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Dispatches from Midwinter – Transforming Singapore’s Libraries

by on February 21, 2013

ALA Masters Series: National Library Board (NLB) of Singapore

Libraries in Singapore have gone through an extreme level of transformation in the recent years, with a vision to create “readers for life, learning communities, and a knowledgeable nation.” Two members of the National Library Board in Singapore, Katharina Lee, the executive director of Cybrarian Ventures Private Limited, and Lee Kee Siang, the CIO and Director of Tech & Innovation at the NLB presented at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Seattle about the state of libraries in Singapore. Unlike libraries in the United States, all libraries in Singapore are governed by the NLB, which is part of the government. The NLB oversees the National Library of Singapore, public libraries in Singapore, the National Archives of Singapore, and 16 government, school and academic libraries, to a total of 41 libraries. Because of the success of their libraries, they have also started a library consulting company called Cybrarian Ventures Private Limited that have helped in the creation and improvement of libraries in China, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Thailand, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and the US.

One of the things that the NLB started in order to increase the usage of public libraries in Singapore is mall libraries, smaller branches of the public library that are located in a mall. Because many in Singapore enjoy shopping, the NLB thought it would be wise to bring the library to these shoppers. The mall libraries have been met with success, with 11 locations throughout Singapore currently.

Another innovation is to automate the whole check out process so that a person can self check-out and return library materials without needing the help of a staff member. If they do need help, they can go to a self-help kiosk. Keeping up with the digital era, the NLB has greatly increased the amount of materials that people can read or use directly online, so that if they cannot come to the physical library they can still use materials from the library. There is now an archive for Singapore newspapers, one for pictures of Singapore and another for music from Singapore.

A big emphasis from the NLB has been to increase the knowledge of its citizens about Singapore and to give their citizens a chance to record their own histories. One initiative in this goal has been the Singapore Infopedia, an electronic encyclopedia written by the NLB on the history and culture of Singapore. Another initiative is the Singapore Memory Portal, where Singaporeans can submit their memories of Singapore through the site, through an app, or through various social media outlets.

The NLB has many plans for the future of its libraries, one of which is to let people check out books by using their mobile phones. Another project that they are working on is to use the data that they received from their patrons through check-outs and searches to do customized reader’s recommendation, as well as a map to show what reader’s preferences are across the country. All this will be possible with the help of text analytics and linked open data, and the information will be immensely helpful to the NLB in their collection development. By recognizing that the world has changed, the NLB has made changes in its libraries that have made them a significant part of Singaporean’s lives, and libraries all over the world have a lot to learn from them.