National Library (1980–1995)

by Goh, Lee Kim

Between 1980 and 1995, the National Library embarked on the computerisation of its library operations and services.1 To keep abreast with the information technology (IT) revolution, new audiovisual, multimedia and online services were also launched.2 Decentralisation of its services continued through the setting up of more full-time branch libraries and by the end of 1994, there were 10 branch libraries.3 In line with the recommendation of the Library 2000 report released in 1994,4 the National Library Board was constituted on 1 September 1995 to take over the management functions of the national and public libraries in its network.5

Growing the library collection
In the 1960s, Singaporeans were more practical in their choice of reading materials, showing a strong interest in educational books on economics, engineering and technical subjects. This reading preference shifted in the 1980s towards recreational and hobby-related books and fiction.6 Hence, the National Library and its branches made a concerted effort to provide books that catered to the changing and diverse reading interests of its members.7 

In 1980, in response to demand from the public,8 Chinese sword-fighting novels were introduced at the libraries after consultation with some local authors. The literary value of such novels, while popular with the public, were questioned by some educators, booksellers and parents.9 However, these novels were so popular that there was a long list of reservations for them.10 To encourage more children to read, the library provided a wide selection of books in its children’s collection, including fiction, poetry and illustrated books.11 In late 1984, the library began to paste stickers on the spines of hardcover fiction books based on seven categories: romance; war; mystery; thriller; stories set in Asia; science fiction; and horror/fantasy. These were meant to help library members identify the genres of fiction books more easily.12

Donations and exchanges of publications with overseas libraries were important sources for the library’s collection development.13 By 1980, the National Library had established exchange agreements with 265 libraries and institutions in 64 countries. Such exchange programmes enabled the National Library to acquire publications that could not otherwise be obtained through normal commercial channels and they also helped to supplement the library’s limited budget.14

Developing library services
In the 1980s, some of the new or expanded services included the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) system, community information service and the Arts Resource Centre. With Singapore’s adoption of the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) system in 1980, the National Library was designated as the national agency for the issuing of ISBN for books published in Singapore.15

The issuance of ISBN also served as a form of record for the total national publishing output each year.16 In November 1980, the library expanded its community information service to provide information on the services of government departments and service organisations, as well as simple, factual information for everyday living to members of the public.17 The service was well-used by the public, with 34,000 enquiries received by the library in 1981 and a satisfaction rate of up to 95% for the references provided.18

In November 1982, the National Library launched a new reference service for the arts, known as the Arts Resource Centre,19 which was officially opened on 10 January 1983. Hedwig Anuar made an appeal to local musicians and composers to donate their materials to the centre to enrich its collection. With the popularity of audio-visual (AV) materials at the National Library, AV services was extended to full-time branch libraries in July 1983.20 The AV materials could only be viewed in specially equipped audio-visual rooms situated within the libraries. Each branch library specialised in selected topics to reduce duplication of AV materials among the libraries within the network.21 

After years of public requests for libraries to open on Sundays, a six-month trial began from 2 March 1986 at Marine Parade Branch Library, which opened on Sundays from 1 pm to 5 pm.22 As visitorship was low on Sundays, the National Library eventually shelved the idea after the trial period.23 Four years later, another trial was conducted from April to September 1990 at the Jurong East, Marine Parade and Toa Payoh branch libraries to gauge the public demand for services on Sundays. Since there were more users on Sundays compared to Saturdays, the National Library and its branches started to open on Sundays from 1 pm to 5 pm from 6 January 1991, and closed earlier at 5 pm on Saturdays.24

Much progress was made in the decentralisation of services in the 1980s, with a total of five new full-time branch libraries opened in Bukit Merah,25 Ang Mo Kio,26 Bedok,27 Geylang East28 and Jurong East.29 The closure of Jurong Part-time Branch Library on 23 May 1988 marked the end of part-time branch services under the National Library.30

The National Library ceased its mobile library services on 2 January 1990 due to low usage and a large drop in the number of books borrowed through the mobile services.31 The closure was also in line with the phasing out of mobile services and the opening of branch libraries, which were larger and could provide more books and services.32

In 1994, the National Library began to work with the People’s Action Party Community Foundation to establish Community Children’s Libraries in the void decks of public housing estates, starting with Bukit Batok, Bukit Panjang, Clementi and Mountbatten, to promote the reading habit early in children.33 In the same year,Tampines Regional Library, the first regional library in Singapore, was officially opened on 3 December 1994.34

Membership fees and fines
To encourage more people to become members, the National Library made membership free for all Singaporeans and Permanent Residents with effect from 15 November 1980: the S$5 deposit for membership registration was waived. Prior to this date, the deposit was compulsory for members above 14 years old. The deposit was refundable upon resignation of membership. However, if members failed to return the books they borrowed or did not pay for lost books, the deposit could be forfeited. The library proceeded to inform its members on the refund of the deposit, together with an appeal to consider donating the deposit to the Library’s Donation Fund for the purchase of books and improve library facilities.35

In 1986, the library started to impose a S$10 administrative charge for lost books with effect from 13 January. The charge, meant as a deterrent, was on top of the cost of the book that borrowers had to pay for if they had lost a library book.36

With effect from 18 July 1988, library members who accumulated S$2 worth of fines or more for overdue books would have their borrowing privileges suspended until they returned the overdue books and paid the fine. In addition, the 5 cents fine per day per overdue book was extended to child members.37 This daily fine was subsequently increased to 10 cents per item in April 1989. During this time, the library also started to charge a fee of S$1.50 for the reservation of items to deter members from making frivolous reservations.38

Computerisation and going online
The first phase of computerisation began with the conversion of the card catalogue into microfiche39 in March 1983. What was previously contained in more than one million cards were stored in microfiches, which could contain up to 4,000 titles each. Using the microfiche readers, library users could search for titles easier and faster as compared to flipping through the card catalogue.40

On 10 April 1987, the Singapore Integrated Library Automation Service (SILAS) was launched. SILAS was a S$2.5 million computerised network that linked the catalogue systems of 20 Singapore libraries, including the National Library, academic and government libraries into a database known as the Union Catalogue. With SILAS, researchers and library users could search the collections held in the participating libraries.41

In October 1987, Queenstown Branch Library became the first library to be computerised. By June 1988, the Bedok and Toa Payoh Branch Libraries were also computerised,42 whereas that for the remaining branches were completed by April 1989.43 During this period, the National Library was also closed from June to August 1988 for computerisation.44 Members were issued a new laminated library card bearing a barcode that stored the membership number. The barcode enabled librarians to easily retrieve the member’s personal details and process loans quickly via computers. The new card replaced the four paper library cards that were previously issued to members.45 Users could also look for books in the libraries using the online catalogue provided on special computer terminals, known as the Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC). The OPAC terminals also enabled users to check their library account, whether they have outstanding fines and place reservations for books.46

Multimedia computer terminals were introduced in the early 1990s to provide access to audiovisual content and databases. Users could use the computers to play compact discs or software and listen to stories, watch video clips or complete interactive quizzes. The service was popular with users, especially children.47 In October 1993, the National Library launched the National Library Line (NL.line) that allowed users to access OPAC using a personal computer, a modem and a password.48 On 27 March 1995, an improved NL.line providing more services via the Internet was launched. Designed with the help of the National Computer Board, NL.line allowed users, from the comfort of their homes, to search the catalogue, renew their loans and post questions to reference librarians online from 10 am to 6 pm.49

Establishment of the National Library Board
Hedwig Anuar retired as director on 19 November 1988 after heading the National Library for over three decades.50 She was succeeded by her deputy, Yoke-Lan Wicks.51 In 1992, Wicks retired as Director52 and R. Ramachandran took over the reins as Acting Director.53

By 1989, the red-brick National Library building on Stamford Road had served the public for 29 years. Its ageing facilities were deemed no longer adequate for the needs for its expanding membership and collections. It was announced on 11 January 1992 that the site for the new National Library building would be on Victoria Street.54

Nearing the turn of the century, on 20 June 1992, the Library 2000 Review Committee was formed to conduct a comprehensive review of library services and recommend the strategies for transforming the public library system.55 The Committee released the report, “Library 2000: Investing in a Learning Nation”, on 5 March 1994.56 The recommendations made in the report included: a new library configuration comprising a National Reference Library, specialised reference libraries, public libraries of varying sizes and a co-ordinated collection strategy as well as the formation of the National Library Board, a new statutory board to oversee the transformation of libraries in Singapore.57

The enactment of the National Library Board Act on 1 March 1995 saw the establishment of the National Library Board. The statutory board oversaw the National Reference Library, the network of public libraries and the legal deposit function.58 On 1 September 1995, the National Library Board began operations, with Christopher Chia as its CEO and R. Ramachandran as the director of the National Library.59



Author
Goh Lee Kim


References 
1.
Yap, J. (1995, March 28).National Library goes on-line on Internet. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2.
Alfred, H. (1983, May 13). Library to start audio-video loan scheme. The Straits Times, p. 1; Multimedia systems a hit at libraries. (1994, November 17). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3.
National Library Singapore. (1995). Annual report 94/95. Singapore: Author, p. 12. (Call no.: RCLOS 027.55957 RLSAR-[AR])
4.
Library 2000 Review Committee. (1994). Library 2000: Investing in a learning nation: Report of the Library 2000 Review Committee. Singapore: SNP Publishers, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING q027.05957 SIN); Kan, G. (1994, March 7). New-age public libraries with global reach planned. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5.
Bill to give National Library wider role. (1995, March 2). The Straits Times, p. 19; Library board to start operations next month. (1995, August 19). The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Hedwig, A. (1983, May 31). Reading for the fun of it. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7.
Wanted: 300,000 books a year. (1987, July 11). The Straits Times, p. 1; One book for every S'porean is the aim. (1980, April 22). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Return of Luk. (1980, July 25). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9.
Yong, P. A. (1980, July 25). ‘Swordsmen’ to help library foster the reading habit. The Straits Times, p. 11; Libraries join the craze. (1980, September 2). New Nation, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10.
Library gets to grips with double-edge sword. (1980, December 6). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11.
Marican, Z. (1982, June 15). Reading into what kids like. New Nation, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12.
Lim, K. K. (1986, February 14). Stickers a quick guide at library. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13.
Wanted: 300,000 books a year. (1987, July 11). The Straits Times, p. 1; One book for every S'porean is the aim. (1980, April 22). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14.
Library’s swop system with 64 countries. (1980, May 29). The Straits Times, p. 7; One book for every S’porean is the aim. (1980, April 22). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15.
Numbers to help get more books easily. (1980, February 9). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16.
Seet, K. K. (1983). A place for the people. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 150. (Call no. RSING 027.55957 SEE-[LIB])
17.
Library service besieged by ‘help me’ calls. (1980, November 14). The Straits Times, p. 10; Tan, B. H. (1980, November 2). Ring up the library for answer to your question. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18.
Chen, R. (1982, October 3). Make library a know all. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19.
Art and culture on film at library. (1982, December 23). The Straits Times, p. 9; Arts for the asking at one centre. (1982, December 23). Singapore Monitor, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Alfred, H. (1983, May 13). Library to start audio-video loan scheme. The Straits Times, p. 1; Libraries to offer more audio-visual services soon. (1981, December 3). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Alfred, H. (1983, May 13). Library to start audio-video loan scheme. The Straits Times, p. 1; Libraries to offer more audio-visual services soon. (1981, December 3). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22.
Lim, K. K. (1986, February 18).Library to open on Sundays. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23.
National Library branches won’t open on Sundays. (1986, November 11). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. National Library to open on Sundays from Jan 2. (1990, November 25). The Straits Times, p. 30; Sunday library at 3 branches. (1990, March 30). The Straits Times, p. 33; Libraries open doors to Sunday readers. (1991, January 7). The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Libraries to be built in Bedok and Ang Mo Kio. (1982, December 29). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. National Library Board. (1986). Report for the period FY85. Singapore: National Library Board, p. 35. (Call no.: RCLOS 027.55957 SIN)
27. Library opens. (1985, September 29). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Govt wants all to have access to information. (1988, July 27). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Jurong library boasts an atrium. (1988, August 3). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Library to close. (1988, May 18). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. National Library to open on Sundays from Jan 2. (1990, November 25). The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Mobile library services to cease. (1981, April 6). The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Chang, A. (1994, July 12). Void-deck libraries for children a big success.The Straits Times, p. 27;PM wants 100 libraries for kids in 10–15 years. (1994, June 26). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Protocol thrown to the wind. (1994, December 6). The New Paper, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. No need to pay to join the National Library. (1980, December 30). The Straits Times, p. 8;Library poses the $5 question. (1981, January 17). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. New library rule Borrowers to pay $10 for each lost book. (1986, January 8). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Library users with fines of $2 face suspension. (1988, July 17). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Library to double fines next month. (1989, March 5). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. $1.2m wares for library. (1979, April 5). New Nation, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Kumar, S. (1983, January 7). Opening a new chapter for library. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Hoe, I. (1987, April 11). 4 m publications at one’s fingertips. The Straits Times, p. 19;9 major libraries to go on-line next year. (1986, September 15). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. On-line plan to make National Library visit such a breeze. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
43. Saini, R. (1988, May 20). On-line system boon to library users. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
44. Ong, C. (1988, June 2). On-line plan to make National Library visit such a breeze. The Straits Times, p. 19; Ng, L. (1988, September 13). Computers now zip you through library. The New Paper, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45. Lim, R. (1987, October 24). Queenstown Library goes online. The Straits Times, p. 17; 1-for-4 on-line cards for libraries. (1987, August 18). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
46. Ong, C. (1988, June 2). On-line plan to make National Library visit such a breeze. The Straits Times, p. 19; Ng, L. (1988, September 13). Computers now zip you through library. The New Paper, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
47. Multimedia systems a hit at libraries. (1994, November 17). The Straits Times, p. 22; Library enlists hi-tech aids to attract children. (1994, May 27). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
48. National Library Singapore. (1994). Annual report 93/94. Singapore: Author, pp. 6, 17, 29. (Call no.: RCLOS 027.55957 RLSAR-[AR]); Yeo, H. Y. (1993, October 24).Phone or fax, and Tampines library will deliver your books. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
49. Yap, J. (1995, March 28).National Library goes on-line on Internet. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
50. Toh, S. (1988, November 20).Farewell of surprises as library legend Hedwig Anuar retires. The Straits Times, p. 20; Toh, S. (1988, October 1).Library head all set for new career. The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
51. Reaching out to people through books. (1988, December 8). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
52. Koh, J. T. (1991, August 22).Mums to get tips on teaching babies to read. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
53. National Library Singapore. (1992).Annual report 1991/1992. Singapore: The Library, p. 40. (Call no. RCLOS 027.55957 RLSAR-[AR]); Mission accomplished: Students go through 20 books in 3 months. (1992, September 9). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
54. District of heritage, history and culture for one and all. (1992, January 31). The Business Times, p. 3; National Museum to be a statutory board. (1992, January 12). The Straits Times, p. 18; Goh, J. (1992, February 21). A piece of peace in the city. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
55. Future of public library services to be reviewed. (1992, June 23). The Straits Times, p. 26; No more big National Library branches?(1992, February 28). The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
56. Library 2000 Review Committee. (1994). Library 2000: Investing in a learning nation: Report of the Library 2000 Review Committee. Singapore: SNP Publishers, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING q027.05957 SIN); Kan, G. (1994, March 7). New-age public libraries with global reach planned. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
57. Library 2000 Review Committee. (1994). Library 2000: Investing in a learning nation: Report of the Library 2000 Review Committee. Singapore: SNP Publishers, pp. 67, 12. (Call no.: RSING q027.05957 SIN)
58. Bill to give National Library wider role. (1995, March 2). The Straits Times, p. 19; The National Library Board Bill. (1995, January 24). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore. Republic of Singapore. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (1995, March 1). Second reading of the National Library Bill (Vol. 64). Singapore: [s.n.], cols. 68–72. (Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN)
59. Library board to start operations next month. (1995, August 19). The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at June 2020 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 material on the topic.

Subject
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Public Buildings>>Libraries
National libraries--Singapore
Libraries
Public libraries--Singapore
Public libraries
National Library (Singapore)

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