Junior Library

Singapore Infopedia


The Junior Library was a library for the young within Raffles Library, with the aim of providing them with books as a healthy form of entertainment.1 It was declared open by Sir Neill Malcolm, general officer commanding the Straits Settlements and chairman of the Library Sub-Committee, on 21 July 1923. The library was located within the premises of the Raffles Library and Museum at Stamford Road.2

The idea of a junior library was first mooted in 1921. At the time, a small collection of books was available for loan to children of Raffles Library’s subscribers. Due to the popularity of this small collection, further attempts were made to open a junior library, but were unsuccessful due to a lack of funds.3 Subsequently, considerations such as improving knowledge of the English language, deterring the younger generation from reading unhealthy literature and promoting reading as a healthy pastime led to the opening of the Junior Library in 1923. The concept also received support from the government and library committee, as well as teachers and students.4

The Junior Library was officially opened by General Officer Commanding the Straits Settlements Sir Neill Malcolm on 21 July 1923. Other guests present at the opening included J. Johnston, librarian of the Raffles Library, D. A. Bishop, principal of Raffles Institution, and Major J. C. Moulton, director of Raffles Museum.5 At the time of its opening, the library was the first of its kind in Singapore and Malaya.6

A large and well-ventilated storeroom on the ground floor of the Raffles Library and Museum’s premises was converted into the Junior Library. It had its own entrance, which adjoined the main library.7 The room was furnished with bookcases, as well as tables and chairs with a special design.8 A stuffed crocodile, some spears and other interesting specimens from the museum, as well as small palms presented by the Botanical Gardens, were used to decorate the room.9

When it opened, the Junior Library had an initial collection of about 600 books.10 To build up the collection, the library made an appeal for the donation of suitable titles.11 Several donations, in the form of money or books, were received.12 H.T. Clark, the inspector of schools, advised that a key consideration of a book’s selection should be its suitability for children who only had a basic understanding of English.13 Therefore, titles for the library were selected from Guide to Young Readers. Published by the Glasgow Libraries,14 the guide recommended literature for children and young people in Britain.15

By the end of 1923, the library held about 1,000 books, of which 783 were purchased and 267 donated. The collection comprised fiction and non-fiction titles for both boys and girls, as well as resources such as dictionaries, almanacs, yearbooks, and periodicals and newspapers.16 A 1,322-card catalogue of subjects and authors was also set up in the library.17 

The Junior Library was open to youths between 10 and 21 years old.  Initially, the library was open to boys and girls on different days of the week. Girls could visit the library on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and boys on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.18 This was abolished in 1930, meaning that both boys and girls could visit the library from Mondays to Fridays, 9am to 4pm, and Saturdays, 9am to 12.30pm.19 Opening hours on Saturdays were subsequently extended by half an hour to 1pm.20 It was extended again in 1957 to 5.30pm.21

Subscription fees were $3.00 per year, $2.00 for half a year and $1.00 for three months.22 At the time of its opening in 1923, the library had 276 subscribers, a number that had exceeded expectations.23 By the start of 1924 the number of subscribers had increased to 304, comprising 225 boys and 79 girls. However, by the end of the year, 222 subscribers had surrendered their memberships, although the library did gain 25 new ones. This decline was attributed to the youths’ lack of interest in reading, which the Junior Library had hoped would improve once school libraries were established.24

After its first two years, the number of subscriptions began to increase, from 74 to 212 in 1925,25 to 676 in 1927 and 800 in 1928. The increase was due to schools encouraging  their students to join the library.26 At the end of 1929, subscriptions reached had 1,586 with loans totaling 19,871. To cope with the high number of subscriptions, the library added new tables, chairs and shelves.27 Notably, the number of male youth subscribers consistently surpassed that of females, likely because more boys’ schools had joined the library compared to girls’ schools.28

However, in the 1930s, subscriptions of the Junior Library decreased from 1,175 in 1931 to 707 in 1939, with the economic depression being a contributing factor.29 A proposal to expand the Raffles Library was put forth in 1940, which would have seen the Public and Junior Libraries move to the part of the buildings previously occupied by St Andrew’s School, while Raffles Library would have then been developed into a pure reference library. However, the proposal fell through as the government decided to postpone the extension scheme due to the high costs involved.30

The Junior Library reopened after the Japanese Occupation on 14 January 1946 at the old premises of St Andrew’s School along Stamford Road. Membership subscription cost $2 per year or $0.50 per quarter.31 Like before, no deposit was required for a membership at the Junior Library, although an application form had to be filled in and signed by either a teacher or parent.32 Subscriptions to the library climbed to 1,141 in 1947, with male members once again outnumbering the females.33

In 1948, the Junior Library moved into a room in the Raffles Museum that was previously occupied by the British Council, which had moved to its new premises at the Boy Scouts’ headquarters. The new library featured two sections, one for older children and another for younger ones,34 which had reading tables, chairs and specially designed shelves that were lower in height to cater to smaller children. Drawings and paintings by British artists also adorned the walls. The library held about 4,000 titles, with about 400 donated by the British Council.35 Besides books, the British Council also gave £1,000 to the library for the purchase of books and equipment. The library advisor of the British Council, K. Ferguson, was also appointed as the executive of the new library, while Jenny Wee managed it.36 Lady Gimson, wife of the governor of Singapore, visited the library on 9 October 1948.37

The new library became increasingly popular with users. Members ranged from very young children to adults who were learning English.38 In 1950, the number of female subscribers exceeded that of male subscribers.39

On 1 April 1958, as part of Raffles Library’s conversion to a national library,40 the Junior Library became a free library. The resulting boom in membership led to issues such as a noisy environment and space constraints for the library, which only had a seating capacity of 35.41 On 18 October 1960, the Junior Library moved to the children’s section at the new Raffles National Library at Stamford Road.42 The new section, which included lending and reference services, began operations in the new building on 19 October 1960.43

Zaubidah Mohamed & Goh Lee Kim

1. “The Young Idea,” Straits Times, 23 July 1923, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
2. K. K. Seet, A Place for the People (Singapore: Times Books International, 1983), 65–66 (Call no. RSING 027.55957 SEE-[LIB]); “Young Idea.”
3. Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1923 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1924), 9. (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; microfilm NL3874)
4. “Young Idea”; “New Junior library,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 23 July 1923, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Young Idea”; “New Junior library.”
6.  Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1923, 9; Seet, Place for the People, 65.
8. Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1923, 10.
9. Seet, Place for the People, 65; Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1923, 9.
10. “Young Idea.”
11. “Junior Library for Singapore,” Straits Times, 12 July 1923, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Presentations to Junior Library,” Straits Times, 28 July 1923, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Supplementing Juvenile Education,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 21 February 1930, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Seet, Place for the People, 65.
15. Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1923, 10.
16. Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1923, 9–10, 18; “Supplementing Juvenile Education.”
17. Seet, Place for the People, 65.
18. Seet, Place for the People, 66; “Raffles Library,” Straits Times, 25 May 1926, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Our Intelligentsia in Slump Times,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 11 July 1931, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Growth of Raffles Library. Big Increase in Subscribers,” Malaya Tribune, 29 May 1934, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Library Hours,” Singapore Free Press, 3 January 1957, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Seet, Place for the People, 65–66; “Young Idea.”
23. “Young Idea”; “New Junior library.”
24. “Raffles Library,” Straits Times, 4 July 1925, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “Raffles Library: Report on Working during Past Year,” Straits Times, 25 May 1926, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “Raffles Library: Great Advance in Recent Years,” Straits Times, 30 March 1929, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “Notes of the Day,” Straits Times, 9 July 1930, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
28. “Raffles Library Popular,” Malaya Tribune, 25 August 1936, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
29. “Raffles Museum: Interesting Additions to the Collection,” Straits Times, 11 August 1932, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “Improvements Plan for Raffles Library,” Straits Times, 10 May 1940, 10; “Govt. Postpones Library Extension Scheme,” Malaya Tribune, 13 July 1940, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
31. “Untitled,” Malaya Tribune, 4 January 1946, 2–3. (From NewspaperSG)
32. “No Deposit,” Singapore Free Press, 8 October 1951, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
33. “Children Read More,” Straits Times, 22 March 1948, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
34. “Junior Library Will Soon Have ‘New Look’,” Sunday Tribune (Singapore), 30 May 1948, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
35. “4,000 Books Help Children,” Singapore Free Press, 11 October 1948, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
36. “4,000 Books Help Children”; “Children to Have New Library,” Straits Times, 26 May 1948, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
37. “Governor’s Wife Visits Library,” Straits Times, 10 October 1948, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
38. “Library for Young Readers Is Flourishing,” Straits Times, 8 April 1950, 8; “Adults Join Junior Library,” Singapore Free Press, 3 July 1950, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
39. “More Girls Take to Reading,” Singapore Free Press, 17 January 1950, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
40. “Library Books Are Now Free,” Singapore Standard, 4 April 1958, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
41. Christine Diemer, “They All Want to Read,” Sunday Standard, 1 June 1958, 4; “Library Problems,” Singapore Standard, 2 June 1958, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
42. “‘Operation Pinda’ at Junior Library,” Straits Times, 18 October 1960, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
43. “Youngsters Take Out An Average of 700 Books Daily,” Singapore Free Press, 12 November 1960, 8. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at 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 of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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