Social Services and Amenities Before The Internet - National Library's Reference Section
National Library's Reference Section

National Library's Reference Section

How did people find out any information or fact before the internet?
Why, they would come in person, to the National Library's (NL) Reference Section.
It seems the Reference Division of the NL was the search engine of the day.
In the early 1960s, NL counter staff would help tease the answer out of volumes of encyclopedia, reference books, atlases, and other reference materials.
The queries not only came from members of the public of all ages, but also public agencies and private organizations.
Queries ranged from the straightforward as "What are some Chinese New Year traditions and customs" and "Where is Tuttlingen located" to the somewhat more esoteric "how do you address Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia".
There were also requests for images, like that requested by an advertising agency of an Inca sun god .
The bulk of the queries came in through the phone , and some by mail.

Legend:     Document     Newspaper

Where information was not readily available, NL would initiate a search with other sources to obtain the information, and if the information could not be obtained, NL would offer alternatives. For example, when NL did not have the 1885 - 1886 annual reports of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce, it traced their whereabouts to the Public Records Keeper (London), the British Museum, and finally to the Foreign and Commonwealth Library. Searches were free of charge but photocopied/ microfilmed copies of materials were supplied at nominal rates. The efforts taken by NL to respond to each query speaks to the customer-centric culture of NL, a quality still very much in evidence today.

Seeing that a growing number of the Reference services users were students working on school assignments and projects, library staff endeavoured to teach them how to fish - rather than merely supplying the answers, taught them how to locate information in periodicals and how to use the periodical indexes .

Visitors to the Reference Section hovered around 400 per day in the late 1960s, and the number of queries could exceed 2,000 in a month . One thing remained consistent - the perennial struggle to beat the heat - evidenced by the monthly reports on how the air-conditioning was performing, with temperatures around 30 degrees Celcius!

By National Archives of Singapore. Published June 2018.

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