National Library Building (Stamford Road)

Singapore Infopedia


The National Library building, located at 91 Stamford Road, officially opened on 12 November 1960.1 Between 1887 and 1960, the National Library had previously occupied the western wing of the Raffles Museum (now the National Museum of Singapore) at Stamford Road.

The first move for a new National Library building came in 1953 when Lee Kong Chian, rubber tycoon and a prominent figure of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, donated S$375,000 towards a new building.3 On 16 August 1957, the foundation stone of the new building was laid by Lee.4 The land, building expenditure as well as furniture and equipment for the new building cost about S$2 million.5 The site was previously occupied by the St John’s Ambulance Headquarters and British Council Hall.6

The building was designed by the Public Works Department architect, Lionel Bintley in consultation with National Library Director, L. M. Harrod (1955-1959).7 The project architect was Tio Seng Chin.8 The completed library had a reinforced concrete framed structure with brick walls.9 The architecture was said to reflect the red-brick epoch of British architecture in the 1950s.10

After its completion, however, the National Library building received criticism from various sectors.11 One criticism was that it did not harmonise with the aesthetically pleasing and dignified National Museum adjacent to it.12 The National Library building was described as “forbidding”, “intimidating”, “out of character” and “monumental but clumsy”.13

Despite these criticisms, the new library was appreciated for its tremendous increase in space, which was said to be four times larger than its previous premises.14

The total floor area of the new building was 101,500 sq ft.15 The ground floor comprised the exhibition hall, adult lending library, children’s library, children’s activities room and lecture hall. The mezzanine floor housed administrative offices and a stack area. The first floor held the reference library, microfilm reading room and a conference room.16

The library was officially declared open by then-President Yusof bin Ishak on 12 November 1960.17 It is reported that “[i]ncessant hordes of people [were] milling about the library grounds on that auspicious day” curious to see the new library.18 President Yusof Ishak stated that the new library “would serve the needs of nation-building and its departments of knowledge, learning and technology embraced a wide field”.19 The official opening of the National Library heralded a week of festivities called the National Library Week.20  

In 1998, it was announced that the National Library on Stamford Road would be demolished to make way for the Singapore Management University and the construction of Fort Canning tunnel, resulting in calls by the public to preserve the library.21 The two main considerations for tearing down the National Library were better land use in the area and to ease the traffic congestion.22 The National Library at Stamford Road closed on 1 April 2004.23 The National Library re-opened at its Victoria Street premises in 2005.24

Anasuya Soundararajan

1. “Cultural Awakening at Opening of New National Library,” Straits Times, 13 November 1960, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Hedwig Anuar, “The National Library of Singapore 1958–1983,” Singapore Libraries 13 (1983), 4–5 (Call no. RCLOS q020.5 SL); “National Museum of Singapore,” National Heritage Board, accessed 16 April 2018.
3. “Start Made on Free Library,” Straits Times, 17 August 1957, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Start Made on Free Library”; “$21/2 Mil. Library Is Free,” Singapore Free Press, 16 August 1957, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Anuar, “National Library of Singapore 1958–1983,” 5; “New Raffles Library Is Now Open,” Straits Times, 3 November 1960, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “City’s New $2 Mil Library,” Sunday Standard, 20 November 1955, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “National Library, Our Heritage and a Treasure,” Straits Times, 19 February 2000, 68 (From NewspaperSG); “City’s New $2 Mil Library”; Anuar, “National Library of Singapore 1958–1983,” 5.
8. K. K. Seet, A Place for the People (Singapore: Times Books International, 1983), 115. (Call no. RSING 027.957 SEE)
9. “City’s New $2 Mil Library.”
10. “Our Heritage and a Treasure.”
11. Seet, Place for the People, 115; “Library Building in Singapore Is Severely Criticised,” Straits Times, 3 July 1960, 7; Ian Mok-Ai, “They Gasp with Horror at This ‘Monstrous Monument’,” Singapore Free Press, 9 July 1960, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Anuar, “National Library of Singapore 1958–1983,” 5.
13. Seet, Place for the People, 115; Mok-Ai, “Gasp with Horror at This ‘Monstrous Monument’.”
14. Anuar, “National Library of Singapore 1958–1983,” 5.
15. Anuar, “National Library of Singapore 1958–1983,” 5.
16. “Start Made on Free Library”; “City’s New $2 Mil Library.”
17. “Cultural Awakening at Opening”; Lydia Aroozoo, “S’pore’s New Landmark,” Singapore Free Press, 12 November 1960, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Seet, Place for the People, 120.
19. “Cultural Awakening at Opening.”
20. Seet, Place for the People, 122.
21. Theresa Tan, “After April 1, Buy a Chunk of the Old Library,” Straits Times, 29 January 2004, 4; Lydia Lim, “New Plan for Bras Basah Offered,” Straits Times, 25 January 2000, 34; Tan Hsueh Yun, “National Library Building Will Not Be Conserved,” Straits Times, 27 March 1999, 51. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Tan Hsueh Yun, “Library Must Go for 2 Key Reasons,” Straits Times, 22 March 1999, 42. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Tan, “Buy a Chunk of the Old Library.”
24. “A Cultural Asset That Inspires All,” Straits Times, 12 November 2005, 20. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as of 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.






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