The National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) (also known as The Book Council) was established on 13 February 1969 to promote the development of the local book industry by supporting publishers and book suppliers as well as nurturing writers and readers. The Book Council is guided by its vision of establishing and developing Singapore as the centre for publishing and the literary arts in Asia, and its mission of getting professionals in the book world – writers, publishers, editors, illustrators, librarians and booksellers – to network and collaborate.
The Book Council can trace its origins to the inaugural UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Meeting of Experts on Book Production and Distribution in Asia held in Tokyo, Japan, in May 1966, during which a proposal was made to establish national book development councils across Asia. In November that year, the Library Association of Singapore (LAS) organised a workshop on the problems of book production and distribution in Singapore. The workshop brought together, for the first time, various stakeholders of the local book trade to discuss the development of the industry. It was attended by representatives from the LAS, Ministry of Education, the then Ministry of Culture, Master Printers’ Association, Singapore Booksellers’ Association as well as the pro-tem committee of the Advancement of the Printing Industry and Allied Trades. During the workshop, a recommendation was put forth to establish a national book development council in Singapore. In the following two years from 1967 to 1968, a working committee laid the ground work, including the drafting of a constitution for the new organisation.
The first meeting of the council’s board and election of executive committee members was held on 1 November 1968, followed by the registration of the council as a non-profit society on 19 December the following month. On 13 February 1969, the council was officially inaugurated by then Minister for Culture Jek Yeun Thong, with the objectives of promoting reading and the development of the Singapore book market as well as to liaise with the international community on book development matters.
In keeping with these aims, the council organised the annual Festival of Books and Book Fair from 1969 to 1997, and spearheaded the first National Readership Survey in 1980, which led to the introduction of the National Reading Month in 1982 – a regular event held until the mid-1990s.
To nurture local literary talent, the council launched the NBDCS Book Award in 1972 to recognise excellence in Singapore fiction and non-fiction writing in the four official languages. Due to the lack of quality works and funds, the award was conferred only in 1976. The award, which was discontinued in 1999, served as a platform for the discovery of new writers and the establishment of veteran writers.
One of the awards currently administered by the council is Singapore’s top literary award: the Singapore Literature Prize. Launched in 1991, the award initially aimed to promote Singapore literary works in English. Its scope has since expanded to include works in Malay, Chinese and Tamil as well as non-fiction works. The Singapore Writers Centre was set up in January 2006 to advice new writers on writing and publishing. Throughout the council’s history, it has lent support to the formation of several book-related organisations such as the Society of Singapore Writers, the Association of Book Designers and Illustrators, and the Society for Reading and Literacy.
Other areas in which the council has contributed to the development of book professionals and the industry include its work on two Singapore standards – Specification for title leaves of a book and Specifications for publishers’ catalogues, lists or other materials for the advertising and promotion of books – published by the Singapore Institute of Standards and Industry Research in 1978. The council also published the Singapore Book World journal and the newsletter, NBDCS News, later renamed Wordnews, to keep the industry informed on happenings in the book scene. These have since ceased publication.
The council is a long-time advocate of Asian children’s literature and storytelling. It was the national agency for UNESCO’s Asian Co-publication programme from 1970 to 1985 when Singapore’s membership to UNESCO ended. The council organised the Asian Children’s Festival from 2000 to 2009, and has helmed the Asian Festival of Children’s Content since 2010.
1. Annuar, H. (1993/94). Twenty-five years of book development. Singapore Book World, 23, 1–3. Call no.: RSING 070.5095957 SBW;National Book Development Council of Singapore. (2014). About NBDCS. Retrieved September 12, 2014, from NBDCS website: http://bookcouncil.sg/home/page/about-nbdcs
2. Annuar, 1993/94, p. 2; Girvin, M., & Jayapal, M. (1978). National Book Development Council of Singapore, 1969–1978 (p. 3). Singapore: National Book Development Council. Call no.: RSING 028.0625957 NAT-[LIB]; United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (1974, December). Regional seminar for executive secretaries of national book development councils in Asia: Final report (p. 1). Retrieved September 15, 2014, from UNESCO website: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0002/000235/023577eb.pdf; Workshop on books. (1966, October 31). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Girvin & Jayapal, 1978, pp. 3, 13.
4. Girvin & Jayapal, 1978, pp. 5–6; Ong, S. F. (1998, July 18). September book fair is on again. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Annuar, 1993/94, p. 4; Dhaliwal, R. (1995, September 1). Book council wants to make Singapore publishing centre. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Girvin & Jayapal, 1978, p. 6; Book awards contest. (1972, August 3). The Straits Times, p. 6; No awards. (1973, August 14). The Straits Times, p. 6; Council to launch an award scheme for local writers. (1976, June 16). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Koh, T. A. (1993/94). The National Book Development Council of Singapore book awards and literary value. Singapore Book World, 23, 26. Call no.: RSING 070.5095957 SBW; National Book Development Council of Singapore. (2010). NBDCS Book Awards. Retrieved September 12, 2014, from Web Archive Singapore: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/webarchives/wayback/20100831053917/http://www.bookcouncil.sg/_writers/pdf/NBDCS_book_awards_winners_list.pdf
8. $10,000 prize launched to nurture creative writing in English. (1991, June 1). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Book Development Council of Singapore. (2014). Singapore Literature Prize. Retrieved September 12, 2014, from NBDCS website: http://bookcouncil.sg/awards/detail/singapore-literature-prize
9. National Book Development Council of Singapore, 2014, About NBDCS.
10. Annuar, 1993/94, p. 5.
11. Girvin & Jayapal, 1978, pp. 11–12.
12. Annuar, 1993/94, p. 7; NBDCS news: The quarterly newsletter of the National Book Development Council of Singapore. Singapore: NBDCS. Call no.: RCLOS q028.0625957 NBDCSN.
13. Girvin & Jayapal, 1978, p. 9.
14. Annuar, 1993/94, p. 6; Withdrawal notice given to UNESCO. (1984, December 29). The Business Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Ong, S. F. (2000, November 15). Child’s play. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. National Book Development Council of Singapore. (n.d.). AFCC info. Retrieved September 15, 2014, from Asian Festival of Children’s Content website: http://afcc.com.sg/2012/about-afcc/afcc-info; National Book Development Council of Singapore (2014). Asian Festival of Children’s Content. Retrieved September 15, 2014, from Asian Festival of Children’s Content website: http://afcc.com.sg
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.