Thursday 28th April 2011

by Lionslayer

I was a bookworm, an extreme book worm.

I started reading when I was 4. I started reading novels when I was 7. I read very fast and read everything written in Burmese. I used up almost all my childhood time reading alone. I read while walking and eating. Almost all my pocket money were wasted on renting the books. I was like this until I can read Books written in other languages and upon the discovery of usefulness of Internet.

The River of Lost Footsteps

The River of Lost Footsteps

Then I learned that there were very few successful Burmese writers internationally. Some poems, short stories or the novels were translated to other languages for the purposes of trading cultures. Among them, Htilar Sitthu, Sayar Zawgyi and Min Thu Wun were well-known since their creations were translated to English or multiple languages. Late Sayarmagyi Daw Khin Myo Chit‘s English books were regarded as one of the most elegant writing style of a Burmese. There is a local literary award for a publication in English in the annual Dr Tin Shwe awards and U Ba Than was the first winner of the award. Myanmar’s democracy leader, Daw Aung San Su Kyi was also regarded as a bestselling writer for her books about Burmese. Thant Myint-U‘s critically acclaimed book, The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma, was a bestselling book in India.

Myanmar typical book permit number

Myanmar typical book permit number

I knew Myanmar was sanctioned by West and selling Burmese books internationally through US based services might not be possible for now. But tagging Burmese books with ISBN code is a different story. The 10-digit ISBN format was developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and was published in 1970 as international standard ISO 2108. The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a uniquenumeric commercial book identifier based upon the 9-digit Standard Book Numbering (SBN) code. With ISBN, identifying any Book internationally is possible. But Myanmar doesn’t practice ISBN. Myanmar has it’s own registering system. It’s a 9 or 10 digit numbering system for book itself and another similar system for the book’s cover. We call it Book Permit Number (စာမူခွင့်ပြုချက်အမှတ်). The number is defined as (numbering during a year)+year+month. It’s a pretty simple system compared to the complex ISBN formula. But the system is paper-based and we can’t really identify a book via online.

I am a very curious person and sometimes make bold moves just out of curiosity. I wondered why Myanmar doesn’t implement ISBN in their books. Is it because ISBN doesn’t allow Myanmar to participate in it? So I wrote a letter to ISBN International Agency asking why there was not a local agency in Myanmar. The executive director kindly answered me that they have had correspondence with the Director of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division of your Ministry of Information in 2009 regarding the establishment of a Myanmar ISBN Agency and sent them their Contract and Articles of Association but have not heard from them recently. And I got an email address to contact them.

ISBN number and barcode on a book

ISBN number and barcode on a book

I tried a couple times and no reply at all. So I asked ISBN again if a third-party can setup separate ISBN agency.

I got a fast reply that they have already sent draft ISBN Contract and Articles of Association to the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division at the request of their Director, Tint Swe. They(ISBN) need to establish that they do not wish to proceed with their proposal to manage a Myanmar ISBN Agency before they look elsewhere.

There is precedent for having a national ISBN Agency separate from government but we (third-party) would need to have the written agreement of the relevant Ministry and/or the Myanmar Publishers Association that they approve the application. If we wish to proceed, we need to provide more information about the body that wishes to apply for the Myanmar ISBN Agency and ISBN shall try to contact Mr Tint Swe to clarify the situation.

I think, so it’s possible, yet still impossible for me alone. It’s obvious that ISBN implementation became one of victim of the ignored projects of government. There are numerous good sides of implementing ISBN system in books. We can sell Burmese books online internationally. We can identify, catalog and search the books online easily using ISBN numbers.

Yet, recent ebook sharing habit of Myanmar people may still make ebook business of Myanmar difficult. There is a possibility that several tablet OS might support Burmese if Burmese books are to sold internationally through their ebook selling services. So, if you are a Burmese, you love standard, you want Burmese books internationally, you want the Burmese writers recognized by international and you want to pave the way for the future Burmese literature, it’s time to initiate adapting ISBN and other international standards applied to local books.

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