The mobile library started operating in 1960, its first iteration was as a trailer which could carry 3,400 books and was pulled by a 'mechanical horse', or tractor. The key target audience was Singaporeans, especially children, living in rural areas and densely populated housing estates. The bookmobile as it was first known, parked at vacant land with streetlamps nearby so that it could tap electricity from them. Back then, it operated three times a week . Leonard Montague Harrod, Director of the National Library wrote to building owners seeking consent to park the bookmobile in their premises. See the letters written to the Superintendent of Traffic Police, Singapore Harbour Board, Commissioner of Lands and Postal Services Department .
It appears the bookmobile - now renamed the mobile library took a short hiatus due to insufficient books and staff. Despite these challenges, the mobile library resumed its service to schools in 1961 . Although the mobile library visits were popular, there was the problem of unreturned books. The Ministry of Education provided some constructive suggestions to the National Library on how to solve the issue .
The school roadshows proved to be a hit - stoking interest in reading so much so that in the early 1960s, the junior membership of the National Library increased tenfold between 1956 to 1961. To immediately address the issue of overcrowding in the National Library, and as an interim solution before more branch libraries could be built, various solutions were proposed including using Community Centres and void decks or Housing Development Board shophouses as decentralized branch libraries . An extensive survey was conducted to assess the services, usage, and suitability of community centres as library extensions .
In 1967, a generous contribution by the New Zealand government to the National Library of S$84,500 enabled the library to purchase 23,000 new books . This gift was made possible by the efforts of Ms Priscilla Taylor, a New Zealander who was attached as a director to the National Library system as part of the Colombo Plan.
Also in this file: The opening of the South East Asia Room in the National Library and generous donations: Mr Tan Yeok Seong's Ya Yin Kwan Collection, and a presentation by Dato Loke Wan Tho's mother, Mrs Loke Yew of the Dr Carl Alexander Gibson-Hill collection to the National Library .
The mid 1960s was a golden age of partnership between Community Centres and the Library, fuelled by the recent contribution of the Kiwis. The Community Centres that the mobile library stopped at were selected on the basis of the space they had to house the book stock, the popularity of the community centre, and distance from the nearest library . New service points were opened to great fanfare in various areas, and by 1968, there were 13 service points hosted by Community Centres .
By the late 1960s, it appeared that the National Library's efforts to encourage reading amongst the young were succeeding when in 1967 then Minister for Culture Othman Wok received a memo from no less than then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew saying that his children found the Junior Library to be "crowded to overflowing", and he pledged support for expansion of Library projects . Mrs Hedwig Anuar, then National Library Director stated that decentralization through a network of branch libraries was the best solution, but mobile library service points could relieve the pressure, something she said 'had constantly been advocated' .
By the early 1970s the mobile library was now the hottest ticket in town with schools, community centres, and resident associations writing to ask for the mobile library to please, stop at our location! TV publicity and direct mailers to schools used to publicize the mobile library.
Response to the service was monitored and some service points were discontinued and resources redeployed to adjust to the demand in different areas . 26th June 1971 was a banner day for the Mobile Library service - can you guess why? 470 children joined the mobile library service, the highest figure recorded at all opening days of mobile library service points. Read the report . This surge in popularity again created a problem of greater demand than supply .