National Library Board
Feature | NLB

Purveyor of Knowledge

The National Library Board is made up of more than just books, it offers an all-rounded suite of information service at your fingertips. One of the dedicated librarians who makes scouring for tricky resource materials as simple as picking a book from a shelf is Rebecca Tan – and she loves every moment of it.

National Library Board Undergraduate Scholar Rebecca Tan is an Associate Librarian (Digital Heritage) at National Library Singapore, where she assists patrons and provides reference and research services. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Geography and English from University of California, Los Angeles.

According to their website, the public libraries under National Library Board (NLB) bring in more than 24 million visitors annually who borrow more than 30 million library materials and attend more than 25,000 programmes.

That is a staggering number of people exposed to the world of learning, imagination and history at the 27 public libraries in the NLB network.

But NLB wants more than numbers. Its mission is to foster an information-rich society that appreciates learning and creativity. To this end, it aims to deliver a personalised and omnichannel experience to every library visitor – be it through digital collections to browse through, video storytelling sessions, or the electronic reference service, Reference Point.

At the end of the email inbox answering patrons’ questions at Reference Point ([email protected]) is Rebecca Tan, an Associate Librarian from Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, who hopes to help every patron find the materials they need.

How did you get interested in NLB as a scholarship sponsoring organisation?

During university, I minored in Digital Humanities and did undergraduate research. I enjoyed both experiences and wanted to work in an environment that allows me to use the knowledge and skills that I had acquired.

So, NLB’s Digital Heritage team is the perfect place for me. NLB plays a significant role in preserving the nation’s heritage, and part of achieving this involves doing research and creating content, a lot of which is now digital, to showcase the value of its collections to the public.

Rebecca Tan

Rebecca Tan

What made you eventually apply for the scholarship?

The scholarship was a great chance for me to work at an organisation that embodies the values and causes I care very much about, such as promoting reading, information literacy and a greater appreciation of our heritage.

Also, I had volunteered with NLB in secondary school, as a Friend of the Library. This strengthened my eagerness to apply because I was already familiar with the organisation and I really appreciate its values.

“What is especially fulfilling about working at NLB is getting to work on projects which would benefit so many people.” Rebecca Tan

You studied a Bachelor of Arts in Geography and English in University of California. What did you learn there, and how do you apply it to your current work?

As an associate librarian at the National Library, I provide reference services at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library (LKCRL) as well as answer Reference Point queries. My experience in conducting research in university has helped me to easily navigate databases, find useful resources for patrons and present such information in an accessible and organised manner.

The experience I gained in working with different stakeholders is also relevant in my current work. During university, I was part of a student organisation that tutored children in a library. I would work with parents to ensure they knew when tutoring sessions were held, as well as ensure each tutoring session was customised to meet the learner’s needs. Similar principles come into play when I serve customers at the counter.

Tell us about your other responsibilities as an Associate Librarian.

I manage the National Library’s digital collection, serving as a contact point for different teams who may require some troubleshooting or new content to be published on webpages. These tasks require me to work with staff from different teams and understand the functionalities of different websites.

I also curate and create content that promotes the library’s resources, including its digital collection. Currently, I am also a research assistant for a recipient of one of the National Library’s research fellowships.

That is such a huge portfolio! In your opinion, how do these tasks contribute to NLB’s objectives?

My job involves managing the library’s digital collection. This includes handling platforms such as BookSG (digitised books and print material) and National Online Repository of the Arts (NORA). I work with project managers and developers so that patrons can have a smoother browsing experience and access new content regularly. These resources, which are also mostly accessible from home, allow people to embark on their own research or journeys of discovery.

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Rebecca likes the flurries – smoothies, milkshakes and popsicles. She makes many of them herself!

What possibilities are there for people working at NLB?

Perhaps more possibilities than they might think! Many people tend to associate NLB with just the physical libraries and shelves of books, but there is a lot more beyond that. One could work in the Public Libraries, the National Library, or the National Archives of Singapore. There are also teams which focus on developing NLB’s digital products or improving resource discoverability.

What is especially fulfilling about working at NLB is getting to work on projects which would benefit so many people.

And lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring scholars looking to join your organisation?

I would suggest taking on opportunities that provide insight into what various jobs at NLB entail. For example, you could volunteer at the library and archives, or attend events organised by NLB. This will give you the opportunity to understand the different projects that NLB works on, observe staff members in action, and assess whether NLB will be a good fit for your interests.