There are five classifications of library in Myanmar: national library, public library, university library, specialised library and mobile library. The management of these different types of library is currently undertaken by separate ministries – national library is managed by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture, public library by the Ministry of Information, and university library by the Ministry of Education.
Myanmar has two national libraries: National Library (Naypyidaw) and National Library (Yangon). Non-governmental organisations report that there are 55,755 registered public libraries across the country, however only 10% of these are active. There are 47 university libraries and 100 specialised libraries.
Legal framework for libraries
Libraries in Myanmar are currently administered under the Library, Museum and Exhibition Monitoring Law 1964. This Law covers all types of library.
A National Library Bill has been posted on the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw website and will establish a new separate law for national libraries, if approved. This new Union level law aims to set national standards.
Whilst some Regions and States in Myanmar have approved their own library law, arguably the revocation of the 1964 Law is required to prevent confusion about whilst relevant legal framework applies for each classification of library. In addition to the 1964 Law, the region/state laws for public libraries, and the national library law, there is a lack of provisions related to university libraries in education-related laws such as National Education Law 2015.
Strengths of the Bill
According to the bill, the publisher, producer and distributor are obliged to ascribe Cataloguing in Publication (CIP) to their items. The CIP will be issued by the National Library Supervisory Body (NLSB).
This was not practised in the past so it will bring benefits. If implemented successfully, it will enable libraries to collect and organise books, helping readers find materials they are interested in and smoothing the connection between publishers and book markets.
Moreover, NLSB will assign items with an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and/or an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN), and this will ensure that items are widely known and to maximise their sales potential.
Weaknesses of the Bill
If elements of literature and arts owned by the national library are taken outside without permission, a fine can be imposed of not more than 1 million MMK. It is arguable that this amount is far too low if the item taken is invaluable or rare. On the other hand, the amount appears to be very high for a book lender who accidentally forgets to return a book or periodical. Thus, the level of prescribed fine should be reconsidered.
Also, the Bill says that publishers, producers and distributers must send 5 copies of each item they publish, whether printed or not, to the NLSB. The provision is not voluntary and could be argued is an infringement of the publisher’s right to possess property, however this of course must be balanced by the importance of building up a complete national collection. Setting the number of copies at 5 seems arbitrary and is not based on an assessment of the relative popularity of items with borrowers. It is also concerning that the library will have the power to make copies of items, if they decide they need more. Surely, if the library needs additional copies they should purchase them from publishers, thereby supporting publishers and writers whose business is already at a great disadvantage compared to other countries due to poor copyright law enforcement. It could appear the state is attempting to exempt itself from copyright law, which is problematic.
For failing to meet this requirement to send 5 copies of each item, a fine of 1 million MMK has been set. This is high when compared to the actual value of the items, and could incentivise the government to over-focus on enforcing this part of the law to generate income, rather than focusing on building a constructive relationship with publishers. In addition, it is questionable whether the national library has the staff and resources to receive and process such a large volume of items.
It is notable that in the National Record and Archive Bill, Article 27 allows the National Records and Archive Department to ask for 3 copies for their collection, as they see necessary. These two laws are placing a similar requirement on producers and appear be overlapping. It may come as no surprise that the two Laws will be implemented under different Ministries. Would it not be a more sensible alternative to combine the functions, and resource the National Library to manage the National Archive – i.e. place the management of both the nation’s literary and historical collections under a combined set of regulations?
Finally, the Bill does not say anything about how the National Library is financed. Article 19 of the Bill says the Historical Research and National Library Department will cover the costs of the library service, but it is unknown about whether the NLSB has powers to manage donations and other revenues, nor how they will adequately ensure public access and awareness of the library. After all, when so much reading material is now available online, and when illegal copies of books can be made at low cost on any Yangon street corner, the library service has to be creative in thinking about its role and relevance to citizens.
(1) Is a law in a real necessity?
Given the absence of legal framework for the national library and its importance, a national library law is needed. In the process of designing this legal framework, the role of the 1964 law has to be reconsidered. This law was criticised for strictly restricting libraries and curtailing their independence (for example, Article 9 says library registration and permits can be revoked for opposing government policy and the national interest). Therefore, the National Library Bill should be to revoke the 1964 Law.
(2) Can same-nature law be combined?
If the national library bill can be combined with other laws, there will be fewer and clearer regulations. As the National Record and Archive Bill covers a lot of the same ground as the National Library Bill, the two ought to be combined. When looking at other countries, we find that archives, records and libraries are regulated under a single law.
(3) Is there a clear library policy?
The Bill allows the establishment of National Library branches. On the other hand, the seventh objective of the Myanmar Public Library Master Plan mentions an ambition to draft a public library bill. So, it can be assumed that another library-related law, this time for public libraries, will emerge soon.
Schedules 1 and 2 of the 2008 constitution give legislative power for museums and libraries to both the Central Government and Region/State. Although the fact that the central government is to draw up the public library law is deemed constitutional, it is arguably better to delegate that power to the Region/State.
To fulfil the objectives of the National Library Bill and develop a library culture, the national library can expand its reach and make materials available to more citizens by opening regional branches. But in terms of public libraries (or local libraries), it is more suitable for Region/State to be able to legislate in a way that takes into account the regional differences, needs and diverse written traditions, histories or cultures.
Therefore, it is suggested that public libraries should not be regulated through a national law, but rather left in the purview of regions/states. The national library law could then require the Union government to coordinate with regions/states, to facilitate for example, sharing of facilities and resources.
By Moe Aung
Myanmar Library Survey: A comprehensive study of the country’s public libraries and information needs (2014, January) - https://asiafoundation.org/resources/pdfs/MyanmarLibrarySurvey.pdf
Cataloguing in Publication (CIP) overview - https://www.ifla.org/node/8311
Benefits of International Standard Book Number (ISBN) - https://www.isbn-international.org/content/benefits
Myanmar Public Library Master Plan - https://mbapf.sharepoint.com/sites/Website/Shared%20Documents/Forms/AllItems.aspx?id=%2Fsites%2FWebsite%2FShared%20Documents%2FReports%2FPublic-Library-Master-Plan-English-Language.pdf&parent=%2Fsites%2FWebsite%2FShared%20Documents%2FReports&p=true&originalPath=aHR0cHM6Ly9tYmFwZi5zaGFyZXBvaW50LmNvbS86Yjovcy9XZWJzaXRlL0VlZDRHNXI4bnl4Smt6a2tzR1hmUElBQkE2UG9ZWGVlaWtZczZNRE9xZGlIcmc_cnRpbWU9WUVFX3JpMUcxMGc