop, I met with customers from a range of different backgrounds. Some renters travelled from Kyeemyindaing and Hmawbi Townships, and those browsing included customer from Alone Township.
Anyone is able to borrow books, but deposits have to be paid as a form of insurance – in case books get lost or damaged. “Despite the deposits”, Dr Htay Aung said, “books still get lost.”
Htin Paw has kept up with the digital revolution, and uses Facebook to advertise its services. They use it to make announcements when new or special books arrive, or if there are any special promotions customers need to know about.
The book rental fee is 10% of the book’s value, and the store also rents out books that cost as little as K 50 for a week.
The bookshop is open daily from 4:30pm to 9:30pm.
Although not the couple’s only business, they both treasure it and have plans to expand.
“Thanks to that shop our social life has improved. I can exchange life opinions with those who come to borrow books. Over time I have become happier as our shop has grown,” said Daw Sandar Win.
Although they would love to expand the business using modern technology, income from renting books will never make them super rich, they both told Metro.
“I want to share in my love of books and knowledge with other people. Although this work doesn’t make us a lot of money, it does create such joy,” Dr Htay said.
For those who find it hard to buy rare and interesting books, book lovers of all types will find their tonic in the Htin Paw book rental store.
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