Have you ever heard a Malay friend complain about filling up forms that ask for surnames? Or do you face that problem yourself? Hailing from Tanah Melayu, the librarians in the Persatuan Perpustakaan Malaysia (Library Association of Malaysia) (PPM) and the Library Association of Singapore (LAS) were well aware of these issues. The two organisations formed a Joint Standing Committee on Library Co-operation and Bibliographical Services (JSCLCBS) to tackle them together.
Among their concerns and contributions was drafting rules for the entry for Malay names, which they forwarded to the American Library Association (ALA) Catalog Code Revision Committee . Back then, ALA Cataloguing Rules did not have guidelines for Malay names .
Local names are just the tip of the iceberg. Mrs Anuar discusses more challenges in her article, 'The provision of books in Malay, Chinese and Tamil in Raffles National Library' . Her article also sheds light on literacy and the publishing landscape in Singapore at the time. Some of her observations include the lower standard of reading ability in Chinese in Malaya compared to Formosa, Hong Kong, and China; the increasing inability to read Jawi ; and the lack of Tamil booksellers in Singapore .
The work of the librarians in Malaya interested other libraries like that of Ghana and Columbia University . At the same time, the libraries needed more and more skilled manpower and were drawing up plans to reward their staff who were working towards professional qualifications with better salaries .
Additionally, this file contains the PPM's annual general meeting minutes, newsletters, accounts, annual reports, amendments to their constitution and election documents.
What do Housing Development Board (HDB), the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF), and the National Library have in common? They all had a hand to play in transporting an exhibit from the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to Singapore, which showed for the first time in Asia at the young Raffles National Library.
Then-director Priscilla Taylor was convinced that the exhibit, 'Visionary Architecture', would be of great benefit to visitors here. It had toured Australia and New Zealand and was heading to India and Japan , but Ms Taylor had a "crazy scheme" to get the exhibit to Singapore first .
She reached out to the relevant director in MoMA to obtain permission and almost managed to get the exhibit transported by the RNZAF at no cost! Alas, at the last moment, they had more urgent matters to attend to .
The irrepressible Ms Taylor remained determined (or in her own words, "optimistic if somewhat irrational" ) and roped in the HDB into her grand plan. Writing to chairman of HDB, Lim Kim Sam, she referred to it as "a matter quite dear to [her] heart."
In the end, the exhibit was a success. HDB and the Library put up a joint exhibition opened by the Minister for Culture, S. Rajaratnam. Ms Taylor even reached out to TIME magazine . But perhaps the question is how it all happened. And what was this exhibit even about ?
This file spanning a 6-year period from 1962 covers an important UNESCO meeting that Mrs Anuar was personally invited to as an expert , the Meeting of Experts on Book Production and Distribution in Asia, held in Tokyo in May 1966. Experts from 21 other countries were invited, hailing from as far as Israel and the Soviet Union ! The issues discussed pertained to the obstacles in printing , bookselling , and the distribution of textbooks . One can get a sense of the lack of basic supplies that was a real impediment to producing books, such as the lack of printing paper !
Following this meeting, Mrs Anuar initiated the Workshop on the Problems of Book Production and Distribution in Singapore, held in November 1966 , which was meant to further discuss the issues covered in Tokyo earlier that year . Some of the working papers included in this file are:
One of the key recommendations that emerged from these watershed meetings was the establishment of National Book Development Council that would bring together different groups to promote books and reading in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia . Such recommendations were taken seriously, with a UNESCO official updating participants on developments since the conclusion of the meeting in Tokyo . In Singapore, a Working Committee comprising representatives from the Library, the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Culture, as well as private publishers and booksellers was set up to ensure action was taken on the recommendations of the workshops in 1966. The minutes of their meetings show that they were actively working towards establishing the National Book Development Council.
In 1966, children made up close to 80 percent of the over 100,000 members of the Library . They received much attention from library staff who invested a lot to ensure that the children's book collection would continue growing.
The Library requested for lists of recommended books from more established organisations, including the National Book League (London) and the American Library Association . Eventually, the Library developed booklists that were tailored more closely to the local profile of readers and sent them out to all primary schools in Singapore, hoping that the books will be purchased for school libraries . On top of that, the Library shared these new booklists with institutions overseas, like in Sarawak , Tanzania , and New York . These booklists could be sorted by subject , genre , or age group .
Concerned that Malay, Tamil, and Chinese readers "have so few books to choose from" , much was done to grow and diversify the non-English collection, including initiating suitable translations of English books. Working with a list of popular Chinese translations produced in Taiwan , the Library reached out to potential private publishers to gauge their interest in publishing Malay and Tamil editions .
The Library was particularly interested in reaching out to Tamil language readers, who formed a small minority of the Library's membership. Thus, the Head of the Children's section sent out letters to Tamil schools informing them about the Library's services, including Tamil story hour on Fridays at 3pm .
The Catalogue Committee of the National Library and the Joint Standing Committee on Library Co-operation and Bibliographical Services (JSCLCBS) had much to discuss.
For one, the shortcomings of the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) were increasingly visible in Malaya due to its "heavy American and Western bias" . The American Library Association (ALA) International Relations Office (IRO) was aware of its limitations in 'Oriental countries' specifically and thus conducted a Field Survey in 1964 to assess the system's usefulness and how it could be refined .
Perhaps a major contribution was the Expansions for Languages and Literatures of the Malay Archipelago and Oceania , an attempt to do justice to the literary output and linguistic diversity of this region. This involved a lot of discussion and several objections were raised . Other proposed expansions were for Chinese dialects , Chinese philosophy , and geographical and period expansions for Malaysia . Given the uncertainty of territorial and political boundaries in this period, classifying places was not a straightforward task and classification decisions had to be explained .
As can be seen, cataloguing is a sensitive and tedious task, but all these discussions were meant to make the DDC "a more internationally acceptable classification" . The Library did manage to produce a satisfactory catalogue manual for its own use .
When an entire file exists for correspondence with just one library, it's probably not far-fetched to say that relations between the two organisations were close! Such was the case with the National Library and the Ipoh Public Library, or what Mrs Anuar called "Malaysia's most flourishing public library" .
The growth of the Ipoh Public Library can be seen in a summary of its milestones . At one point, reorganisation and an overwhelming number of books forced the library to suspend its services . Nevertheless, the library constantly kept in touch with the National Library in Singapore, and the staff conveyed their gratitude for the training and guidance they received while on visits . They happily updated Mrs Anuar on the good news of passing their librarian qualification examinations and sought advice for future programmes , salaries , and procurement , among others.
And perhaps, another sign of the close relations is the number of handwritten letters in this file. Not only does this add a personal touch, the letters themselves seem more informal too - Kim Choo writes to Mrs Anuar: "Dear Mrs Anuar, How time flies. It seems but yesterday that I was at the N.L. in S'pore, but in reality it was nearly one year now."
Also in the file: the strong desire to set up a Malaysian National Library and the programme for a variety fundraiser concert organised by student volunteers of Ipoh Public Library, who called themselves HUHY (Help Us Help You) !
Staff of the National Library organised and participated in many international conferences and seminars; this file that covers the period October 1968 to August 1971 sheds light on the experience the staff had gained from the first decade as the National Library. According to one article, in 1970, the Library was lending more than one million books a year and the registered readership had ballooned to about 169 000 !
This file contains articles and papers presented by the staff at such conferences, like 'Multi-language Catalogues in the National Library, Singapore' and 'Libraries and Library Development in Singapore' .
The first Conference of Southeast Asian Librarians (CONSAL) that was jointly organised by the library associations of Malaysia and Singapore in August 1970 was considered a major event for the Southeast Asian library scene because it was the first time librarians in the region were meeting ! Topics covered in the programme individual country reports and children's libraries . Writing to Mrs Anuar, the chairperson of the organising committee felt that they were pioneering "a movement in Southeast Asia that will lead to greater cooperation and closer contact between libraries in the region" .
Mrs Anuar, the Director, also sent one of her library staff to a seminar organised by the local St. Andrew's Cathedral because she believed it would be beneficial – what was it about?