Speech by Minister for Communications and Information Mrs Josephine Teo at the Reopening of Central Public Library on 12 January 2024

Immerse in Singapore Stories and Sustainability at the Reopened Central Public Library
Mr Lee Seow Hiang, Chairman, National Library Board
Mr Ng Cher Pong, Chief Executive Officer, National Library Board
Colleagues and Friends from the International Community
NLB’s Esteemed Partners and Volunteers

1.                   Good morning. I am delighted to be welcoming everyone back to Central Public Library, NLB’s flagship public library. I know it has been a long wait for many.

2.                   Central Public Library has many fans, including my residents in Jalan Besar. When my daughters were teenagers, they spent many hours here studying and hanging out with friends.

3.                   A temporary closure has certainly inconvenienced many regular visitors, but it was necessary so that a proper revamp could be carried out. Now the works are done, we look forward to seeing our regular, longstanding fans again as well as winning over new fans.

Central Public Library’s revamp advances NLB’s LAB25 vision of transforming libraries and archives nationwide
4.                   Some of you have heard me say before that I don’t think libraries will vanish anytime soon, if ever at all. As repositories of knowledge, they have a special place in human societies.  

5.                   Among ancient cities I’ve visited, libraries have often popped up, even as ruins.  They include the Library of Celsus in Ephesus, Türkiye, built in the second century and the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, China, where the first caves were dug in the fourth century.  

6.                   Libraries have also long been vibrant hubs where people gathered to exchange ideas. The Library of Alexandria in Egypt famously hosted lectures, debates and performances that drew crowds from across the Mediterranean. 

7.                   Today, the oldest library that is still open to the public is al-Qarawiyyin Library in Fez, Morocco, established in 859 CE. Not only has it remained standing for centuries, it was renovated as recently as 2016 and reopened as a communal space for learning and heritage.

8.                   Other libraries have also stood the test of time. This includes St Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai region of Egypt, whose library has gone digital so as to preserve its collection of ancient manuscripts.  

9.                   More recently, I have encountered an open-air seasonal library in Karuizawa, and another within a wellness resort!

10.                   I often think about how libraries can evolve to remain hubs of knowledge and discovery as they have been for generations.

11.                  In today’s world, dominated by digital platforms and proliferation of content, libraries must find new ways to empower people to learn and connect. 

12.                  This is why NLB launched LAB25, the Libraries and Archives Blueprint 2025, just over two years ago.  LAB25 articulates our vision to transform our libraries to create meaningful reading, learning and discovery experiences for all, for today and for tomorrow.

13.                  In the past year, NLB opened Punggol Regional Library, which introduced many innovative and accessible features, pop-up Manga and Comics Libraries, and nodes in public transit and healthcare spaces. In other words, we want to bring people to the library, but we can also bring library to the people.

14.                  Our efforts to transform have been well-received. In the past year, based on NLB’s annual REACH survey, almost 8 in 10 Singaporeans and permanent residents used NLB’s services, a return to pre-pandemic levels. There were almost 37 million loans  – that is more than one loan made every second of the year.

15.                  Today, we are taking the next step in our journey of library transformation.

Central Public Library offers interactive and immersive ways for patrons to discover All Things Singapore, Sustainability and Biodiversity
16.                  Central Public Library has been refreshed with many new features. There is nothing better than experiencing the revamped library for yourselves, and I encourage you to spend some time exploring today. Let me highlight three things.

17.                  First, is the library’s new theme – Singapore: Kaleidoscope. This is inspired by the rich heritage of the surrounding Civic District, and because Central Public Library draws a diverse group of patrons from all across Singapore.

a.                   Now, you can discover all things Singapore at the new Singapore Alcove, which brings NLB’s collections to life with interactive exhibitions. Be sure to check out the current exhibition, Lepak Landscapes, which explores Singapore’s leisure history.

b.                   You will also see Singapore-inspired touches in the vibrant artwork and designs throughout the library, contributed by a mix of established and emerging artists.

c.                   Those of us who have been to the old National Library at Stamford Road will recognise its red bricks in the Memories Corner, where you can take a trip down memory lane through a multimedia experience.

18.                  Second, is the library’s focus on Sustainability. As we work to realise the Singapore Green Plan 2030, we must also educate our people to help build a sustainable future.

a.                   At the brand new Children’s Biodiversity Library by S.E.A. Aquarium, families can learn about sustainability and the environment together. 

b.                   I encourage parents to bring your children to try out intertidal animal art, transplanting mangroves and upcycling, and many more programmes held in the new Submarine room.

19.                  Third, is the Immersive Room, which I am standing in right now, where NLB is piloting a new experience called StoryGen.

20.                  StoryGen allows you to give a twist to well-known stories and have them presented as images using Generative AI. So, you can watch scenes come alive from the Sejarah Melayu (the Malay Annals), like the fight between the villagers and the garfish. Or see for yourself what an anime version of the Wizard of Oz would look like. Your imagination is the limit!

21.                  All of these new features are made possible because NLB has embraced the spirit of innovation, experimentation and partnerships to reimagine the library.

Collaborations with partners and the community create new possibilities for libraries of the future
22.                  At the heart of the refreshed Central Public Library are the collaborations we have worked out with partners and with the community. I would like to take this opportunity to thank some of them.

23.                  First, Resorts World Sentosa for their close collaboration with NLB to create the Children’s Biodiversity Library by S.E.A. Aquarium;

24.                  Second, artists including Lee Xin Li, Ah Guo, and students from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, whose vibrant murals decorate the library;

25.                  Third, NLB’s international partners who have donated 2,000 titles to Central Public Library’s International Collection;

26.                  Last, but not least, our volunteers, who are the friendly faces of our libraries. Some have been volunteering with us for many years:

a.                   Mr Lee Seow Chong has been running The Book Lover’s Club since 2010, bringing people together to share inspirations from stories.

b.                   Ms Lim Hwee Min has been a volunteer storyteller since 2005, the year that Central Public Library opened. At her last storytelling session, she even made balloon animals for the children.

27.                  Thank you all for your continued support for our libraries.

28.                   And if you will allow me to say a few words in Mandarin:

29.                  中央公共图书馆因为处于新加坡的市政区,因此在过去20 年来,吸引了四方八面的国人,在许多国人的心中占有特别的位置。为此,我们在为中央公共图书馆进行翻新时,特地考虑到的它在国人心中的特殊意义,特地以“新加坡万花筒“为主题为它进行翻新,顾名思义就是让国人能够在这里能够更进一步的了解新加坡。

30.                   如今,长达一年的翻新工作已经完成,重新开幕的中央图书馆,增添了许多新设施和互动性馆藏,如我们特地设置了一个角落来展示原国家图书馆的红砖块。

31.                  翻新的中央图书馆体现了图书馆管理局推尘出新,与时俱进的决心,让图书馆在大千世界中还是能够成为国人学习、探索的地点。

32.                  To conclude, Central Public Library has been serving Singaporeans for almost two decades since it opened in 2005, and it holds fond memories for many of us. The library has empowered people to read and learn, and it has been a gathering place for people to connect and enjoy quality time together.

33.                  This refresh creates new possibilities enabled by innovation, technology and partnerships. 

34.                  As we look ahead to the next two decades and beyond, we are confident that Central Public Library will continue to be a place for reimagining Singapore through reading, learning and discovery.

35.                  Thank you all again for being here.