'My kids were in your library before me. I was really interested.'
July 5, 2013 5:02 AM   Subscribe

Burma's Lucky Bibliophile
When the Ministry of Information’s director general visited Ye Htet Oo’s library in 2010, it could have been disastrous. Ye Htet Oo, then a recent college graduate, was running his new library in downtown Rangoon on the sly, without approval from the former military regime, and was told he could face three months in jail for every book he lent without permission from the censorship board. Unable to get a library license from the government, which saw libraries as a way to spread subversive ideas, he fronted his operation as a bookshop but kept a collection of unapproved library books hidden in a back room. Then one day, unknown to the young bibliophile, the ministry’s director general—who has since become the deputy minister of information and President Thein Sein’s spokesman—entered the “bookshop” and walked straight into the secret room.

The Secret Booklender
"If you ask me if I'm a rebel I would say, 'no,'" he said. "I consider myself an innovative educator."
Burmese Librarians Discuss Country’s Appetite for Education, Changes Underway
posted by the man of twists and turns (14 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Tiny libraries!
Have you seen the book corners near the train stations? They’re supported by the Ministry of Information, because in Myanmar [Burma] you don’t have train schedules, you just have to wait, so the idea is to promote reading while you’re waiting. The books are free.
Great story. Thanks, TMOTT!
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:16 AM on July 5, 2013

Have you seen the book corners near the train stations?

We have one of those in my leafy suburb. Commuter fodder, very varied selection. Surprised more places don't do it.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:04 AM on July 5, 2013

As a book lover, this is so heart warming and inspiring. Thanks for the story.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 6:04 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Good timing. I've just returned from a library assessment visit to Yangon. Tharapar is very good, but not indicative of libraries overall.
posted by wingless_angel at 6:15 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a fascinating story, but one passage really stood out for me:

Q: Are certain Western authors really popular here?
A: Among Burmese students who study internationally, Agatha Christie is a favorite. They also like the Twilight series and teen magazines. Students from government schools, like myself, often prefer older books like Sherlock Holmes.

What a great case-study of reader reception that would make: after Reading Lolita in Tehran, how about Reading Twilight in Rangoon?
posted by verstegan at 6:57 AM on July 5, 2013

Ladies and gentlemen; this is image management and PR for Burma! YAY PR! It's no wonder it's heart warming and contains a note of "see how nice the government can be"
posted by NiteMayr at 8:12 AM on July 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Well, in all fairness, apparently the censorship board has been dismantled.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:20 AM on July 5, 2013

I don't think the censorship has been dismantled ... but, hey, we can admire a good thing for itself .. Even if the new Myanmar govt wants to use it as PR cant we?
posted by TheLittlePrince at 9:29 AM on July 5, 2013

Regarding censorship dismantled. what I should be saying is ... it has been modified, reduced ... dismantled is not the right word there.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 9:30 AM on July 5, 2013

The still nascent transition in Myanmar has emerged as one of the most promising efforts at democratization in the world today. After more than half a century of brutal, debilitating military rule, the country is in the process of a calculated top-down course reversal, which has unleashed a bottom-up awakening of political, economic, and civil society activity.

Notwithstanding the progress to date, from now until the next general election in 2015 the country’s reform leaders – including former general turned President Thein Sein, parliamentarian and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, and speaker of parliament’s lower house Thura Shwe Mann – will face a range of challenges that will test their capacity and threaten the durability of the transition. Among the most urgent priorities are resolving ethnic and sectarian conflicts within Myanmar’s diverse society, creating jobs for the vast majority of the population who live in poverty, continuing to transform the role of the military, tackling corruption, and establishing the rule of law.

10 steps Myanmar must take
posted by dhartung at 12:15 PM on July 5, 2013

Cuba also has a problem with those troublesome private librarians.

Friends of Cuban Libraries.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 1:10 PM on July 5, 2013

The article said the censorship board has been dismantled.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:06 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ladies and gentlemen; this is image management and PR for Burma! YAY PR! It's no wonder it's heart warming and contains a note of "see how nice the government can be"

While I agree that the article could stand to be more critical of a problematic government and could have provided more context for readers who may swallow the tale whole-heartedly, I also think that the overall point--that libraries, and more importantly the free information that libraries work to provide, are gaining ground in Myanmar and it's in no small part thanks to the guy profiled in this article--is well worth promoting. The more international PR this guy gets, the more difficult it becomes for the government to shut him down.
posted by librarylis at 8:15 PM on July 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

As of July 8, Avast is throwing a malware warning for the main link and Firefox is refusing to load it ("connection was reset"). Is there a cached version of the article available?
posted by Lexica at 4:29 PM on July 8, 2013

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