Molly, the Mobile Library
Molly, the Mobile Library, affectionately known as Molly, is a mobile library bus operated by the National Library Board (NLB). The service began in 1960 under the NLB’s predecessor, the National Library, and was relaunched as Molly on 3 April 2008 to reach out to people who did not have ready access to public libraries. The first Molly was a refitted SBS Transit bus.1 A second Molly, with upgraded facilities, was launched on 24 February 2012 to replace the original vehicle, which was retired at the end of 2011.2 On 8 May 2014, two small mobile libraries known as “mini Mollys” were launched to serve mainly kindergartens and childcare centres in the Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates.3
The first mobile library service was launched by Hedwig Anuar, the first local director of the National Library, in 1960. The initiative aimed to make the library’s collection more accessible to residents living in the rural districts, particularly schoolchildren, as well as to ease the problem of overcrowding at the National Library building on Stamford Road.4
The first mobile library vehicle was a cream-coloured van, one of a fleet of old army vehicles converted into library vans that were sponsored by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). On 5 September 1960, the mobile library service kicked off as the first library van, loaded with children’s books, visited the Naval Base School in Nee Soon (now known as Yishun). The van was enthusiastically greeted by the children in the area and attracted over 300 book loans.5 By the end of September 1960, the van had visited 37 primary schools and attracted some 2,300 children to join as library members.6
Encouraged by the warm reception, the National Library began to widen the reach of the mobile library service in the mid-1960s by establishing mobile-library service points at community centres located in the rural areas. The expansion programme was aided by a £10,000 (S$85,000 at the time) grant in 1965 under New Zealand’s Colombo Plan, which funded the purchase of 23,519 books for the mobile library service.7 By 1969, there were more than 10 service points located at community centres in housing estates such as Tanjong Pagar, Pasir Panjang, Nee Soon, Bukit Panjang, Chong Pang, Kaki Bukit, Kampong Tengah, Bukit Timah, Changi, Paya Lebar, Cheng San and Taman Jurong.8 The mobile library vehicles visited various primary schools and community centres once every fortnight. Each vehicle carried over 2,000 books in all four official languages (English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil) and would operate from 5 pm to 7 pm, as this was generally a convenient time for both working adults and children to use its facilities.9
The mobile library service continued to expand in the 1970s with the addition of service points at MacPherson, Woodlands, Punggol and Tampines.10 During the 1980s, mobile libraries were gradually phased out and replaced by permanent branch libraries located in housing estates. The service was stopped completely in 1991.11
Relaunching the mobile library service
On 3 April 2008, the NLB (successor to the National Library) launched a new mobile library service at a ceremony held at Pathlight School, a special-education school for autistic children. The new mobile library was a refitted bus sponsored by SBS Transit, which was christened “Molly, the Mobile Library”, or popularly referred to as “Molly”. The relaunched service aims to promote reading and lifelong learning by bringing library materials and services to the disadvantaged and underserved without ready access to public libraries, such as the disabled, or the young in children’s homes where movement is restricted.12
Based in Jurong Regional Library, the first Molly operated seven days a week and could accommodate up to 3,000 books. It visited special-education schools, orphanages, senior citizens’ homes and selected primary schools on a tri-weekly cycle to coincide with the library’s loan period for its materials. Molly’s collection of books was specially put together before each visit in order to cater to the needs of specific user groups. Molly is the world’s first fully wireless-enabled mobile library, and is equipped with facilities for electronic library transactions.13
By March 2009, Molly had served a total of 45,114 visitors and visited 17 special-needs schools, 16 children’s homes and orphanages, and 30 primary schools.14 About 75,000 loans and 1,400 new library members were registered on Molly by July 2009. In the same month, a set of children’s picture books was released to mark the first anniversary of Molly’s launch. The four-book series, entitled Adventures of Molly, was authored and designed by NLB librarians using ideas provided by children who had acquainted themselves with Molly.15
In late 2011, the first Molly was taken off the roads after serving more than 400 organisations and 230,000 users in its three-and-a-half years in operation. A new Molly was launched on 24 February 2012 at Fernvale Gardens School, which caters to special-needs students, as a replacement for the retired original. Moving with the times, the second Molly – a refitted Volvo bus also donated by SBS Transit – boasts improved features such as a built-in ramp and eight iPads that provide access to interactive software and the library’s online resources.16
On 8 May 2014, two diminutive versions of Molly, known as “mini Mollys”, were launched at the My First Skool childcare centre on Haig Road. Sponsored by the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, the 7.5-metre-long vehicles are equipped with an internal bookdrop and borrowing station and can serve up to 12 users at a time. As the mini Mollys are meant to serve mainly kindergartens and childcare centres in the HDB estates, they have been specially designed to provide children with an immersive library experience. Librarians manning these mini mobile libraries also organise activities such as storytelling, arts and craft and sing-along sessions for the young readers. Besides preschools, the mini Mollys also visit welfare homes with smaller carparks that presented navigational difficulties for the larger Molly. With the introduction of the mini Mollys, the NLB’s mobile library service is expected to reach 235 organisations annually, more than thrice the figure previously.17
Nur Diyana Mohd Yusoff
1. Jasna Dhansukhlal and Oxygen Studio Designs, eds., Molly’s Memories, Milestones and Moments: Celebrating Mobile Library Services in Singapore (Singapore: National Library Board, 2009), 6, 10, 32–34 (Call no. RSING 027.45957 MOL-[LIB]); Sumathi V Selvaretnam, “Library Bus to Reach Out to Young,” Straits Times, 4 April 2008, 43; Lin YanQin, “Hello, My Name Is Molly,” Today, 4 April 2008, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Leslie Kay Lim, “Library on Wheels Moves with the Times,” Straits Times, 25 February 2012, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
3. National Library Board, Singapore, Molly Turns Mini to Reach More Preschools in HDB Estates, 8 August 2014. (From National Library Board)
4. Dhansukhlal and Oxygen Studio Designs, Molly’s Memories, Milestones and Moments, 10–11, 14.
5. K. K. Seet, A Place for the People (Singapore: Times Books International, 1983), 120–1 (Call no. RSING 027.55957 SEE-[LIB]); “Library Service on Wheels,” Straits Times, 5 September 1960, 7; “New Mobile Library Service to Schools,” Singapore Free Press, 5 September 1960, 11; “Good Start for Mobile Library,”Straits Times, 6 September 1960, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Dhansukhlal and Oxygen Studio Designs, Molly’s Memories, Milestones and Moments, 12–13.
6. Lydia Aroozoo, “The Reading Habit at Your Doorstep,” Singapore Free Press, 21 September 1960, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Dhansukhlal and Oxygen Studio Designs, Molly’s Memories, Milestones and Moments, 16, 26; “Library Hits 100,000 Readers Target,” Straits Times, 5 October 1966, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Seet, Place for the People, 131.
9. Dhansukhlal and Oxygen Studio Designs, Molly’s Memories, Milestones and Moments, 18–19.
10. Dhansukhlal and Oxygen Studio Designs, Molly’s Memories, Milestones and Moments, 27–29.
11. “Mobile Library Services to Cease,” Straits Times, 6 April 1981, 26 (From NewspaperSG); Seet, Place for the People, 139; Dhansukhlal and Oxygen Studio Designs, Molly’s Memories, Milestones and Moments, 24–25.
12. Dhansukhlal and Oxygen Studio Designs, Molly’s Memories, Milestones and Moments, 32–34; Selvaretnam, “Library Bus to Reach Out to Young”; Lin, “Hello, My Name Is Molly”; “About Us,” SGBuses, n.d.
13. Dhansukhlal and Oxygen Studio Designs, Molly’s Memories, Milestones and Moments, 32, 36, 42, 46.
14. Dhansukhlal and Oxygen Studio Designs, Molly’s Memories, Milestones and Moments, 46.
15. “Mobile Library Marks First Birthday,” Straits Times, 24 July 2009, 46; “Three Cheers for Molly,” Today, 24 July 2009, 11. (From NewspaperSG); Dhansukhlal and Oxygen Studio Designs, Molly’s Memories, Milestones and Moments, 54–57.
16. Lim, “Library on Wheels Moves with the Times.”
17. National Library Board, Singapore, Molly Turns Mini to Reach More Preschools in HDB Estates.
The information in this article is valid as of 25 November 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.