Social Services and Amenities Bringing Reading To The People - Mobile Libraries
Mobile Libraries

Mobile Libraries

Before there were food trucks, there were trucks, bringing food for thought to the people! In the 1960s, there was only one main library, the Central Library at Stamford Road which was fast becoming overcrowded, with a junior membership multiplying tenfold from three thousand to over thirty thousand in the span of five years - between 1956 to 1961

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As part of the National Library's (NL) efforts to decentralize and serve Singaporeans living in rural areas and densely populated housing estates, and with a US$2,000 cash injection from UNESCO, vans were bought to bring the books to the people . This was the mobile library, which made its debut in September 1960 . The rollout of the Mobile Library was accelerated in the late 1960s when then PM Lee Kuan Yew enquired in April 1967 about the adequacy of the facilities of the Junior Library .

The Mobile Library first made its rounds to rural schools, then Community Centres and housing estates. West Coast, Tanjong Pagar and Nee Soon were among the first neighbourhoods to benefit from the service, between 1964 and 1965 . In view of the popularity of the service, seven new centres were added in the next two years (1966-1967), in Bukit Panjang, Chong Pang, Kaki Bukit, Kampong Tengah, Bukit Timah, Changi and Paya Lebar . Two "Daytime" Mobile Library services were also established in Kampong Cheng San in 1968 and Jurong in 1969.

Besides bringing books to the people, the Mobile Library service also helped keep youth off the streets, channelling their interests to more positive activities and reducing delinquency . The service provided another "social amenity" , especially to those living well away from town .

The rapid expansion of the Mobile Library service was made possible through a donation of nearly S$85,000 by the New Zealand government under the Colombo Plan in 1967. This enabled 23,000 books to be purchased for the Mobile Service . After a successful run of over three decades, the Mobile Library Service was largely replaced by full-time branch libraries which served different areas of Singapore. This followed a review of the Mobile Library service and streamlining of the services of the National Library.

By National Archives of Singapore. Published July 2016.

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