The little library that could

The house was renovated to maximise natural light and air flow. (Photos by Low Yen Yeing/EdgeProp.my)

The library is designed with tiered floors and shelves because children naturally want to play and explore their environment. The shelves were made by the local residents out of materials salvaged from parts of the building which were renovated.

Lee: We picked the giraffe because it is far-sighted, thanks to its long neck.

Vietnamese coffee, waffles and glutinous rice dumplings from Melaka are some of the cafe’s eclectic offerings.

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BLINK and you may just miss the Little Giraffe Book Club. This charming pink and green building bears a striking resemblance to its wood and concrete neighbours, save for a rustic set of swings outside, a 20ft tall giraffe made of steel bars and a steady stream of children and parents who flock through the door.

The communal building is tucked in Batu 11 New Village, a collection of 204 houses in the hinterlands of Cheras, Selangor.

What’s the story behind its namesake? “We wanted to name the place after an animal, because children like animals. We picked the giraffe because it is far-sighted, thanks to its long neck,” says curator Lee Soon Yong with a smile.

The club — which currently houses a children’s library on the left, the Rojak Wan cafe on the right, and an ad-hoc office space somewhere in between — traces its origins to an arts festival around 10 years ago.

The library was set up as part of the festival, housed in a 20ft shipping container a few streets away from its current home, says Lee. It was kept open as the community saw value in education.

It was primarily operated by kindergarten teachers who opened the library when they came to work. This arrangement proved unsuitable for the local population as it limited their access to the library to only weekdays within working hours.

To overcome this problem, mothers began to volunteer their time to keep the library open during weekends, while organising regular storytelling sessions and other fun activities to educate and entertain the children.

The library’s role eventually outgrew its modest little space. The community searched for its new home and found it in a 1-storey bungalow, which was then rented out to foreign labourers.

Work began in February 2017 to transform the space. Following an initial funding of RM5,000, six months of hard graft from determined architecture students and enthusiastic residents, and a further RM40,000 worth of donations pouring in from well-wishers and the local hardware stores, the new premises began to take shape.

Lee describes the aesthetic of the venue as “adaptive” — in that they had to adapt their designs to whatever materials were available given their shoestring budget.

“We worked mostly with whatever materials that were left over from tearing down the walls. The wall colours were mostly left intact, so we can see what the previous tenants used to live in,” he says.

Meanwhile, the shelves were built by the residents. “We wanted them to get involved, so we designed something simple that even people without experience  in construction or carpentry can do,” he explains.

The library, unlike most, encourages children to play with its tiered wooden floors and shelves. “Children don’t naturally like to sit quietly,” he observes.

Meanwhile, the cafe is the latest addition to the building. It was set up to provide two things — a place for parents to wait for their children, and an income stream to sustain the club. The club is now self-sustaining financially. Lee and his fellow “gakilang” — meaning “own people” in the village’s predominate Hokkien dialect — are seeking to relocate their office space to a new building in the area. But for now, the Little Giraffe Book Club is steadily marching along.

Little Giraffe Book Club:
114, Jalan 15, Batu 11 Cheras, Selangor
Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 1pm to 10pm
Contact: (012) 632 2955/www.facebook.com/littlegiraffebookclub

This story first appeared in EdgeProp.my live! magazine. Download a FREE copy of live! magazine here.