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May 12, 2010

Key To Knowledge - Libraries for Life

To complement a recent "Good Morning Yesterday" blog on the topic: "Can you remember the procedure for borrowing books at the old National Library?", the above photo is the related poster displayed at the Central Lending Library at National Library Building at Victoria Street, Singapore.
Source: The Singapore Monitor, Wednesday, April 20, 1983

NOT everything gets more expensive with time.

The first members of what was later to become our National Library had to pay a monthly subscription of 25 cents. That was way back in 1823.

Today, 160 years later, membership is free.

CATHARINE FERNANDO traces the path of the National Library, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year but whose history in fact goes back 160 years.


The idea of a public library was mooted in 1823

If walls could speak, that familiar red brick building nestling amongst the trees between Fort Canning and Stamford Road would have many a tale to tell.

The National Library turns 25 this year, but its origins go all the way back to Sir Stamford Raffles' time.

It started life as little more than a school library, with outsiders having to pay a monthly subscription of 25 cents to become members.

Today membership of the National Library, described by its public relations department as "the best in South-east Asia," is free and open to all.

Growth of the little school library into our present National Library went through five phases, and the man responsible for its establishment was the man who founded Singapore in 1819.

The concept of a public library was mooted in 1823 when Sir Stamford Raffles himself called a meeting of the leading citizens to discuss the transfer of the Malacca Anglo Chinese School to Singapore and its merger with the Anglo-Chinese College here to form the Singapore Institution.

The library was established on April 1 of that year with Dr Morrison, a scholar and missionary who was then head of the Anglo-Chinese College, as its first librarian. Facilities were rudimentary, for it was not until 1834 that the Singapore Institution, forebear of the Raffles Institution, was finally opened.

Donations came from individuals as well as institutions, the most outstanding of which was the Committee of Public Instruction at Calcutta, which made valuable book contributions, and continued to do so for many years.

But the demand for a true public library grew, evidenced by letters to the Press calling for one. Finally, in 1844, plans for such a library were made, with the proposal that subscribers be proprietors as well.

The museum was added in 1849 and in 1862, the library moved to the Town Hall. The third phase in its history came in 1874 when the government stepped in and took over the library and museum, renaming it The Raffles Library and Museum.

A pro-tem committee was formed with J C Smith, headmaster of the Singapore Institution, as secretary and librarian and W H Read as Treasurer.

In 1876, the library moved back to the Singapore Institution, now called the Raffles Institution. In 1887, a new library and museum building was opened, and after World War I, in 1920, the first qualified librarian, Mr James Johnston, was appointed. Three years later, a Junior Library was started.

During World War II, the library continued functioning. After the fall of Singapore in 1942, the library was renamed Syonan Tsyokaun and a Japanese professor was put in charge and five of the original staff re-engaged.

Another important development came in 1955 when the library was separated from the museum. The last significant event in the development of the library came in 1957 when it became a free public national library by the passing of an ordinance.

Library materials for loan and reference are provided in the four official languages. The library's total registered readership was 441,455 at the end of 1981, while its collection has expanded from 80,000 books in 1955 to 1.43 million books and 66,879 items of non-book material.
Additional information on knowledge, excerpt from an introduction of the book "Thesis Projects" by Mikael Berndtsson, Jorgen Hansson, Bjorn Olsson and Bjorn Lundell:
"One of the strongest instincts we have is the desire to learn new things about the world we live in. In fact, through our entire life we never stop learning new things. This has been crucial for our survival, but it also stimulates our curiosity. Very young children learn by copying the behaviour of others.

Learning is later extended to acquiring knowledge through other modes of communication, e.g. through books, lectures and labs. One of the primary goals of academic training is to learn how to learn, i.e. to learn how to continuously absorb new knowledge. This is increasingly important in rapidly changing areas such as computer science and new things, building new knowledge about things that no one has understood before - that is what we think of as performing research. Undertaking a thesis project is one step towards an increased understanding of how to study, how to learn about complex phenomena, and towards learning how to build new knowledge about the world around us."

Related Post:
Public Libraries Singapore and National Library

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