Opening Remarks by Minister for Communications and Information Mrs Josephine Teo at NLB’s Donors’ Appreciation Night on 28 September 2023

NLB’s Esteemed Donors 
Mr Ng Cher Pong, Chief Executive Officer, NLB 
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen,


1.                   A very good evening. I have fond memories of last year’s Donors’ Appreciation Night and am delighted to be here again this year.  

2.                   I want to express my appreciation to all our donors. Your donations have helped NLB immensely to document our shared experiences as a nation.

3. In 1984, at the opening of the National Exhibition at the World Trade Centre, our Founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew said, “succeeding generations of students need to know our past”. For those of us who had the opportunity to interact with Mr Lee or have read about his thinking and considerations in building up Singapore, we would know how much he cared about ensuring that every generation of Singapore understood how we got to where we are today.
4.                   He also said that, “if through the National Exhibition, Singaporeans have a better understanding of how we got where we are, then the money and time were well-spent.”  

Donors as Key Enablers in NLB’s Role to Inspire Singapore Storytellers

5.                   Indeed, helping our people understand the Singapore Story is one of the NLB’s most important roles. In seeking to accomplish this crucial task, NLB has found the network of Singapore Storytellers indispensable.  

6.                   This includes our donors whose generous donations expand and diversify our collection of stories. 

7.                   In the past year alone, 85 donors came forward – a significant increase from the 68 the year before. 

8.                   Together, our donors added more than 5,700 heritage items to our collections, with some items dating back to the 19th century.
9.                   Let me share just a few of the donations that stood out. 
                      a. The first is a set of Japanese publications dating from the pre-war period to World War II, donated by Mr Lim Shao Bin.They include a commemorative publication on Crown Prince Hirohito’s historical visit to Europe in 1921, during which the royal entourage made a stopover in Singapore. They feature scenes of North Bridge Road lined with Japanese businesses, the Government House, Botanic Gardens and many more.
                      b. The second donation to highlight is a set of raw video footages of Singapore’s first expedition to Mount Everest in 1998. Donated by Mr David Lim, the mountaineer who led the expedition, these video clips show the team’s journey to the summit, chronicling the joys and perils of scaling the world’s highest peak. The video footage reminds us of this amazing achievement by the Singapore team, and the unforgettable moment of pride that all Singaporeans experienced when we got the news. So, thank you very much David!
                      c. The third donation to highlight is a collection of radio plays broadcast in the 1980s and 1990s. They include Chinese classics and opera performances presented on Rediffusion, Singapore’s first cable-transmitted, commercial radio station. These recordings, donated by Ms Eeva Chang Mei Hsiang (张美香), Chairperson and CEO of Rediffusion (2012) Pte Ltd, document the station’s transition from dialect to Mandarin programming, following the Speak Mandarin campaign. The radio advertisements are also a lively reminder of popular brands and products in years gone by. 
                      d. The fourth donation to highlight is a collection of ephemera from posters to flyers donated by Cultural Medallion Recipient Mdm Som Said. One of the publications includes a step-by-step guide to Malay dance, reflecting her company’s active promotion of the traditional art form which, thankfully, lives on till today.

                  10. We thank all our donors for adding to our collection. Your contributions enrich our understanding of our history and are instrumental to NLB’s role in inspiring Singapore Storytellers. 

Singaporeans as Co-authors of the Singapore Story

11.                   This year, we also commemorate the 100th birth anniversary of our Founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. 

12.                   NLB has therefore curated a range of resources, from audio to video records of Mr Lee, giving public access to a treasure trove of speeches, and for the first time, downloadable media. 

13.                   This collection sheds light on Mr Lee’s guiding principles, life, and work in building the nation. It is a remarkable story of how Singapore went from mud-flats to the metropolis. 

14.                   Today, the Singapore story continues to be written, by you and me. 

15.                   That is why NLB is strengthening its efforts to partner with the community, and anyone who calls Singapore home to bring their stories to life. 

16.                   On 1 October, NLB will be launching a new crowdsourcing platform to collect today’s memories for tomorrow’s generation. It is called “Singapore Memories: Documenting Our Stories Together”.

17.                   It is an effort to gather memories of life in Singapore as we are living it, not afterwards.  

18.                   Everyone is invited to submit stories in digital formats such as images, social media accounts, and soundscapes. There will also be thematic calls for contributions on our local food culture and youth culture, so do look out for them.
19.                   Through this online platform, the public can also make our collections more accessible by helping with transcribing, translating and transliterating heritage materials.

20.                  And as the world experiments with Artificial Intelligence, so too is NLB to find new ways for people to relive Singapore stories and be connected to our history.
21. Today, machine learning algorithms already suggest new titles and read summaries when we browse the NLB mobile app.  
                      a. With generative AI, might it be possible to “chat” with the characters in our history books, or others who have lived through those times or events?
                      b. Can it propose a learning roadmap of a topic, depending on how much time and depth we want to understand about it? Or come up with a personalised itinerary when we visit places in and outside of Singapore?  
                      c. What if we are so engaged by a story or stories and want to create a video summary to share with our families and friends? With generative AI, the answer to all these questions is, they are all possible. 

22.                   These efforts are very much in line with Singapore’s vision of “AI for the Public Good”, where technology is not something cold and unfeeling, but really a means to enrich our interactions and strengthen our communities. As part of the MCI Family’s efforts, NLB is exploring ways to leverage AI to better collect our shared memories and stories as one nation; better connect and relate with one another as one nation; and ultimately, glue us together by building stronger communities and deepening our sense of belonging as one nation. 

Partnering Organisations to Amplify our Collections 
23.                   I’m glad to share that in its attempts to do more for Singaporeans, NLB actively seeks out like-minded partners.

24.                   One example is the Singapore Architecture Collection that was launched last month. This is a partnership with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the National Heritage Board (NHB) and institutes of higher learning.  

25.                   NLB is working with them to document and collect archival materials about our modern and contemporary architecture.

26.                   Another example is the Singapore Online Arts Repository (SOAR). Started in 2020, this collaboration between NLB and the National Arts Council (NAC) aims to enhance the national collection of our arts content, and make them digitally available anytime, anywhere.

27.                   Our SOAR initiative has grown from strength to strength. The collection, with over 10,000 items to date, encompasses Singapore’s performing arts, visual arts and literary arts, with materials from Cultural Medallion recipients. 

28.                   From sketchbooks to screenplays, posters and musical scores, these items are a testament to the richness of our arts and cultural landscape. Content will be progressively available online through the NLB website and in the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library. 

Donating in Other Forms

29.                   Once again, to all our donors, past and present, thank you. 

30.                   There are other ways that members of the public can contribute. We would greatly welcome donations of time to improve the accessibility of our collections.
31.                   We are always looking for volunteers to help with transcription, translation, and transliteration of historical records. 


32.                   In conclusion, we all have a part to play to be Singapore Storytellers – to ensure that our history and heritage are not forgotten, and that future generations know what it took for us to become the shining red dot we proudly call home.  

33.                   Thank you, and I wish everyone a wonderful evening!