In 1962, the Library Association of Singapore took a long hard look at the state of affairs of school libraries. A comprehensive memorandum was generated , assessing the position of the school librarian to be "extremely unsatisfactory" in its current state, their training "inadequate and haphazard" and without funding for their work, would have their enthusiasm quenched without support from the school principal and official recognition of their work.
A School Librarianship course syllabus was proposed and by 1963, Library Science became a compulsory subject for teachers at the Teachers Training College.
To provide additional training and support, meetings were held for school teacher librarians and senior National Library (NL) staff to equip them in the basics of running a library . These were well attended by both primary and secondary school teachers . The NL also issued book lists to help schools stock their libraries with quality age-appropriate books.
There were many passionate advocates for the upgrading of librarianship in Singapore, including Minister for Culture S Rajaratnam who wrote a detailed letter to Minister for Finance Dr Goh Keng Swee to petition for funds to set up a Graduate Library School to train more librarians . An ambitious 10-year plan was submitted comprising book purchase, boosting the staff strength to 300 professional librarians and 600 ancillary staff, and a target of 30-50 branch libraries after 10 years .
The library school did not materialize as its scope was deemed too narrow and the number of libraries in Singapore insufficient to justify a dedicated library school. However it does appear that more funds were allocated for the purchase of books , addressing the gap between the book stock of 700,000 books and the recommended figure of "ten million books a year for home reading for the existing population".
In 1967, the Ministry of Education formed an Advisory Committee to advise Chinese secondary schools on matters relating to the organization and administration of school libraries. The National Library was asked to appoint a Chinese speaking officer as consultant to the Committee. Book lists from local book shops (such as Commercial, Union, World, Chung Hwa and Shanghai) provided guidance for libraries to stock new books . An example of the recommended book list is here .
In the five years since the problem of inadequate talent and training was identified as an issue, great progress was made. By 1969, the Library Association of Singapore (LAS) had set up a School Libraries Section to focus on interests and needs of school librarians and teacher-librarians. The Committee comprised teachers from schools around Singapore .
The very next year, the Ministry of Education (MOE) appointed a Standing Committee on School Libraries (SCSL) chaired by Mrs Hedwig Anuar, Director of the National Library (NL). It set about establishing properly run and staffed school libraries and incorporating library periods into the curriculum.
Beyond just navel gazing, action plans and recommendations were also made to improve things. At a seminar jointly organized by MOE, the British Council and the LAS , the meeting suggested appointing a library specialist whose qualifications would enable him/her to upskill teacher-librarians and develop syllabuses for primary and secondary schools' library activities. Other worthy ideas included setting minimum standards for school libraries, putting aside funds for equipping schools, and library periods to be introduced into school curriculum.
No one can accuse the MOE-appointed Standing Committee on Libraries (SCL) of dragging their feet! They set about their work with zeal, developing library activities for upper primary students , creating minimum standards for Primary School Libraries and organizing a robust 5-week training programme for teachers . Perhaps the biggest recognition of the impact of teacher-librarians is the recommendation that they be given a generous reduction of teaching periods to spend on developing and improving the library facilities and services in the schools !
To keep the young ones gainfully engaged during school holidays, and introduce them to the library, the National Library (NL) was buzzing with activities for children during the months of May, June , September, November and December. There was also special programming during national holidays like Hari Raya, Christmas and Children's Day.
A Christmas concert involved a number of embassies and consulates contributing items to the programme . The NL also worked closely with the French consulate to bring in the Philippe Genty puppet show . These activities helped children develop an appreciation of various cultures .
Media savvy: Library officers produced book reviews for use in radio programmes , in publications like The New Nation supplement and Ministry of Education newsletter, and at the request of publishers.
A Young Teens' Books Discussion Group was organised to bridge the readership gap between children and young people, help members to discover themselves through reading and to encourage them to write . Helmed by a Library Officer, boys and girls 10-13 years old were invited to book discussions, where they could meet local authors and be trained to be critical readers .
A snapshot of the children's section of the National Library (NL) in 1967 shows a thriving membership, with children comprising over 75% of total members . Books and storytelling sessions were available in all four official languages.
The Library kept in close touch with children's book illustrators, storytellers, and librarians from overseas. Mrs Hedwig Anuar also took a personal interest in local authors, encouraging them and sharing her contacts with them to secure greater exposure for their work .
The ability of the NL to meet the needs of young library users can be seen in the appreciation expressed by one grateful child and also an adult ! It is never too early to start reading as the oversubscribed pre-school programmes testify . The librarians had creative ways of getting children to come out of their shell such as holding the sessions outdoors .
1972 being UNESCO's International Book Year, senior staff of the National Library (NL) - Mrs V. Perumbulavil and Mrs Hedwig Anuar - built bridges to numerous international organizations. The result of all these exchanges was that Singapore's National Library received assistance in nascent areas, and in exchange gained exposure for its work, particularly in the children's section . The NL also assisted the Toronto Public Library Board when it needed help in book selection for Chinese readers .
Now that the needs of the younger readers were mostly dealt with, the library staff now moved on to the concerns of youth.
To look into the needs of young people, the National Library (NL) designated a committee to evaluate if the services provided for this age group were relevant, and the books provided adequate and appropriate .
In order to get more in touch with the library users, and promote reading, staff took turns to give book talks on Saturdays. The talks were based around topics thought to be interesting to young people such as, voyages of discovery, manners, family life, and men at war. After piquing their interest in the topic, books relevant to the topic would be referenced . External speakers were also invited to give talks such as Alex Josey (journalism), Seah Kim Joo (painting), Edwin Thumboo (poetry) .
If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, Muhammad will go to the mountain: Library staff also went into schools to deliver talks to interest students in books, both in English and Chinese, and occasionally in Malay.
The interest in youth culminated in a Youth Fair and Youth Seminar in February 1972. Issues such as education and job opportunities, social pressures, community, national goals, were dealt with by various external speakers .
Requests for assistance in running, stocking, and setting up school libraries kept pouring in, from schools on both sides of the Causeway. In Singapore, the schools that asked for assistance included Clementi School, Buona Vista Secondary School, Toh Tuck Primary School and St Patrick's School .
The Library Association of Singapore came to the rescue, setting up a School Libraries Section and organizing training courses . A Library Handbook for Secondary Schools and Guidelines for Library Activities for Primary students were also produced .
The National Library (NL) took a leadership role in Singapore and the region, providing guidance to international schools like the Australian-New Zealand School , United World College of SE Asia, Singapore International School, Japan School, as well as regional schools and organizations .
The NL also helped train new talent, through lectures at the Institute of Education and facilitating attachments of Colombo Plan award trainees to the library. Under the Colombo Plan, they could qualify for Senior or Junior Fellowships and be given a stipend and opportunity to learn on the job .
The library must have seemed a formidable place to many. Various educational, cultural and recreational activities were organized at the National Library (NL) by the Young People's Service to draw in those who had never visited it.
Topics covered personal development and self-improvement, helping the teens discover their passions and career interests . One such event was an Engineering Career Week to acquaint the public with the profession and help school leavers consider a career in this field.
The programmes were conducted in languages other than English and touched on relevant youth issues such as preventing school dropouts . Reports were submitted after each programme to help the library staff post-mortem each programme .
Without school guidance counsellors in the 1970s, the National Library tried to prepare the young for life after school with talks on Job Hunting - how to prepare to meet your potential employer and secure the job. This was well received and audience participation was good, prompting the Library to consider running this programme again .
Corporate organizations like IBM also collaborated with the Library, presenting career opportunities in the computer industry. The Straits Times hosted a tour to their printing facilities.
There were also programmes that tapped into youth interests such as outdoor adventure expeditions and music - concerts that featured popular local talent or were hosted by some of the early pioneers in the Singapore music scene such as Vernon Cornelius were also part of the line-up of programmes aimed at young people.
The Young People's Section continued its fringe activities to stoke the curiosity of youth in various interests besides books and help them in their process of self-discovery. The programmes were also conducted in other languages and supported by local organizations like Singapore Airlines. This gave youth participants access to places they would not normally see.
Many household names today were involved in the National Library's activities. Examples of activities included a talk that took place on International Women's Year 1975 by Dr Aline Wong, Footballer of the Year Quah Kim Song who spoke on Soccer and Pele , a talk on Hamlet by Associate Professor Edwin Thumboo , a staging of Black Comedy starring Winston Hodge and T. Sasithavan, and talks on Creative Writing by Chandran Nair, Ban Kah Choon and Dr Lee Tzu Pheng .
We also see efforts to involve young people in the dramatic arts - organizing auditions, talks on stage makeup, wardrobe, set design . The social aspects of being a teenager were also not neglected and conducted in various languages with a good response.