Social Services and Amenities The Care and Feeding of Librarians - Developing Librarianship in Singapore
The Care and Feeding of Librarians - Developing Librarianship in Singapore

The Care and Feeding of Librarians - Developing Librarianship in Singapore

Librarianship was not a common career path in the 1950s and 1960s, as there few public libraries besides the Raffles Library and University of Singapore library. Still, there were serious efforts to improve the competency of local librarians. At that time, out of a population of 1.5 million in Singapore, half were illiterate . The early library in Singapore took guidance from more mature libraries around the world -- reaching out to the British Library Association for advice , sending librarians far and wide to learn from practices of more developed countries with a longer tradition in libraries .


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The Colombo Plan gave local library officers the opportunity to travel overseas to be trained in librarianship, and one of the first local librarians who was awarded a fellowship for Advanced Training in Librarianship was Mrs V. Perumbulavil, the head of the Children’s Section of the National Library, who spent three months in Toronto undergoing practical training focusing on services to children and teenagers .

Local librarians who had the opportunity to travel overseas to be trained, also became trainers. An example was Mr Chan Thye Seng, a Colombo Plan Scholar who rose to President of the Library Association of Singapore, and taught and coordinated a postgraduate diploma .

One of the important tasks early on was defining the various roles in a library and standardizing the various tasks to provide more consistent and higher levels of service to readers. Librarians paired up, with Library Officers mentoring Library Attendants and coaching school librarians.

An indicator of how successful the development of librarianship was can be seen in a quotation from Australian librarian Jean Waller, who returned to Singapore two decades later and remarked, “The biggest improvement I have seen in the (University of Singapore) campus is the development of local leadership.

“When I first came here, most of the lecturers and professional librarians were Europeans. Now there is a big change. Local librarians have taken over and there is a vigorous improvement in professional librarians” .

With this foundation in place, roles and professional career tracks were defined, making librarianship a desirable career path for many.

By National Archives of Singapore. Published February 2021.



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