Bangkok’s art-focused library with an eye to the future

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An art-focused library was recently built in Bangkok with an eye to the future. Contemporary art activist Narawan Pathomwat is not only an avid reader. She has gradually collected thousands of books –mostly on art, which is her favourite subject, and also on other subjects.

One day back in 2009, she decided it was time to give the books in her possession a new lease on life instead of letting them lay idly on her bookshelves without anyone else reading them.

That was the start of the “Reading Room”, or actually a public library where not only are books available, but which has also become a rendezvous for lively discussions, a theatre for experimental films and a workshop.

A graduate in art history from New York, Narawan was formerly deeply involved in Thai contemporary art in her capacity as a researcher for well-known art organisation called the Asia Art Archive. She had learned during her research job the appalling fact that information on Thai contemporary art was as scarce as water in the desert.

Books on Thai contemporary art have become the highlight of the “Reading Room” but she welcomes also books on other subjects.

“The essence of a book is not whether it has wrinkles or not, is beautiful or not. It’s the information and knowledge inside the book. If we don’t share them and keep them to ourselves without reading them, it’s useless to buy them,” Narawan said.

She added that if we want a book to be useful, we must share it with other people, and that’s an easy and basic answer.

The “Reading Room” is located in a low-rise commercial building on Bangkok’s Silom Road, in trendy Soi 19 near the Galleria.

With art, photography, fashion and food neighbours, it has become a small community busy with lots of activities, or a community she believes is another medium for sharing and broadcasting knowledge.

Narawan strongly believes in “sharing”—no matter what it is to be shared or how small a space one wants to share– as long as the share is devoted and takes persistent responsibility. Otherwise, it won’t survive. She wants to give library a new meaning and wants people entering her space to feel it is unlike other general libraries.

Narawan said she would rather not compare the “Reading Room” with other libraries but insists that she merely chooses what is interesting and suitable for the present time.