5 Things You Didn't Know About the National Library

By Bras Basah Bugis on Feb 2017

The National Library is a place that triggers many memories for people of my generation.

As 80s kids, childhood weekends often saw trips to the library, devised by parents looking to distract us from an unhealthy obsession with a dancing purple dinosaur on the telly and a burgeoning attraction to the neighbourhood Toys“R”Us.

In our youth, the National Library then became a cool place to study, whatever shred of coolness you could salvage from being seen cramming for your Chemistry exam in public.

More than just four walls that play the role of a silent observer to our formative years and memories, the National Library has its own story to tell. Possessing a rich history that started from its humble beginnings in the 1830s when it had just enough books to fill one cupboard, today’s National Library is a sprawling modern complex that even the best Disney princess would not be able to resist.

Here are five little-known facts about the library that will have you seeing it in a whole new light.

1) Sir Stamford Raffles saw its potential to become the centre of knowledge in the Far East

When he first set foot on Singapore’s shores in 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles had a grand vision of turning the then fishing village into a vibrant British colony. Commonly billed as the founder of modern Singapore, Sir Stamford didn’t see the potential of Singapore only as a commercial hub. Instead, he saw the value of education and wanted to build an institution that could serve to educate the next generation of his staff and local leaders.

Although the project never quite took off in his time, the proposed Singapore Institution was finally completed in 1837, a decade after Sir Stamford’s death, when the lack of proper schooling facilities in Singapore was identified as a problem by some sections of the community.


2) Supporting local since 1886

After the colonial government took over the reins of the Singapore Library and renamed it the Raffles Library and Museum in 1874, it also implemented the Book Registration Ordinance to build up its collection of Malayan books. In 1886, the Ordinance brought about the legislation that copies of local publications had to be deposited at the colonial libraries.

Today, the National Library Board Act enacted in 1995 requires two copies of publications published in Singapore to be deposited with the National Library within four weeks of the date of publication.




3) An unlikely partnership kept the library intact during the years of war

In 1942, the Japanese invasion plunged Singapore into a state of war. British and Australian forces had used the library as a Regimental Aid Station in the weeks before the invasion took place, and the Raffles Library and Museum was renamed as Syonan Hakubutsu Kan during the war. Despite the Occupation bringing about much destruction and chaos, the library was kept mostly intact.

This was thanks to the efforts of two remarkable individuals – Professor Hidezo Tanakadate and Assistant Director of the Botanical Gardens, E.J.H. Corner, who worked together to preserve the library materials. Notably, Prof Tanakadate was so committed to rescuing books and collections at risk of damage that lorry-loads of books were saved and taken to the Raffles Library.


4) First in the world to revolutionise the convenience of borrowing and returning

Quick to embrace technology, the National Library Board that was formed in 1995 successfully implemented the world’s first Electronic Management System (ELiMS) in 1998 that led to the introduction of automated self check-out and book-return stations.

By allowing bookworms to borrow books from a particular public library and return them at a different location, the system not only saved many of us from making an extra bus trip or two, but also freed up library staff to work on other areas of service.




5) The Library’s elegant facade at Victoria Street is also an eco marvel

At its new spot along Victoria Street, the National Library opened to the public in late 2005. In addition to serving as a repository of knowledge for both the young and old in this new era of information, its elegant facade also harbours eco-friendly considerations.

The clusters of greenery seen on the premises are no ordinary tropical embellishment. A combination of bioclimatic vegetation and landscaping helps to regulate indoor temperatures so you don’t find yourself sweating while trying to expand your horizons of knowledge.

For its forward-thinking eco features, the National Library has garnered various accolades since its re-opening, including the Building Construction Authority’s highest accreditation, the Green Mark Platinum Award for an environmentally-friendly building.

More on the history of the National Library can be explored at the From Books to Bytes: The Story of the National Library exhibition in place at Level 5, Promenade, National Library Building.

The exhibition is open to the public daily from 10.00am to 9.00pm.