National Library (1980–1995)

Singapore Infopedia


Between 1980 and 1995, the National Library embarked on the computerisation of its library operations and services.1 To keep abreast with the information technology (IT) revolution, new audiovisual, multimedia and online services were also launched.2 Decentralisation of its services continued through the setting up of more full-time branch libraries and by the end of 1994, there were 10 branch libraries.3 In line with the recommendation of the Library 2000 report released in 1994,4 the National Library Board was constituted on 1 September 1995 to take over the management functions of the national and public libraries in its network.5

Growing the library collection
In the 1960s, Singaporeans were more practical in their choice of reading materials, showing a strong interest in educational books on economics, engineering and technical subjects. This reading preference shifted in the 1980s towards recreational and hobby-related books and fiction.6 Hence, the National Library and its branches made a concerted effort to provide books that catered to the changing and diverse reading interests of its members.7 

In 1980, in response to demand from the public,8 Chinese sword-fighting novels were introduced at the libraries after consultation with some local authors. The literary value of such novels, while popular with the public, were questioned by some educators, booksellers and parents.9 However, these novels were so popular that there was a long list of reservations for them.10 To encourage more children to read, the library provided a wide selection of books in its children’s collection, including fiction, poetry and illustrated books.11 In late 1984, the library began to paste stickers on the spines of hardcover fiction books based on seven categories: romance; war; mystery; thriller; stories set in Asia; science fiction; and horror/fantasy. These were meant to help library members identify the genres of fiction books more easily.12

Donations and exchanges of publications with overseas libraries were important sources for the library’s collection development.13 By 1980, the National Library had established exchange agreements with 265 libraries and institutions in 64 countries. Such exchange programmes enabled the National Library to acquire publications that could not otherwise be obtained through normal commercial channels and they also helped to supplement the library’s limited budget.14

Developing library services
In the 1980s, some of the new or expanded services included the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) system, community information service and the Arts Resource Centre. With Singapore’s adoption of the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) system in 1980, the National Library was designated as the national agency for the issuing of ISBN for books published in Singapore.15

The issuance of ISBN also served as a form of record for the total national publishing output each year.16 In November 1980, the library expanded its community information service to provide information on the services of government departments and service organisations, as well as simple, factual information for everyday living to members of the public.17 The service was well-used by the public, with 34,000 enquiries received by the library in 1981 and a satisfaction rate of up to 95% for the references provided.18

In November 1982, the National Library launched a new reference service for the arts, known as the Arts Resource Centre,19 which was officially opened on 10 January 1983. Hedwig Anuar made an appeal to local musicians and composers to donate their materials to the centre to enrich its collection. With the popularity of audio-visual (AV) materials at the National Library, AV services was extended to full-time branch libraries in July 1983.20 The AV materials could only be viewed in specially equipped audio-visual rooms situated within the libraries. Each branch library specialised in selected topics to reduce duplication of AV materials among the libraries within the network.21 

After years of public requests for libraries to open on Sundays, a six-month trial began from 2 March 1986 at Marine Parade Branch Library, which opened on Sundays from 1 pm to 5 pm.22 As visitorship was low on Sundays, the National Library eventually shelved the idea after the trial period.23 Four years later, another trial was conducted from April to September 1990 at the Jurong East, Marine Parade and Toa Payoh branch libraries to gauge the public demand for services on Sundays. Since there were more users on Sundays compared to Saturdays, the National Library and its branches started to open on Sundays from 1 pm to 5 pm from 6 January 1991, and closed earlier at 5 pm on Saturdays.24

Much progress was made in the decentralisation of services in the 1980s, with a total of five new full-time branch libraries opened in Bukit Merah,25 Ang Mo Kio,26 Bedok,27 Geylang East28 and Jurong East.29 The closure of Jurong Part-time Branch Library on 23 May 1988 marked the end of part-time branch services under the National Library.30

The National Library ceased its mobile library services on 2 January 1990 due to low usage and a large drop in the number of books borrowed through the mobile services.31 The closure was also in line with the phasing out of mobile services and the opening of branch libraries, which were larger and could provide more books and services.32

In 1994, the National Library began to work with the People’s Action Party Community Foundation to establish Community Children’s Libraries in the void decks of public housing estates, starting with Bukit Batok, Bukit Panjang, Clementi and Mountbatten, to promote the reading habit early in children.33 In the same year,Tampines Regional Library, the first regional library in Singapore, was officially opened on 3 December 1994.34

Membership fees and fines
To encourage more people to become members, the National Library made membership free for all Singaporeans and Permanent Residents with effect from 15 November 1980: the S$5 deposit for membership registration was waived. Prior to this date, the deposit was compulsory for members above 14 years old. The deposit was refundable upon resignation of membership. However, if members failed to return the books they borrowed or did not pay for lost books, the deposit could be forfeited. The library proceeded to inform its members on the refund of the deposit, together with an appeal to consider donating the deposit to the Library’s Donation Fund for the purchase of books and improve library facilities.35

In 1986, the library started to impose a S$10 administrative charge for lost books with effect from 13 January. The charge, meant as a deterrent, was on top of the cost of the book that borrowers had to pay for if they had lost a library book.36

With effect from 18 July 1988, library members who accumulated S$2 worth of fines or more for overdue books would have their borrowing privileges suspended until they returned the overdue books and paid the fine. In addition, the 5 cents fine per day per overdue book was extended to child members.37 This daily fine was subsequently increased to 10 cents per item in April 1989. During this time, the library also started to charge a fee of S$1.50 for the reservation of items to deter members from making frivolous reservations.38

Computerisation and going online
The first phase of computerisation began with the conversion of the card catalogue into microfiche39 in March 1983. What was previously contained in more than one million cards were stored in microfiches, which could contain up to 4,000 titles each. Using the microfiche readers, library users could search for titles easier and faster as compared to flipping through the card catalogue.40

On 10 April 1987, the Singapore Integrated Library Automation Service (SILAS) was launched. SILAS was a S$2.5 million computerised network that linked the catalogue systems of 20 Singapore libraries, including the National Library, academic and government libraries into a database known as the Union Catalogue. With SILAS, researchers and library users could search the collections held in the participating libraries.41

In October 1987, Queenstown Branch Library became the first library to be computerised. By June 1988, the Bedok and Toa Payoh Branch Libraries were also computerised,42 whereas that for the remaining branches were completed by April 1989.43 During this period, the National Library was also closed from June to August 1988 for computerisation.44 Members were issued a new laminated library card bearing a barcode that stored the membership number. The barcode enabled librarians to easily retrieve the member’s personal details and process loans quickly via computers. The new card replaced the four paper library cards that were previously issued to members.45 Users could also look for books in the libraries using the online catalogue provided on special computer terminals, known as the Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC). The OPAC terminals also enabled users to check their library account, whether they have outstanding fines and place reservations for books.46

Multimedia computer terminals were introduced in the early 1990s to provide access to audiovisual content and databases. Users could use the computers to play compact discs or software and listen to stories, watch video clips or complete interactive quizzes. The service was popular with users, especially children.47 In October 1993, the National Library launched the National Library Line (NL.line) that allowed users to access OPAC using a personal computer, a modem and a password.48 On 27 March 1995, an improved NL.line providing more services via the Internet was launched. Designed with the help of the National Computer Board, NL.line allowed users, from the comfort of their homes, to search the catalogue, renew their loans and post questions to reference librarians online from 10 am to 6 pm.49

Establishment of the National Library Board
Hedwig Anuar retired as director on 19 November 1988 after heading the National Library for over three decades.50 She was succeeded by her deputy, Yoke-Lan Wicks.51 In 1992, Wicks retired as Director52 and R. Ramachandran took over the reins as Acting Director.53

By 1989, the red-brick National Library building on Stamford Road had served the public for 29 years. Its ageing facilities were deemed no longer adequate for the needs for its expanding membership and collections. It was announced on 11 January 1992 that the site for the new National Library building would be on Victoria Street.54

Nearing the turn of the century, on 20 June 1992, the Library 2000 Review Committee was formed to conduct a comprehensive review of library services and recommend the strategies for transforming the public library system.55 The Committee released the report, “Library 2000: Investing in a Learning Nation”, on 5 March 1994.56 The recommendations made in the report included: a new library configuration comprising a National Reference Library, specialised reference libraries, public libraries of varying sizes and a co-ordinated collection strategy as well as the formation of the National Library Board, a new statutory board to oversee the transformation of libraries in Singapore.57

The enactment of the National Library Board Act on 1 March 1995 saw the establishment of the National Library Board. The statutory board oversaw the National Reference Library, the network of public libraries and the legal deposit function.58 On 1 September 1995, the National Library Board began operations, with Christopher Chia as its CEO and R. Ramachandran as the director of the National Library.59

Goh Lee Kim

1. Jimmy Yap, “National Library Goes On-Line on Internet,” Straits Times, 28 March 1995, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Hedwig Alfred, “Library to Start Audio-Video Loan Scheme,” Straits Times, 13 May 1983, 1; “Multimedia Systems a Hit at Libraries,” Straits Times, 17 November 1994, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
3. National Library (Singapore), Annual Report 94/95 (Singapore: National Library, 1995), 12. (Call no. RCLOS 027.55957 RLSAR-[AR])
4. Library 2000 Review Committee, Singapore, Library 2000: Investing in a Learning Nation: Report of the Library 2000 Review Committee (Singapore: SNP Publishers, 1994), 5 (Call no. RSING q027.05957 SIN); Geraldine Kan, “New-Age Public Libraries with Global Reach Planned,” Straits Times, 7 March 1994, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Bill to Give National Library Wider Role,” Straits Times, 2 March 1995, 19; “Library Board to Start Operations Next Month,” Straits Times, 19 August 1995, 31. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Alfred Hedwig, “Reading for the Fun of It,” Straits Times, 31 May 1983, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “Wanted: 300,000 Books a Year,” Straits Times, 11 July 1987, 1; “One Book for Every S'porean Is the Aim,” Straits Times, 22 April 1980, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Return of Luk,” Straits Times, 25 July 1980, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Yong Pow Ang, “‘Swordsmen’ to Help Library Foster the Reading Habit,” Straits Times, 25 July 1980, 11; “Libraries Join the Craze,” New Nation, 2 September 1980, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “Library Gets to Grips with Double-Edge Sword,” Straits Times, 6 December 1980, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Zarinah Marican, “Reading into What Kids Like,” New Nation, 15 June 1982, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Lim Kwan Kwan, “Stickers a Quick Guide at Library,” Straits Times, 14 February 1986, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “300,000 Books a Year”; “One Book for Every S'porean.”
14. “Library’s Swop System with 64 Countries,” Straits Times, 29 May 1980, 7; “One Book for Every S'porean.”
15. “Numbers to Help Get More Books Easily,” Straits Times, 9 February 1980, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
16. K. K. Seet, A Place for the People (Singapore: Times Books International, 1983), 150. (Call no. RSING 027.55957 SEE-[LIB])
17. Filomena D’Cruz, “Library Service Besieged By ‘Help Me’ Calls,” Straits Times, 14 November 1980, 10; Tan Ban Huat, “Ring Up the Library for Answer to Your Question,” Straits Times, 2 November 1980, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Rosemary Chen, “Make Library a Know All,” Straits Times, 3 October 1982, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Art and Culture on Film at Library,” Straits Times, 23 December 1982, 9; “Arts for the Asking at One Centre,” Singapore Monitor, 23 December 1982, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Alfred, “Library to Start Audio-Video Loan Scheme”; “Libraries to Offer More Audio-Visual Services Soon,” Straits Times, 3 December 1981, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Alfred, “Library to Start Audio-Video Loan Scheme”; “Libraries to Offer More Audio-Visual Services Soon.”
22. Lim Kwan Kwan, “Library to Open on Sundays,” Straits Times, 18 February 1986, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “National Library Branches Won’t Open on Sundays,” Straits Times, 11 November 1986, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
24. “National Library to Open on Sundays from Jan 2,” Straits Times, 25 November 1990, 30; “Sunday Library at 3 Branches,” Straits Times, 30 March 1990, 33; “Libraries Open Doors to Sunday Readers,” Straits Times, 7 January 1991, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “Libraries to Be Built in Bedok and Ang Mo Kio,” Straits Times, 29 December 1982, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
26. National Library (Singapore), Report for the Period FY85 (Singapore: National Library, 1986), 35. (Call no. RCLOS 027.55957 SIN)
27. “Library Opens,” Straits Times, 29 September 1985, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
28. “Govt Wants All to Have Access to Information,” Straits Times, 27 July 1988, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
29. “Jurong Library Boasts an Atrium,” Straits Times, 3 August 1988, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “Library to Close,” Straits Times, 18 May 1988, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
31. “National Library to Open on Sundays.”
32. “Mobile Library Services to Cease,” Straits Times, 6 April 1981, 30. (From NewspaperSG)
33. Chang Ai-Lien, “Void-Deck Libraries for Children a Big Success,” Straits Times, 12 July 1994, 27; “PM Wants 100 Libraries for Kids in 10–15 Years,” Straits Times, 26 June 1994, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
34. “Protocol Thrown to the Wind,” New Paper, 6 December 1994, 29. (From NewspaperSG)
35. “No Need to Pay to Join the National Library,” Straits Times, 30 December 1980, 8; “Library Poses the $5 Question,” Straits Times, 17 January 1981, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
36. “New Library Rule Borrowers to Pay $10 for Each Lost Book,” Straits Times, 8 January 1986, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
37. “Library Users with Fines of $2 Face Suspension,” Straits Times, 17 July 1988, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
38. “Library to Double Fines Next Month,” Straits Times, 5 March 1989, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
39. “$1.2M Wares for Library,” New Nation, 5 April 1979, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
40. S. Kumar, “Opening a New Chapter for Library,” Straits Times, 7 January 1983, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
41. Irene Hoe, “4 M Publications at One’s Fingertips,” Straits Times, 11 April 1987, 19; “9 Major Libraries to Go On-Line Next Year,” Straits Times, 15 September 1986, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
42. Carolina Ong, “On-Line Plan to Make National Library Visit Such a Breeze,” Straits Times, 2 June 1988, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
43. Rohaniah Saini, “On-Line System Boon to Library Users,” Straits Times, 20 May 1988, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
44. Ong, “On-Line Plan to Make National Library”; Lois Ng, “Computers Now Zip You Through Library,” New Paper, 13 September 1988, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
45. Russell Lim, “Queenstown Library Goes Online,” Straits Times, 24 October 1987, 17; “1-for-4 On-Line Cards for Libraries,” Straits Times, 18 August 1987, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
46. Ong, “On-Line Plan to Make National Library”; Ng, “Computers Now Zip You Through Library.”
47. “Multimedia Systems a Hit at Libraries”; “Library Enlists Hi-Tech Aids to Attract Children,” Straits Times, 27 May 1994, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
48. National Library (Singapore), Annual Report 93/94 (Singapore: National Library, 1995), 17, 29 (Call no. RCLOS 027.55957 RLSAR-[AR]); Yeo Hwee Hng, “Phone or Fax, and Tampines Library Will Deliver Your Books,” Straits Times, 24 October 1993, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
49. Yap, “National Library Goes On-Line on Internet.”
50. Serena Toh, “Farewell of Surprises as Library Legend Hedwig Anuar Retires,” Straits Times, 20 November 1988, 20; Serena Toh, “Library Head All Set for New Career,” Straits Times, 1 October 1988, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
51. Helen Chia, “Reaching Out to People Through Books,” Straits Times, 8 December 1988, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
52. Koh Joh Ting, “Mums to Get Tips on Teaching Babies to Read,” Straits Times, 22 August 1991, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
53. National Library (Singapore), Annual Report 1991/1992 (Singapore: National Library, 1992), 40 (Call no. RCLOS 027.55957 RLSAR-[AR]); “Mission Accomplished: Students Go Through 20 Books in 3 Months,” Straits Times, 9 September 1992, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
54. “District of Heritage, History and Culture for One and All,” Business Times, 31 January 1992, 3; “National Museum to Be a Statutory Board,” Straits Times, 12 January 1992, 18; Julia Goh, “A Piece of Peace in the City,” Straits Times, 21 February 1992, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
55. “Future of Public Library Services to Be Reviewed,” Straits Times, 23 June 1992, 26; “No More Big National Library Branches?Straits Times, 28 February 1992, 27. (From NewspaperSG)
56. Library 2000 Review Committee, Singapore, Library 2000, 5; Kan, “New-Age Public Libraries.”
57. Library 2000 Review Committee, Singapore, Library 2000, 6–7, 12.
58. “Bill to Give National Library Wider Role”; “The National Library Board Bill,” Straits Times, 24 January 1995, 22 (From NewspaperSG); Parliament of Singapore, Second Reading of the National Library Bill, vol. 64 of  Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 1 March 1995, cols. 68–72. (Call no. RSING 328.5957 SIN)
59. “Library Board to Start Operations Next Month.”

The information in this article is valid as at June 2020 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 material on the topic.

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