On World Book and Copyright Day, 23 April 2020, Kuala Lumpur officially becomes UNESCO World Book Capital 2020. It is the 20th city to be named the title as announced by UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay on 19 September 2018 on the recommendation by the World Book Capital Advisory Panel that consists of UNESCO, IFLA and International Publishers Association (IPA). Athens, Greece and Sharjah, UAE were the 18th and 19th World Book Capital cities respectively.


The opening ceremony of Kuala Lumpur World Book Capital 2020 (KLWBC2020) was conducted virtually over its social media channels due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The ceremony started with a recorded message by Mr. Ian Denison, the co-ordinator of the World Book Capital program. This was followed by a message by Dato’ Nor Hisham Ahmad Dahlan, Mayor of Kuala Lumpur.

An hour before the virtual opening ceremony, the National Library of Malaysia organized the annual “Jom Baca Bersama 2020” (Let’s Read Together 2020) activity in conjunction with the World Book and Copyright Day. This event, which has been going on and attracts hundreds of thousands of readers nationwide every year, was broadcasted live over social media platforms this year.


With the slogan “KL Baca: Caring through Reading”, the KLWBC2020 program originally consists of over 400 activities throughout the year till 22nd April 2021. However, the pandemic forced the activities to be relooked and adjusted following the enforcement of the nationwide Movement Control Order on 18th March 2020 and now extended to the Recovery Movement Control Order till 31st August 2020.

Digital billboards, signboards, buntings and banners that promotes the KLWBC2020 can be seen throughout the city. Book kiosks are being erected around the city by the Kuala Lumpur City Hall, with a full rollout expected to be done in July 2020. At least 50 kiosks filled with books will be placed at parks, bus stops, and other high walking traffic areas to encourage people in the city to pick up a book and read.

The KLWBC2020 Secretariat team that oversees the operations of the KLWBC2020 program is led by the Kuala Lumpur City Hall. The Mayor of Kuala Lumpur has designated a 113-year-old Loke Chow Kit Mansion at 10 Jalan Tangsi, now gazetted a national heritage building to be the KLWBC2020 Secretariat office. The secretariat team is made up of representatives from the Malaysian Book Publishers Association (MABOPA), the Institute of Language & Literature Malaysia, the National Library of Malaysia, the National Book Council of Malaysia, the Librarians Association of Malaysia and relevant departments of the Kuala Lumpur City Hall, including the Kuala Lumpur City Library. The KLWBC2020 Secretariat team works with government departments and agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private companies and individuals in planning and organizing activities in the KLWBC2020 program.


KLWBC2020 Secretariat at the Loke Chow Kit Mansion


KLWBC buntings


KLWBC signboard

Although the Ramadan fasting month started on the second day into Kuala Lumpur being the World Book Capital, that did not stop the Malaysian Writers Movement Association’s (MyMOVE) launch of their “Ramadan Writing School” virtual summit. The summit had 26 panellists speaking on 28 topics across three components of the book business – Writing, Publishing and Marketing. The virtual summit, conducted entirely in the Malay language, ended on the last day of Ramadan and saw over 2000 paying participants accessing the event from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Turkey, Singapore, United Kingdom, Japan, Austria, Thailand, Myanmar, China, Brunei and Malaysia. The participants can continue to access the presentation materials for a year.

After the highly successful event, more virtual events are being held. Writing competitions, storytelling competitions and poetry writing and reciting competitions targeting children and adults managed to attract not just local communities, but people across the nation as well due to the advantage of online access. Other interesting competitions will be held throughout the year. These include among others, a short film competition adapted from local novels, where selected submissions that will be shown in the KLWBC2020 Film Festival to be held later this year.

The biggest event for local publishers, the Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair (KLIBF), that attracts over a million visitors every year has been now turned into an online event this year. Organized by the National Book Council in collaboration with several local book industry organizations, the KLIBF is partnering with Shopee, the top online marketplace in Malaysia to make the KLIBF Online 2020 possible. Over 140 publishers and book sellers are currently participating from June 25th – July 8th 2020. Over 100,000 discount vouchers are made available for readers nationwide.


KLIBF is now online through Shopee

Other than competitions and the book fair, a series of live talks and discussions are being conducted almost weekly by several parties. All these talks are being promoted over the KLWBC2020 social media platforms, as well as the organizers’ platforms. These free talks can be viewed by anyone, anywhere at no cost.

As we embark on the new norm, more new players have emerged that would shape the new ways of running the local book industry and promote reading to the masses. The KLWBC2020 Secretariat, through its KLWBC2020 Activities committee are continuously looking forward to work with anyone with new ideas so the overall KLWBC2020 program will stay relevant throughout Kuala Lumpur’s reign as World Book Capital 2020 and beyond. The KLWBC2020 Secretariat team is also open to collaborate with other cities around the world, creating new programs that promote the love of reading for all ages.

There is no better time for Kuala Lumpur to be the World Book Capital this year as the Prime Minister has started the National Reading Decade, a 10-year program till 2030 with a hashtag #MalaysiaMembaca. With the World Book Capital as the booster, Kuala Lumpur, the nucleus of the nation will definitely spearhead a nationwide effort to develop and nurture a reading culture to all Malaysians.