Libraries have become critical common spaces in society: Iswaran

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Minister: They can be model for ties between Govt and community

Libraries have evolved beyond quiet sanctuaries and book repositories to become critical common spaces in society, said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran.

From digital-ready programming to volunteers from all walks of life, including seniors and special needs groups, libraries can be a model for fruitful partnership between the community and the Government, he said.

He was speaking during a visit yesterday to library@harbourfront, which marked its one-year anniversary at VivoCity mall.

The library, which he described as a "library spa" because of its relaxing atmosphere, has received more than 1.8 million visitors since it opened.

From January to November last year, its loans increased by 83 per cent and visitorship by 180 per cent, compared with a similar period at its previous location in Bukit Merah Central.

Mr Iswaran noted that Singapore is an exception to the global trend of declining library usage.

"Many public libraries overseas have closed down or shrunk, but that is not the case here in Singapore, and I think an important reason for that is the close engagement and partnership that we have between our libraries and the community."

This is in sync with the SG Together movement launched by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, he added.

His visit coincided with the first external stakeholder engagement session for the Libraries and Archives Plan, which will outline strategies for 2021 to 2025 for the National Library Board (NLB). The session is part of NLB's efforts to consult the community and various partners, including academics, volunteer welfare organisations and heritage researchers.

The plan will be launched in September this year in tandem with NLB's 25th anniversary. Mr Iswaran said more details would be forthcoming later in the year.

He hailed the efforts of NLB's volunteers, who number close to 5,000 and are between four and 90 years old. On average, every public library is supported by almost 160 volunteers a year who give their time towards a range of activities.

NLB's Externship programme teaches volunteers with special needs to sort and shelve library materials. The two-year programme has had more than 80 graduates.

Mr Stephen Choon, 52, a job coach for the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore, said the programme helps his students, who are aged between 16 and 18, gain confidence in interacting with the public.