Mr Lee Seow Hiang, Chairman, National Library Board (NLB)
Mr Ng Cher Pong, Chief Executive Officer, NLB
NLB’s Esteemed Donors
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. A very good evening. It has been three years now since our last Donors’ Appreciation Night. I am glad to be able to welcome you all back in person today.
2. Libraries have had a special place in my heart since I was about 9 or 10 years old. In primary 3, my teacher asked for a volunteer to serve as class librarian. I put my hand up. You could say it was my first job, one that was tremendously enjoyable and meaningful!
3. One of the best things about being in MCI is that I get to interact with our library community and to affirm the work that has been done. In today’s context of digitalisation, we also know that by now, many of our collections are being borrowed digitally. One in three of our borrowings are digital versions or e-books. This was a big shift from what it was before Covid-19, where one in five borrowings were digital versions or e-books. This looks like a trend that will continue.
4. I am delighted therefore to also join you tonight to recognise the many generous contributors to the collections of National Library (NL) and National Archives of Singapore (NAS).
5. Both institutions have done great work in preserving materials that tell us more about our Singapore Story. A year ago, I visited the Human x Nature exhibition, which included exhibits contributed by donors, – some of whom are here this evening. I distinctively remember the illustration of Jurong River in the 19th century and photos of rubber plantations in the early 20th century created an immersive experience that made Singapore’s environmental history come alive!
6. To everyone who has donated items to our nation’s collections in the past year – thank you all so much for helping to preserve our heritage for the larger public.
Donors play a key role in igniting Singaporeans’ appreciation of our shared history
7. Last year, NLB launched LAB25, or the Libraries and Archives Blueprint 2025, our five-year plan to reimagine the future of libraries and archives. One of NLB’s roles under LAB25 is to inspire “Singapore Storytellers” by nurturing a stronger appreciation and understanding of Singapore’s heritage and identity.
8. By sharing your treasured artefacts, you have enriched our collections, enabling Singaporeans to discover new aspects of our shared history.
9. Some of the invaluable donations made this year include:
a. Madam Lim Pey Rong Charlotte, daughter of Mr Patrick Lim Chor Ann. She donated a collection of film reels and photo slides taken in the 1950s belonging to her father. This collection provides insights into the social history and performing arts in Singapore during the 1950s.
b. Donations from the Singapore Chinese Medical Union – minutes of their founding meetings, records of member physicians, accounts books and other precious items dating back to 1929. These allow us to learn how traditional Chinese medicine has developed over the years.
c. NLB is also grateful for the generous donations from regular donors like Mr Lim Shao Bin and Mr John Koh. Mr Lim has donated books, maps, and art prints dating back to 1910, relating to pre-war Japanese presence in Southeast Asia and their subsequent occupation of Southeast Asia during World War II. Mr Koh has donated items that tell the story of 19th to early 20th century Singapore and Southeast Asia, including letters, maps, photos and publications.
d. I must mention one donation caught my attention. As many of you know, I serve as MP for Jalan Besar, within which we have famous landmarks like Hong Lim Park. As it turns out, NLB now has a collection of wills, legal and business documents belonging to Mr Cheang Hong Lim and his family. Donated by the family of Mr Cheang Theam Kee, the collection provides a record of the familial relations and business activities of one of the leading Chinese families in colonial Singapore.
10. All your precious donations paint a vivid picture of Singapore’s rich history. They deepen our understanding of our cultural, medical and business roots, and broaden our perspectives of how the landscapes have developed not just locally, but within the region and the world.
The stories shared in NL and NAS’s collections and made available through physical and digital platforms connect us as a people and contribute to nurturing our Singaporean identity
11. Another reason these donations are important is that they connect us as a people. Through them, we remember our shared culture and heritage.
12. This year, we received a variety of creative works written in Chinese, Malay, and Tamil, which has greatly enriched our arts collection.
a. Mr Koh Kok Chin donated calligraphic works by his grandfather Mr Xu Yunzhi (also known as Mr Koh Woon Chi) who is regarded as one of the pioneer calligraphers in Singapore.
b. Manuscripts and typescripts of Malay literary pioneers have been donated by Dr Mohamed Pitchay Gani Bin Mohamed Abdul Aziz. Dr Pitchay is a writer, editor and past president of Angkatan Sasterawan ‘50, a Singapore Malay writers’ movement. His donations include the works of the late Mr Abdul Ghani Hamid and the late Mr Aliman Hassan.
c. We also thank Madam Valliyammai for donating the handwritten manuscripts and typescripts of Tamil stories and radio plays written by her father – literary pioneer Mr Se Ve Shanmugam.
13. The rich diversity of creative works contributed by our donors adds much colour to the canvas on which we have and will continue to paint our Singapore story.
14. To enable current and future generations of Singaporeans to access collections and appreciate how our Singapore story has developed over time, NL and NAS have made concerted efforts to digitise collections. For instance, NL has collaborated with the National Arts Council to set up the Singapore Online Arts Repository, which digitises the works of Cultural Medallion recipients and longstanding arts and culture groups, where possible.
15. You may now explore our online collections anytime, anywhere via platforms such as Archives Online, BookSG and PictureSG. I hope that you will encourage your loved ones to do so.
NLB will continue to partner and engage the community to develop our shared narrative
16. Once again, we would like to thank all past and present donors for your strong support and collaboration. Our collections and reach would not be so extensive if not for your generous donations.
17. At the same time, we are committed to getting more Singaporeans onboard the journey of sharing their Singapore story, through crowdsourcing efforts such as the Citizen Archivist project. We are heartened that many members of the public have supported the project by contributing their own memories and translating historical texts for fellow Singaporeans to enjoy.
18. Today, I am pleased to announce that NLB will be expanding the Citizen Archivist project. Next year, we will launch a website called “Documenting Singapore Together” for members of the public to submit materials about Singapore in more formats, such as images and videos. Members of the public can also help improve access to NLB’s collections by assisting with transcription, translation, and transliteration. In other words, we are tapping on the passion of Singaporeans in documenting our history so that we can extend the collections even wider and enable even more Singaporeans to be part of documenting this history.
19. Equally important are our sponsors. Over the years, our sponsors have:
a. Enriched NLB’s collections;
b. Enabled us to bring library services to a wider community, including children from disadvantaged families, and persons with disabilities; and
c. Supported the transformation of our libraries into green learning spaces, in line with Singapore’s national sustainability agenda.
20. One way or another, we are all “Singapore Storytellers”. We each have personal stories to share. And our individual experiences add to our collective memory of what it means to be Singaporean.
21. This effort to preserve and extend the Singapore story must never end. It strengthens the foundation upon which to build future efforts, such as the Forward SG movement, which DPM Lawrence Wong launched in June this year.
22. Let us continue working together to collect, connect, and collaborate to tell our Singapore Story.
23. Thank you!