The Library of Unread Books

Fake candid shot; although I did do some actual reading 🙂 Taken by Tin

This August I had the chance to visit The Library of Unread Books (TLUB) on the last week of its two-month run here in Manila.

Here is a description of TLUB from MCAD Commons’ website:

The second iteration of a ten-year-long project, The Library of Unread Books develops from the artist’s (Heman Chong) deep-seated longing for books. Open to the public, the reference library is made up of donated books that are unread by their previous owners. By receiving and revealing that which people choose not to read, the Library is the result of a collective gesture that traces the perimeters of unwanted knowledge.

Membership to The Library of Unread Books is the cost of one book donation. In donating one (of) your own unread books, you gain lifetime membership and access to the library which pops up in different institutions across the globe over 10 years, before settling down as part of a collection in a museum.

The Library of Unread Books 


Before going, I had this notion that the books in TLUB would be unimpressive (yes, I hate to admit that I was a snob 😦 ). You can summarize their book collection in two words – unread and donated; which to me, also translates to unloved and discarded. Naturally, I did not expect much.

As the saying goes, don’t judge the book by its cover. Only in this case, it is – don’t judge an entire library based on its book collection policies.

I cracked up a bit when I came across this one 🙂 – A Manual, How to Bribe a Cop in Colombia. This booklet is written in three languages – Chinese, English, and Spanish.
Murakami’s The Strange Library is part of The Library of Unread Books
Inside Murakami’s The Strange Library

I was pleasantly surprised with their wide array of books; both in quantity and quality. On my first visit, I ended up staying more than I intended to. I did not actually plan to do some reading; I only wanted to check out the interior of the site where they put up TLUB (more on this later). I read a Filipino children’s book about a young Yakan girl from the weaving community of Zamboanga. I also picked up two books by Singaporean writers which made me realize that Singapore has a vibrant literary community. It has been my goal these past 2 years to read more books by women and people of color. Stumbling into books  from our neighboring country has become a wake-up call to also try to seek out more books from Southeast Asia


written by Indian-Singaporean writer Marc Nair

Filipino children’s book written in English and Chavacano. I am currently studying Spanish now and it was a delight to recognize some of the words in Spanish

I found books that were given to friends as a gift, complete with a dedication page on the first page. I would not know how I’d feel if I ever come across a book I gave as a present for someone, included in TLUB. At the very least, it would be comforting knowing that said books have a second chance of being actually read.

First Coworking Community:
First United Building Escolta

could see Regina Building and Bank of the Philippine Islands from where I was sitting

The exhibit (or library) is site specific – visitors were free to read and to stay as long as they wanted to but the books were not available on loan. As I’ve said, I initially came to the exhibit solely because I wanted to see its venue.

TLUB was housed in the First United Building in Escolta, specifically in Room 502 & 506 of First Coworking Community – on ordinary days the place serves as a coworking space for freelancers. Escolta is this part of Manila where there are old buildings with great architecture and so much character. The local government of Manila seems to have destroying Manila’s heritage buildings as its mission. So, I am pleased that Escolta has been enjoying a revival thanks to local artists and heritage lovers.

My friend, Tin, and I marveled at the huge windows from where we admired the view of Regina Building and Bank of Philippine Islands. In Escolta (actually in most of Metro Manila), beauty stands side by side with depreciation and decay. From the 5th floor of the First United Building, we could admire Escolta’s beauty from a safe distance, far from the dirt, grime, pollution, pickpockets, and trash of the city below.

The charm of the room where the exhibit was installed was one of the reasons I stayed longer than expected. I wonder where the next iteration of TLUB is going to be; could it compete with First United Building’s beauty? 🙂 (probably yes, but I am biased).

Art Installation at Escolta’s ground floor
More art installation which we naturally took as a cue to hold an impromptu photoshoot


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s