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Penang Public Library, George Town Branch

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Penang Public Library George Town Branch (left) and Children's Library (right)Penang Public Library George Town Branch (left) and Children's Library (right) (14 April, 2009)

The Penang Public Library George Town Branch is located along Scotland Road in George Town, Penang. The library can trace its history to 1817, when a committee was formed to found a library. In those early days, the library was called the Prince of Wales Island Library. It was exclusively for the use of the British personnel living in Penang. R. Ibbetson was the librarian while David Brown acted as treasurer.

To join the library, subscribers had to contribute a donation of $25.00 and provide a monthly subscription of $4.00. Needless to say, only the well-to-do is able to become subscribers - and in early 19th century Penang, the only group to be literate. As there was no clerical staff to man the library, the subscribers themselves are entrusted the duty to enter their name and title of the book they are borrowing into the register. The amount of time allowed for borrowing a book is dependent of its size and age. Older books can be borrowed for longer time while newer ones for shorter period.

On 1 January 1817, a new rule came into effect barring new subscribers unless he was proposed by three existing members, and subsequently balloted for. In the ballot, the proposed subscriber had to receive a two-third majority to qualify for admittance. There was also a proposal to increase the membership to a $50 donation, but that was not carried out, so the donation of $25 stayed.

George Town public librariesGeorge Town public libraries (14 April, 2009)

On 8 October 1819 another rule was introduced requiring subscribers to pay their subscriptions three months in advance. This was tightened on 25 September 1820 to make it eight months in advance. It is not know where the library was located in those early days.

The earliest known venue for the library was at the old Chinese Protectorate Office at Downing Street. In any case, the library occupied the building, then known as the Commissariat Godown1, until it was ordered to be moved out, so that the building can be used as the Chinese Protector's Department. I assume therefore that the library must have been at the Commissariat Godown until some time in 18802, but not too much earlier, as Downing Street itself has just been laid out not too long before.

In 1883, with the completion of the Town Hall, the library - by then already known as the Penang Library - was moved there. It stayed at the Town Hall until it was shifted to the Penang Supreme Court building in 1905. The library remained at the Penang Supreme Court building until the Second World War broke out, causing much damage to the library and its collection.

In the 1970's, the Penang Public Library moved to Dewan Sri Pinang, where it stayed until the 1990's. Today, the library has expanded to include several branches. Its head office is now at Jalan Perpustakaan, Seberang Jaya.

Locations of the Penang Public Library

Head Office:
Penang Public Library
Jalan Perpustakaan
Seberang Jaya, 13700 Prai
Tel : +604-3902387

Bukit Mertajam Branch Library
29, Jalan Pegawai,
14000 Bukit Mertajam
Tel : +604-5392619

Jawi Branch Library
14200 Sungai Jawi,
Seberang Perai Selatan
Tel : 04-5824224

Penang Children's Branch Library
11, Scotland Road
10450 Penang
Tel : +604-2287010

George Town Branch Library
11, Scotland Road,
10450 Penang
Tel : +604-2293555

Balik Pulau Branch Library
Lot 162, Mukim G, Jalan Balik Pulau,
11000 Balik Pulau
Tel : +604-8665689

Getting there

The Penang Public Library (George Town Branch), which includes the children's library, is located at Scotland Road, and is open Wednesdays to Sundays from 9:45 am to 6:00 pm. The main gate of the library is at Piggot Road. Rapid Penang Buses No. 304 passes through Scotland Road.

Nearby Sights

Location of the Penang Public Library on the map


  1. The Daily Times, 19 March, 1880
  2. Straits Times Overland Journal, 24 March, 1880, page 7

List of Libraries in Penang and Libraries in Malaysia

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