National Library Building (Stamford Road)



The National Library Building, located at 91 Stamford Road, officially opened on 12 November 1960.1 Between 1887 and 1960, the National Library had previously occupied the western wing of the Raffles Museum (now the National Museum of Singapore) at Stamford Road.

History
The first move for a new National Library building came in 1953 when Lee Kong Chian, rubber tycoon and a prominent figure of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, donated S$375,000 towards a new building.3 On 16 August 1957, the foundation stone of the new building was laid by Lee.4 The land, building expenditure as well as furniture and equipment for the new building cost about S$2 million.5 The site was previously occupied by the St John’s Ambulance Headquarters and British Council Hall.6


Design
The building was designed by the Public Works Department architect, Lionel Bintley in consultation with National Library Director, L. M. Harrod (1955-1959).7 The project architect was Tio Seng Chin.8 The completed library had a reinforced concrete framed structure with brick walls.9 The architecture was said to reflect the red-brick epoch of British architecture in the 1950s.10

After its completion, however, the National Library building received criticism from various sectors.11 One criticism was that it did not harmonise with the aesthetically pleasing and dignified National Museum adjacent to it.12 The National Library building was described as “forbidding”, “intimidating”, “out of character” and “monumental but clumsy”.13

Despite these criticisms, the new library was appreciated for its tremendous increase in space, which was said to be four times larger than its previous premises.14

Description
The total floor area of the new building was 101,500 sq ft.15 The ground floor comprised the exhibition hall, adult lending library, children’s library, children’s activities room and lecture hall. The mezzanine floor housed administrative offices and a stack area. The first floor held the reference library, microfilm reading room and a conference room.16

Opening
The library was officially declared open by then-President Yusof bin Ishak on 12 November 1960.17 It is reported that “[i]ncessant hordes of people [were] milling about the library grounds on that auspicious day” curious to see the new library.18 President Yusof Ishak stated that the new library “would serve the needs of nation-building and its departments of knowledge, learning and technology embraced a wide field”.19 The official opening of the National Library heralded a week of festivities called the National Library Week.20  

Closure
In 1998, it was announced that the National Library on Stamford Road would be demolished to make way for the Singapore Management University and the construction of Fort Canning tunnel, resulting in calls by the public to preserve the library.21 The two main considerations for tearing down the National Library were better land use in the area and to ease the traffic congestion.22 The National Library at Stamford Road closed on 1 April 2004.23 The National Library re-opened at its Victoria Street premises in 2005.24



Author
Anasuya Balamururgan



References
1. Cultural awakening at opening of new National Library. (1960, November 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Anuar, H. (1983). The National Library of Singapore 1958–1983. In Singapore libraries. Singapore: Library Association of Singapore, pp. 4–5. Available via PublicationSG; National Heritage Board. (2017, January 18). National Museum of Singapore. Retrieved 2018, April 16 from Roots website: https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/national-museum-of-singapore
3. Start made on free library. (1957, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Start made on free library. (1957, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 4; $21/2 mil. library is free. (1957, August 16). The Singapore Free Press, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Anuar, H. (1983). The National Library of Singapore 1958–1983. In Singapore libraries. Singapore: Library Association of Singapore, p. 5. Available via PublicationSG; New Raffles Library is now open. (1960, November 3). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. City’s new $2 mil library. (1955, November 20). Sunday Standard, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. National Library, our heritage and a treasure. (2000, February 19). The Straits Times, p. 68; City’s new $2 mil library. (1955, November 20). Sunday Standard, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Anuar, H. (1983). The National Library of Singapore 1958–1983. In Singapore libraries. Singapore: Library Association of Singapore, p. 5. Available via PublicationSG.
8. Seet, K. K. (1983). A place for the people. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 115. (Call no.: RSING 027.957 SEE)
9. City’s new $2 mil library. (1955, November 20). Sunday Standard, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. National Library, our heritage and a treasure. (2000, February 19). The Straits Times, p. 68. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Seet, K. K. (1983). A place for the people. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 115. (Call no.: RSING 027.957 SEE); Library building in Singapore is severely criticised. (1960, July 4). The Straits Times, p. 7; Mok-Ai, I. (1960, July 9). They gasp with horror at this ‘monstrous monument’. The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Anuar, H. (1983). The National Library of Singapore 1958–1983. In Singapore libraries. Singapore: Library Association of Singapore, p. 5. Available via PublicationSG.
13. Seet, K. K. (1983). A place for the people. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 115. (Call no.: RSING 027.957 SEE); Mok-Ai, I. (1960, July 9). They gasp with horror at this ‘monstrous monument’. The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Anuar, H. (1983). The National Library of Singapore 1958–1983. In Singapore libraries. Singapore: Library Association of Singapore, p. 5. Available via PublicationSG.
15. Anuar, H. (1983). The National Library of Singapore 1958–1983. In Singapore libraries. Singapore: Library Association of Singapore, p. 5. Available via PublicationSG.
16. Start made on free library. (1957, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 4; City’s new $2 mil library. (1955, November 20). Sunday Standard, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

17. Cultural awakening. (1960, November 13). The Straits Times, p. 5; Aroozoo, L. (1960, November 12). S’pore’s new landmark. The Singapore Free Press, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Seet, K. K. (1983). A place for the people. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 120. (Call no.: RSING 027.957 SEE)
19. Cultural awakening. (1960, November 13). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Seet, K. K. (1983). A place for the people. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 122. (Call no.: RSING 027.957 SEE)
21. Tan, T. (2004, January 29). After April 1, buy a chunk of the old library. The Straits Times, p. 4; Lim, L. (2000, January 25). New plan for Bras Basah offered. The Straits Times, p. 34; Tan, H. Y. (1999, March 27). National Library Building will not be conserved. The Straits Times, p. 51. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Tan, H. Y. (1999, March 22). Library must go for 2 key reasons. The Straits Times, p. 42. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Tan, T. (2004, January 29). After April 1, buy a chunk of the old library. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. A cultural asset that inspires all. (2005, November 12). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2018 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
Libraries--Singapore
National libraries--Singapore
Libraries
Library buildings--Singapore
Law and government>>Culture and community>>Public libraries