Toa Payoh Public Library

Singapore Infopedia


Located at 6 Toa Payoh Central, Singapore, Toa Payoh Community Library (previously known as Toa Payoh Branch Library),1 as it was then known, was opened on 7 February 1974. Equipped to serve about 250,000 residents in Toa Payoh, it was the second full-time branch library to decentralise its library services.2 It also served as the base for the National Library’s Library Extension Services, which included the mobile libraries and part-time branch libraries.3 After extensive renovations, it reopened on 9 May 1999 to also offer additional services for the elderly and serve as the location for One Learning Place, a centre for training in basic IT skills.4

As early as mid-1969, Housing & Development Board town planners had reserved the present site for a library to serve the new satellite town and housing estate of Toa Payoh. Led by a Building Committee of five experienced librarians and a project architect, actual planning began in April 1971.5 Construction work started in mid-August 1972, but was temporarily stopped for a month when the partially completed building was used as the Secretariat for the seventh Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games held in Singapore from August to September 1973. The building was completed and handed over to the National Library in November 1973.6

Costing about $1,234,000 to construct,7 the Toa Payoh Branch Library was a three-storey stand-alone building with foundation piling for an additional fourth floor to accommodate a larger residential population. It was equipped with a lift-shaft to accommodate the installation of a public lift if a fourth floor were to be added. Holding an initial collection of 290,000 volumes in four languages and 440 seats when it first opened, it had a floor area of approximately 4,125 square metres.

Located in the heart of the Town Centre, it featured a large circular water fountain and public walkways. Within walking distance of the library were cinemas, supermarkets, restaurants, banks, public car parks, a bus terminal, public places of worship, sports and games facilities and schools.8 The circular water fountain was eventually replaced by an amphitheatre.9

In its early years, the ground floor of the library building housed the Children’s Room and the Library Extension Section, behind which was the Mobile Library garage. A spiral staircase connected the Children’s Room with the first floor where the storytelling room, staff workroom, office, a meeting room, a lecture hall and a large library stack were located. The second floor accommodated the loan and reference services for adults and young people as well as a staff workroom.10 

Registration for membership of Toa Payoh Branch Library started from 2 to 21 January 1974. Students below 15 could become members for free, while adults needed to pay a $5 deposit.11 The library was officially opened on 7 February 1974 by Haji Sha’ari bin Tadin, Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Culture.12 Jek Yuen Thong, Minister for Culture, was originally scheduled to conduct the opening ceremony but was unable to attend.13 

The initial opening hours of the library were 10am to 10pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 10am to 5.30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.14 It was popular with residents, especially children, gaining about 9,623 members within a month of its opening. By March 1974, about 75 percent of its members were children.15 Further, the mobile library service at Serangoon Gardens stopped and residents of the area were encouraged to use the full-time Toa Payoh Branch Library instead.16 There was an increase of 26.6 percent in membership, the largest compared to other branch services under the National Library in 1975.17 

As a result of the free membership policy implemented on 15 November 1980, the National Library stopped collecting $5 deposits for citizen and permanent resident membership registrations at its libraries, including Toa Payoh. Members could choose to get their deposit back or donate it to library for facilities improvement.18 The waiver of deposit resulted in a sharp increase of 8,953 in total membership signups in the National Library and branch libraries in January 1981.19

Programmes and services
In line with the National Library’s plan to establish branch libraries as educational, social and cultural centres, Toa Payoh Branch Library hosted a variety of programmes and activities, such as music performances,20 movie screenings, cultural shows, informational talks and life skills in its lecture hall.21 It was also involved in clubs and cultural activities. For instance, a cultural group specialising in Malay music, dance and drama, known as Kumpulan Muztadra, was formed in 1978.22 Run by two volunteers, Sheila Sofian and Gurdip Singh, a drama group known as Toa Payoh Playhouse was also formed by the library. It conducted free drama courses at the library’s premises and also staged performances in the library’s lecture hall.23 

Besides books and programmes, the library also provided information services under the National Library’s community information service. Members of the public could call or walk in to the National Library or any of the three branch libraries, including Toa Payoh, to ask questions and seek advice on subjects such as simple facts and information, services provided by the government, and referrals to appropriate organisations for assistance.24

Toa Payoh Branch Library was headed by Chan Thye Seng, who worked at the library from 1983 to 1993.25 In the 1980s, the library introduced various improvements to its services and facilities. It broadened its collection to include audio-visual materials in 1982, with the collection focused on science and technology. However, the audio-visual resources could not be loaned out. To facilitate the use of this service, an audio-visual room equipped with 11 sets of equipment such as video cassette recorders, record players and slide projectors was set up in the library. This service was part of the National Library’s plan to provide non-readers with alternative sources of information through audio-visual services and materials at the main and branch libraries.26 

Library spaces and facilities
Spaces and facilities at the library were also enhanced, starting with the installation of air-conditioning in late 1981. The library had to stagger the closing times of its different sections to complete the installation. The adults’ and young people’s sections were closed for about four months from 24 November and reopened on 1 April 1982, while the children’s section closed on 1 April and reopened on 12 July.27 A corner for elderly users was introduced in 1982 following feedback that spaces were often taken up by younger users. In the space specially set aside for the elderly, younger users who occupied the seats were politely asked to give them up to elderly users.28 A lift was also installed in 1985 so that wheelchair-bound users could access the collections and facilities on the second and third floors. The upper levels were previously only accessible via stairs, so these users had to wait at the ground level while librarians retrieved the books for them.29

Toa Payoh Branch Library closed from November 1987 to April 1988 for renovation and computerisation.30 Computerisation of the catalogue made it easier for users to search for titles, check their availability and make reservations. It also helped to reduce the processing and queueing times for borrowing and returning materials, as librarians could now scan the barcodes to retrieve details. The system also allowed users to return both adult and children titles at the same counter rather than having to return them separately.

Computerisation also enabled the issuance of a new laminated library card with a barcode that stored membership details.31 The library card would change in 1993 when libraries started the use of Singapore’s new NRIC cards with barcodes to borrow library materials and pay fines.32

Changes to opening days and times
The library began operating on Sundays on 31 March 1990 in a six-month trial conducted at three branch libraries. The library was opened from 1pm to 5pm on Sundays. It closed earlier at 5pm on Saturdays instead of the usual 9pm.33 The trial led to the decision to open the National Library and branch libraries on Sundays in 1991 as it was observed that visitorship on Sundays was thrice that of Saturdays.34 

Establishment of the National Library Board
1995 was a milestone year for libraries as it marked the passing of the National Library Board Bill on 1 March,35 the establishment of the National Library Board (NLB) as a statutory board and beginning of NLB on 1 September. The formation was a result of the recommendations made by the Library 2000 Review Committee, which was formed in 1992 to look at improvements to the public library system in Singapore in view of the worldwide information technology revolution.36 The committee also recommended a three-tier public library system of regional, community and neighbourhood libraries,37 leading to Toa Payoh Branch Library to be renamed Toa Payoh Community Library.

Free Internet access
To keep up with the IT revolution, soon after the formation of NLB, the Internet@The Library programme was launched by then NLB Chairman Tan Chin Nam on 6 October 1995 at Tampines. Internet@The Library was a new service providing free Internet access to public via 16 computer terminals at 10 public libraries, including Toa Payoh. It was a joint project between NLB and the National Computer Board. Larger branches operated two terminals while smaller branches like Toa Payoh operated one terminal each. Members of the public could reserve one-hour slots to use these terminals.38

Upgrading works
In 1997, the 23-year-old Toa Payoh Public Library was selected as the second library to be upgraded, after the National Library building on Stamford Road, with works slated to begin the following year. This was part of a $15.6 million plan by NLB to upgrade seven libraries in five years, announced by then MP for Cheng San GRC Zainul Abidin Rasheed at the official opening of Cheng San Community Library at Hougang Mall. Besides 100,000 new books, the upgrade would also provide each library with 14 multi-media terminals, in addition to 10 self-service check out machines which allowed users to borrow and return books themselves without having to queue. The interiors would also be upgraded to provide better lighting and furnishing. The aim of the upgrade was to enhance the services and facilities at older libraries to keep up with higher usage and user expectations.39 The news of the upgrade was timely due to the age of the library. With counters manned by library staff, users encountered long waiting times at counters during peak hours, while staff also faced challenges handling the large volume of users.40

The library closed its doors on 9 May 1998 for upgrading, with works estimated to cost $5.7 million.41 It was officially reopened on 10 May 1999 by then Minister for Home Affairs and MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC Wong Kan Seng, who stated in his opening speech that the revamp was a “significant milestone” in “developing the support services for Singaporeans to launch into the knowledge-based economy”.42 With the upgrading project, new facilities were introduced for the benefit of users. A senior citizens’ room was set up with 200 large print books, sofas, chairs and a multi-media terminal. The 44-square-metre room was designed to give the elderly their own space to read and surf the Internet and encourage seniors to read and learn to use IT. Programmes for senior citizens were also organised there.43

The children’s and adults’ sections also received an overhaul. The children’s section was redesigned with a Treasure Island theme, complete with nautical features such as boats and sea motifs, while the adults’ section was reorganised into colour-coded knowledge clusters based on subject topics such as Business, Family and Home, and Language. The third floor was redesigned into a zone for students aged 10 to 19, providing materials relevant for school assignments. There was also a new café run by Delifrance.44

A key facility at the revamped library was the ONE Learning Place located at the third floor of the library. The ONE Learning Place was an IT training centre with 142 computer terminals linked to the Singapore One network to provide IT training programmes for citizens as Singapore moved towards a knowledge-based economy.45

Besides facilities, the library also received an upgrade in its technology. Self-service machines were added to the library to make services more efficient. Users could use the Borrowers’ Enquiry (BNQ) terminals to check their loans and make payments and the borrowing stations to loan out books themselves.46 Toa Payoh was one of the community libraries where the Electronic Library Management System (Elims), which uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track material circulation, was put in place.47 The library closed from 1 to 7 July for the upgrade of NLB’s computer and catalogue system, which was replaced with new terminals with a graphics-based and multi-lingual interface.48

Planning ahead
In 2005, NLB announced its Library 2010: Libraries for Life, Knowledge for Success masterplan to chart the future of the national and public libraries. Under Library 2010, the three main operating areas, public libraries, national library and digital library, would each have their own focus based on user needs. With the announcement of the plan, the community libraries, such as Toa Payoh, then became known as public libraries.49

When NLB worked with the Infocomm Development Authority to roll out Smart Work Centres (SWC) at three public libraries in 2014, Toa Payoh Community Library was selected as one of the venues. SWC offered pay-per-use workspaces with office facilities meant to support flexible working arrangements closer to home to facilitate work-life balance. The SWCs were launched by then Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim on 30 May at Jurong Regional Library.50 The initiative arose as one of the recommendations made by the Tripartite Workgroup on ICT-enabled Home-based Jobs in 2013.51 Toa Payoh was also one of the first public libraries in Singapore to implement self-service reservation lockers where users could make payments for the reservation of items and collect reserved items even when the libraries were closed.52

As a mature estate, plans were proposed to revitalise and rejuvenate Toa Payoh. In early 2014, National Parks Board (NParks) called for a tender to conduct a feasibility study on the bringing together of three landmarks in Toa Payoh – the town park, stadium and library – to form an integrated town park and enhance the residents’ quality of living. Under this proposal, the library would be relocated to a new site closer to the park and stadium.53 

By 2017, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) had unveiled its plans for rejuvenating Toa Payoh under the Remaking Our Heartland initiative. Under this plan, the library’s location was to remain, although its surroundings would become greener and more user-friendly.54


Wong Heng & Thulaja Naidu Ratnala

1. “Toa Payoh Public Library,” National Library Board, Singapore, accessed 21 March 2018.
2. National Library (Singapore), Annual Report 1974 (Singapore: National Library, 1975), 11 (Call no. RCLOS 027.55957 RLSAR); “Katong to Get New Library in 2 Years,” New Nation, 27 September 1973, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “Services at Library,” Straits Times, 8 February 1974, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Adeline Yeo, “Learn IT in New Library,” Straits Times, 11 May 1999, 63; “Learning Place for Singapore One Opens,” Straits Times, 19 May 1999, 11; “Library Sets Up Room for Elderly,” Straits Times, 28 May 1999, 75. (From NewspaperSG)
5. T. S. Chan and L. Y. Tan, “The Toa Payoh Branch Library: A Library Service to an Urban Community,” Singapore Libraries 4 (1974), 11–13 (Call no. RCLOS 020.5 SL); National Library (Singapore), Annual Report 1971 (Singapore: National Library, 1972), 8. (Call no. RCLOS 027.55957 RLSAR)
6. Chan and Tan, “The Toa Payoh Branch Library,” 11–13; National Library (Singapore), Annual Report 1973 (Singapore: National Library, 1974), 9. (Call no. RCLOS 027.55957 RLSAR)
7. “Toa Payoh Library,” Straits Times, 9 January 1973, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Chan and Tan, “The Toa Payoh Branch Library,” 11–13.
9. “Toa Payoh Heritage Trail,” National Heritage Board, accessed 28 September 2018.
10. Chan and Tan, “The Toa Payoh Branch Library,” 11–13.
11. “New Branch Library,” Straits Times, 29 December 1973, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
12. National Library (Singapore), Annual Report 1974 (Singapore: National Library, 1975), 11 (Call no. RCLOS 027.55957 RLSAR); Ministry of Information and the Arts, Inche Sha’ari Tadin opens Toa Payoh Branch National Library, 7 February 1974, photograph, Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, National Archives of Singapore (Media-Image no. 19980006832 – 0092)
13. “Jek to Open Toa Payoh Library,” Straits Times, 5 February 1974, 13 (From NewspaperSG); Jek Yeun Thong, “The Official Opening of Toa Payoh Branch Library,” speech, 7 February 1974, Ministry of Culture. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. PressR19740207)
14. “Library Hours,” Straits Times, 8 January 1975, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “Plans for Third Full-Time Branch Library,” New Nation, 11 March 1974, 2; Ismail Kassim, “Making Libraries Social and Cultural Centres,” New Nation, 21 May 1974, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Library Change,” New Nation, 18 April 1974, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “National Library Plans More Full-Time Branches,” Business Times, 1 October 1977, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
18. “Library Poses the $5 Question,” Straits Times, 17 January 1981, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “8,900 Sign Up After Library Waives $5 Deposit,” (1981, February 20). Straits Times, 20 February 1981, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “The Sound of Jazz in a Library,” New Nation, 13 January 1975, 3; “Thai Films,” Straits Times, 25 September 1975, 7 (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Pineapple Tart Making,” Straits Times, 16 January 1975, 7; “Career Talk,” New Nation, 26 August 1974, 3; “N-Day Show at Library,” Straits Times, 31 July 1975, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Haron A. Rahman, “Bringing Culture to a Library,” Straits Times, 30 May 1983, 4; “Section Three,” Straits Times, 30 May 1983, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “Curtains Up,” Business Times, 5 June 1978, 7; “Aspiring Actors Are Taught the Three Ds,” Business Times, 10 April 1978, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Tan Ban Huat, “Ring Up the Library for Answers to Your Question,” Straits Times, 2 November 1980, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “Veteran Librarian with Tales Aplenty,” Straits Times, 4 December 1992, 30; Wendy Tan, “Facelift for Toa Payoh Library,” Straits Times, 5 May 1998, 41. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Hedwig Alfred, “Library to Start Audio-Video Loan Scheme,” Straits Times, 13 May 1983, 1; “Libraries to Offer More Audio-Visual Services Soon,” Straits Times, 3 December 1981, 13; Tan Keen Yeen, “Video Boost for Library,” New Nation, 6 October 1981, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “Library to Close,” Straits Times, 23 November 1981, 8; “Library Re-Opens,” Straits Times, 10 March 1982, 8; “Library Opens Kids’ Section,” Straits Times, 12 July 1982, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Idah Latiff, “But They Are Losing Their Seats to Young ‘Intruders’,” Straits Times, 5 May 1982, 11; “Cosy Corner for Older Folk,” Straits Times, 5 May 1982, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
29. Cephah Tan, “Library to Install a Lift for the Handicapped,” Straits Times, 7 August 1984, 16; “$77,000 Lift for Disabled at the Library,” Straits Times, 25 December 1985, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “Spruce-Up for Library,” Straits Times, 2 October 1987, 19; “Return Toa Payoh Library Books By Nov 14,” Straits Times, 29 October 1987, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Rohaniah Saini, “On-Line System Boon to Library Users,” Straits Times, 20 May 1988, 20; Russell Lim, “Queenstown Library Goes On-Line,” Straits Times, 24 October 1987, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
32. “No Need for Library Card, Just Use New IC to Borrow Books,” Straits Times, 6 July 1993, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
33. “Sunday Library at 3 Branches,” Straits Times, 30 March 1990, 33. (From NewspaperSG)
34. “National Library to Open on Sundays on Jan 2,” Straits Times, 25 November 1990, 30. (From NewspaperSG)
35. “Bill to Give National Library Wider Role,” Straits Times, 2 March 1995, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
36. Library 2000 Review Committee, Singapore and Ministry of Information and the Arts, Singapore, Library 2000: Investing in a Learning Nation: Report of the Library 2000 Review Committee (Singapore: SNP Publishers, 1994), 23. (Call no. RSING 027.05957 SIN)
37. Library 2000 Review Committee, Singapore and Ministry of Information and the Arts, Singapore, Library 2000, 19.
38. “Free Internet Access from Any Public Library,” Straits Times, 7 October 1995, 33; S. Tsering Bhalla, “… And in Singapore,” Straits Times, 18 November 1995, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
39. Eliza Teoh, “$15.6M Plan to Upgrade Six Public Libraries,” Straits Times, 7 March 1997, 46; Joanne Lee, “7 to Be Upgraded to Meet Higher Usage, Demands,” Straits Times, 11 April 1997, 40. (From NewspaperSG)
40. Joanne Lee, “Changing with the Times,” Straits Times, 11 April 1997, 40. (From NewspaperSG)
41. Tan, “Facelift for Toa Payoh Library.” 
42. Yeo, “Learn IT in New Library.”
43. “Library Sets Up Room for Elderly.”
44. Tan, “Facelift for Toa Payoh Library.” 
45. Yeo, “Learn IT in New Library”; “Learning Place for Singapore One Opens.”
46. “A Day in the Community Library,” New Paper, 22 July 1999, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
47. Billy Teo, “Hail the Hi-Tech Library,” Straits Times, 23 August 2000, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
48. Steve Dawson, “Just One Click and You’re In,” Straits Times, 9 July 1999, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
49. National Library Board, Singapore, Library 2010: Libraries for Life, Knowledge for Success (Singapore: National Library Board, 2005), 31. (Call no. RSING q027.55957 SIN)
50. Tan Shi Wei, “Smart Centres Let You Work from a Library Near Home,” Today, 31 May 2014, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
51. “Getting Flexi with It: Working Smarter with Technology,” New Paper, 13 February 2013, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
52. Priscilla Goy, “Reserved a Book? Get It Anytime at the Library,” Straits Times, 29 August 2016, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
53. Hoe Pei Shan, “Integrated Town Park Plan for Toa Payoh,” Straits Times, 6 Febuary 2014, 2–3. (From NewspaperSG)
54. Melissa Lin, “Toa Payoh to Get New Flats, New Parks in Makeover,” Straits Times, 23 April 2017, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Ministry of National Development, “Residents at the Heart of HDB’s Remaking Our Heartland Plans,” MND Link (May–June 2017) 

The information in this article is valid as at 2018 and correct as far as we can 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 materials on the topic.

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