There's much to be learned from the monthly reports of the Reference section from August 1963 - July 1968. The reports faithfully detailed new titles acquired, gifts and donations, staff matters (training and leave) and other activities such as exhibits put up by the Reference Division staff , and microfilming which the National Library did for various government departments, for a fee.
The library staff tracked the number of enquiries from the public as well as government agencies, the average traffic in the Reference Reading Room, and the number of books consulted. Interesting to note, the library closed early on 2 days in September 1964 due to 'civil disturbances' .
Starting in June 1964, a sampling of the more interesting enquires received from the public, the public service, and overseas researchers was also included in this report. Those from the public included: information on Chinese Secret Societies; pioneer industries in Singapore; political party systems; history of the trade union movement in Singapore , how to make mosquito coils, the government policy on equal treatment for all schools in Singapore, and other sundry information e.g. population of Malaysian towns, how to remove curry stains. Pity the answers are not recorded - this would have been very useful information!
Enquiries from government agencies included the EDB asking for information on bulk storage of rice in connection with the Jurong wharf area , principles of wage determination , documents relating to the demarcation or boundary between Singapore and Riau Islands to the south ; periodical articles on “a long term political assessment of Indonesia after the Sep '65 coup" (Ministry of Culture, Aug 1966). About a third of the queries came in through the phone. Fewer than 1 in 10 queries could not be satisfied by the counter staff, and these were recorded .
The role the National Library played is encapsulated in this observation: "A large number of enquiries concerning Singapore were received. These reflect a tendency to refer to the National Library as a general information centre".
Covering the period from August 1968 - November 1970, the compilation of reports became more informative, presenting a breakdown of how queries were received (phone, mail, in person) , users (students, adults, government departments), differentiating between types of queries, addresses requested, publications requested, and specific images . Other information presented included library traffic, trends of usage and an updated inventory of microfilms, tabulated costs of reproduction, and library data such as number of books acquired.
Queries ranged from the banal -"whether the spelling of the place named Carmel in the United States is correct", to the arcane "meaning of recompressional chamber".
Of interest are queries from foreign embassies - e.g. Indonesian embassy requested all subsidiary legislation on the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance , German embassy requested the names of the Chairman and Secretary-General of Barisan Socialis .
This third volume of compiled reports of work by the NL, covers the early 1970s, and the number of readers at the Reference Section had now reached 800 per day . The sources of the answers to reference inquiries was a new feature of the reports . So if you need the recipe for Chinese sausage 'lup cheong', you know who to go to !
More personal milestones such as births , passing of exams, were also included in the 'Staff' section of the reports. The head of the reference section was urged to take a more analytical approach to reports - to go beyond simply reporting library trends.
Large microfilm reproduction orders from Wollongong University of New South Wales and University Kebangsaan of $9,300 and $16,400 were received, keeping the section busy till the year end. Microfilming of the Prime Minister's 1959 – 1970 speeches was completed .
The diversity of queries both local and overseas from individuals and organisations, is captured here. Subjects range from queries on local legends and mythological animals to local recipes and how to keep pests out of books. The efforts taken to respond to each query speaks to the customer-centric culture of NL.
Where information was not readily available, NL would initiate a search with other sources to obtain the information, and if the information could not be obtained, NL would offer alternatives. For example, when NL did not have the 1885 - 1886 annual reports of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce , it traced their whereabouts to the Public Records Keeper (London), the British Museum, and finally to the Foreign and Commonwealth Library . This was appreciated . Searches were free of charge but photocopied/ microfilmed copies of materials were supplied at nominal rates.
There were a few requests National Library Director Hedwig Anuar personally responded to:
At this point, students were more and more using the Reference services to help them with school assignments and projects. During school holidays, the number of readers in the Reference Section surged to over 1,200 per day ! Rather than merely giving them the answers, staff taught them how to fish - how to locate information in periodicals and how to use periodical indexes. The National Library also hosted tours to the Reference Services Division .
Queries were grouped as those from Individuals, Government agencies, or Firms and institutions. Some interesting queries from public agencies included the Trade Division Library asking for the number of permanent secretaries in the Singapore Civil Service , Jurong Town Corporation asking for information on time capsules in preparation for its foundation laying , and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs checking if Algerian PM Abbas Ferhat visited Singapore between 1959 and 1962.
A special bibliography on youth affairs in Singapore was compiled at the request of the People's Association , also a bibliography on community education in developing countries, for the University of Papua New Guinea.
This file contains a compendium of queries from various sources -individuals, organisations, local and overseas. One of the more popular topics was local social and cultural information. Examples include food writer Marguerite Patten's request for local cookery books, People's Association's request for reading lists on "Youth Affairs in Singapore"; a request from the Board for the Development, Research and Teaching of Social Economy in Indonesia for any materials on traditional folk songs of Singapore; a request from School of Agricultural Technology Mexico, on books on Singapore; the Singapore National Commission for UNESCO request relating to the protection of immovable and movable cultural heritage for which NL supplied library and archived legislation . The section received a query on local composers which they referred to Mr Charles Lazaroo, Ministry of Education, Extra-Curricular Centre cum chairman of Singapore Musical Society .
Some overseas queries came through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who would forward them to the Ministry of Culture who would then send them on to the library. Examples include a query from Chulalongkorn University's Pen Club on local cartoons and cartoonists, as they were keen on studying and analysing social and political cartoons. The Reference Services Division came back with this response . Filipino conglomerate San Miguel Corporation asked for a list of "outstanding publications", referring to magazines of mass appeal.
We also see that the Reference Services Division also helped to provide information to reference books such as the Statesman's Yearbooks. Many of the entries were updated and inaccurate facts corrected by the Head, Reference Services Division .
The Reference Services Division also fielded quite a number of queries from individuals interested in a career in the library and wanting to know what it would entail.
Also in this file: The response to a phone request from Professor Maurice Baker, for a list of novels from Southeast Asian countries with a World War II setting . Information was also requested on the status of women in Singapore. A Singapore factsheet was updated and sent to the publishers for inclusion in the Statesman's Yearbook 1976-77 edition.