Singapore Library (1845–1874)



The Singapore Library, which grew out of the Singapore Institution Library, was officially opened on 22 January 1845 as a library for the residents of Singapore.1 Initially occupying the north wing of the Singapore Institution2 (later renamed Raffles Institution),3 it was the first public library in Singapore.4 The library was a private enterprise where members paid monthly subscriptions to access and borrow the collection.5

Establishment
The popularity of the Singapore Institution Library led to calls for a public library.6 On 13 August 1844, several key residents held a meeting where they passed a resolution for the establishment of such a library. The library was a proprietary concern where members paid a fee of $30 (this was raised to $40 the next year)7 to become a shareholder of the library, as well as a monthly subscription fee of $2.50. The revenue collected was used to fund the collection and the upkeep of the library. To cater to military officers stationed in Singapore as well as other residents who did not want to join as shareholders, a second class of subscribers was created. A third class of membership was also created for visitors or temporary residents in Singapore, but it required a resident subscriber to stand as a guarantor to ensure that the books were duly returned. Class II and Class III members paid only $2.50 a month.8 A fourth class – at a more affordable monthly subscription fee of $1 but with reduced borrowing privileges – was added three years later.9


The Singapore Library was opened to subscribers on 22 January 1845, and had 31 subscribers by the end of its first week of operation.10

Collection and organisation
To build the collection, the books in the Singapore Institution Library were placed on permanent loan to the Singapore Library, while the Periodical Reading Club transferred its subscriptions to the Singapore Library.11 The library also received donations of books from supporters. The headmaster of the Singapore Institution, John Colson Smith, was made secretary and librarian.12

The Singapore Library was open daily, except for Sundays, between 6:00 am to 9:00 pm, with the librarian in attendance between 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Only one book and one periodical could be borrowed at a time.13

Developments
In 1849, the governor presented to the Singapore Library two ancient gold coins given by the temenggong of Johor. The beginnings of the museum were thus planted, and the responsibilities of the librarian were expanded to include the role of curator.14

In 1862, the Singapore Library moved to the lower rooms of the Town Hall. Unfortunately, in the same year, the library was found to be in the red due to declining membership.15 Initially, it occupied the lower floor of the Town Hall until the municipal commissioners offered the usage of three rooms that were available on the upper floor. On 1 July 1874, the colonial government took over the management of the ailing Singapore Library. It was renamed the Raffles Library and Museum on 16 July 1874 and reopened on 14 September 1874.16 In 1876, the Raffles Library and Museum moved to premises of the Raffles Institution, then located at the current National Museum of Singapore.17

Timeline
13 Aug 1844: Several key residents – including Governor Butterworth, Thomas Church, William Napier, J. R. Logan and William Henry Read – gathered at Thomas O. Crane’s office agree to the establishment of a library.
22 Jan 1845: Singapore Library is officially opened.
1846: Monthly subscription for shareholders reduced to $2. A total of 617 volumes, excluding periodicals, were received. The bust of Stamford Raffles by Francis Legatt Chantrey is moved to the library, along with busts of literary figures such as Shakespeare, Scott and Byron.18
1847: Library is moved from the eastern wing of the Singapore Institution to the centre room as the former was occupied by the girls’ school.19
31 Jan 1849: With the gift of two gold coins, the proprietors propose that a Singapore museum be set up in connection with the library.
1862: Library relocated to Town Hall.
Oct 1862: Financial difficulties of the library are disclosed.
16 Jul 1874: Renamed the Raffles Library and Museum.



Authors

Bonny Tan & Heirwin M. Nasir



References
1. Singapore Library: Report. (1845, January 30). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. I). Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 524—525. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
2. The first report of the Singapore Library 1844 [Microfilm no.: NL 5040]. (1845). Singapore: Mission Press, p. 4.
3. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 104. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
4. Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. I). Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 524–525. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 367. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); The first report of the Singapore Library 1844 [Microfilm no.: NL 5040]. (1845). Singapore: Mission Press, p. 1.
5. The first report of the Singapore Library 1844 [Microfilm no.: NL 5040]. (1845). Singapore: Mission Press, p. 4.
6. Seet, K. K. (1983). A place for the people. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 16–17. (Call no.: RSING 027.55957 SEE)
7. The second report of the Singapore Library 1846 [Microfilm no.: NL 5040]. Singapore: Singapore Free Press, p. 4.
8. Singapore Library. (1844, August 15). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The second report of the Singapore Library 1846 [Microfilm no.: NL 5040]. Singapore: Singapore Free Press, p. 4.
9. The fourth report of the Singapore Library [Microfilm no.: NL 5040]. Singapore: Singapore Free Press Office, p. 11.
10. Singapore Library: Report. (1845, January 30). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. The report of the Singapore Institution Free Schools for the years 184344 & 184445 [Microfilm no.: NL 31226]. (1845). Singapore: Mission Press, pp. 10–11; The first report of the Singapore Library 1844 [Microfilm no.: NL 5040]. (1845). Singapore: Mission Press, p. 3.
12. Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. I). Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 528. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); The first report of the Singapore Library 1844 [Microfilm no.: NL 5040]. (1845). Singapore: Mission Press, pp. 1, 3; Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 134. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC)
13. The first report of the Singapore Library 1844 [Microfilm no.: NL 5040]. (1845). Singapore: Mission Press, p. 6.
14. The fifth report of the Singapore Library [Microfilm no.: NL 5040] (1849). Singapore: Singapore Free Press Office, pp. 4, 10–12, 20–21.
15. Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. I). Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 541, 545. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); Seet, K. K. (1983). A place for the people. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING 027.55957 SEE)
16. Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. I). Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 545–546, 548–549. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
17. Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. I). Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 545. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
18. The second report of the Singapore Library [Microfilm no.: NL 5040]. (1846). Singapore: Singapore Free Press, pp. 5–6.
19. The fourth report of the Singapore Library [Microfilm no.: NL 5040]. (1848). Singapore: Singapore Free Press Office, p. 6.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Public Buildings>>Libraries
Public libraries--Singapore
Libraries
Law and government>>Culture and community>>Public libraries
Libraries--Singapore
Science and technology>>Library and information science>>Library and information services