Left: Hui Fang Zheng Andre is an NLB Scholar currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at Williams College.
Right: Chew Wen Qi, Ashley, NLB Scholar, is currently reading MA in English Literature (with Hons) at University of Edinburgh.
Alibrary is much more than simply a place to borrow books. It is an epicentre of learning and exploration - a place where knowledge is shared, where stories are brought to life, and where communities are formed.
The National Library Board (NLB) aims to promote reading, learning and information literacy, as it curates its wide range of programmes, services, and collections. From the children regaled with fairy tales by a storyteller at a public library, to the professor slowly turning through microfilms in the National Archives of Singapore, to the senior citizen attending programmes on digital skills, NLB leaves its mark in the lives of many.
Eager to contribute to these endeavours, and add some colour of their own, are NLB scholars Hui Fang Zheng, Andre and Chew Wen Qi, Ashley. They shared with us how the NLB Scholarship aligned with their interests, as well as the opportunities it has provided them.
How did you get interested in books, or rather, literacy?
ANDRE: From a young age, my parents tried to get me in the habit of reading! They got me into that habit by regularly reading to me until I was old enough to read by myself. I guess even then I must have been fascinated by how books, imperfect as they were, could capture so much of the world that lay beyond my immediate perception or understanding.
ASHLEY: My love affair with books properly began at Bukit Panjang Public Library. I lived right opposite it! It was almost too convenient to make a trip there almost daily, be it during after school hours or over the weekends with my family.
To read was to escape into a whole other alternate universe vastly different from the one I resided in. To read was to shed a skin and become someone else, to completely lose yourself to the narrative. The library enveloped me in its gentle, beckoning embrace and plunged me into the deepest recesses of my imagination. I could revel there for hours, all the while sitting, cross-legged, opened book resting on my lap, in a cosy quiet corner.
The NLB Scholarship is one of many available. What was the defining factor that made you choose it?
ANDRE: NLB’s flexibility with regards to the choice of study in almost any discipline from the humanities and social sciences was a big draw, as was the fact that NLB offered a full scholarship.
Coupled with my familiarity and fondness for libraries and books in general, I thought that NLB would be a good fit.
ASHLEY: To put it simply, the defining moment when I made my decision to apply for the scholarship was when I imagined a life estranged from books and could only imagine how dull it would be, how starved, how parched my mind would be.
The fact that I literally get to eat, sleep, and breathe books on the daily sealed the deal. I will be touching them, reading them, getting (way too) acquainted with them, dissecting them, analysing them, raving about them, critiquing them, arguing about them all the time, writing about them, organizing and cataloguing them, essentially defending their indubitable value.
Rather than a straightforward degree in Library Sciences or the like, both of you chose different majors. How are you looking to apply what you have learnt at NLB?
ANDRE: I am double majoring in Sociology and Religion, and intending to concentrate in Science and Technology Studies (that is the equivalent of a minor). I think that those three disciplines can very helpfully and productively inform the way NLB works.
Sociology will be useful in the ethnographic way it gathers data and trains you to ask and answer important questions: who tends to use libraries, why, and for what reasons? Hence, what kinds of roles can—and should—the library come to imagine itself playing for groups that are situated at various sociological intersections?
At a more abstract level, something I am contributing to NLB is the importance of an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary approach to understanding and doing things. Those words tend to have a bad reputation as meaningless academic buzzwords, but I do really think one of the benefits of attending a liberal arts college (like Williams College, where I’m currently studying) is that you do not just learn about many different things—you also come to learn enough about many different things to recognise what you do not know.
ASHLEY: I want to instil a sense of open-mindedness in the work ethic. There are no right or wrong answers, only slightly less wrong ones. There is no one truth, one solution, only perspectives, only pros and cons, merits and demerits.
I hope to inject a spirit of playful curiosity into the environment as well. It is important to dare to try, to make all your mistakes and then even more of them, to never lose that spark and to set others on fire.
What possibilities are there for scholars working at NLB?
ANDRE: There are many possibilities for NLB scholars. To be specific I will elaborate on two, drawn from my own experience as an intern.
The first is the possibility of being part of a strong push to be socially inclusive of people with disabilities. Woodlands Regional Library has piloted a space designed specifically for children with autism (it is called Calm Down to the Library), and NLB plans to open Singapore’s first fully-inclusive library in Punggol in 2021.
The second is the possibility of shaping the future of libraries in Singapore. To this end, NLB has a whole department built around library planning and development that aims to answer questions like: Who should the library be built for? To what degree should NLB even wed itself to the idea of a physical and bounded space? (For example, e-services such as borrowing books through OverDrive are not tied to any physical library but are clearly relevant to NLB.)
ASHLEY: I hate to break it to you but working at NLB is not, contrary to popular belief, just shelving books.
The opportunities are vast! Boundless! There are so many different sides to NLB than just the public libraries we go to. There is the National Library, and their riveting exhibitions and curated collections. There is the National Archives of Singapore and their well-conserved audio-visual records. A lot goes on behind the scenes in public libraries as well. For instance, the distinct services we provide for different age groups.
What advice would you give to aspiring scholars looking to join NLB?
ANDRE: Think critically about how NLB and libraries currently work and could possibly work, and be able to clearly explain why your interests and the subject you want to study would be relevant. Give concrete suggestions for improvements to libraries that show you are observant of what goes on.
I have been told that how to get young adults to consistently use the library is the million-dollar question; most people seemingly ‘outgrow the library’ after they stop being teenagers, and only return to it once they have kids of their own. If you have some thoughts on that, I am sure NLB would love to hear them.
ASHLEY: Interrogate your passion – what is it you want to bring and can bring to the table? What footprint are you leaving?
Also, get comfortable with a state of flux. You want to be constantly questioning yourself, challenging yourself, and stretching yourself. You are always in a perpetual process of re-evaluation and revision. You never want to settle. You see multitudes. You see grey areas. Your mind is a malleable, expansive thing. It is an electrifying creative thing. Let it speak through you.
Above all, stay unabashedly curious.
Living in a Fantasy World
Andre has always had a great imagination – visualising scenes from games, sci-fi and fantasy worlds since childhood, and write a chronology of what happened. The scenes could be from Celestial Zone, Gundam, Lord of the Rings, and Command and Conquer. He admits that he is still doing it occasionally.