The Library Association of Singapore (LAS) is the national organization representing the interests of library and information professionals in Singapore. Membership comprises professional librarians as well as others who are interested in library and information work. LAS provides opportunities for networking, professional advancement and sharing of latest developments through its publications, talks, visits, conferences, training courses and social activities.
In the 1950s, Singapore was a British colony, and Malaysia, then known as the Federation of Malaya, was a British protectorate. Libraries and librarians in the two territories were far and few. Only a handful of government research libraries and a few subscription libraries existed, the latter, as Jean Waller had described, “masqueraded” as public libraries.
The then Raffles Library, (now the National Library of Singapore) and the Library of the then University of Malaya in Singapore (later known as the University of Singapore and then renamed as the National University of Singapore on 1 July 1980) were the very few fortunate ones to receive government aids in engaging the services of qualified expatriate librarians who came from Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand and the U.S.A.
These expatriate librarians were assisted by a very small number of local staff, none of whom had received any formal training in librarianship. This group of expatriates and local staff was full of zeal and enthusiasm to transform ideals into realities in their determination to establish and improve library services in the country. No sooner, this pioneering group was caught up with the idea that there was an urgent need for them to meet other librarians and exchange ideas about their work. The concept for the formation of a professional organization for people engaged in library work was thus mooted and on 7 January 1955 an informal meeting to discuss the matter was convened with 47 persons in attendance. These included full-time librarians, teacher-librarians and others who were interested in the cause. The meeting led to a further series of meetings in which a constitution for the proposed organization was drafted.
Malayan Library Group
On 25 March 1955 the drafted constitution was formally adopted by 36 members including 14 from across the Causeway. That meeting was unanimously agreed to by those present at the function as the inaugural meeting of the modest national professional library organization called the Malayan Library Group.
The founding of the national group was an important milestone in the history of librarianship for both Malaysia and Singapore. The Malayan Library Group assembled for the first time all those who were engaged or interested in library work in the two territories. The fundamental aims of the Group were to unite librarians and to serve as a meeting ground for the exchange of ideas.
“The existence of the Group also testifies to the fact that there has arisen in this country a new and growing class of professional people . . . who are conscious of the value of library services to the community, and who are banding together for the purpose of seeking ways and means to enlarge and improve these services.”
Library Association of Malaya and Singapore
Economic and political events that ensued in the 1950s and 1960s in Malaysia and Singapore caused the Malayan Library Group to undergo many changes. In 1958, the Federation of Malaya and Singapore was formed and the Malayan Library Group changed its name to the Library Association of Malaya and Singapore to reflect that the association covered both territories since it encompassed membership from the two regions. In 1960 the Federation Government decided not to grant registration to pan-Malayan associations. The Library Association of Malaya and Singapore was left without choice but to split into two separate library associations, viz. the Persatuan Perpustakaan Tanah Melayu (Library Association of Malaya) which was was inaugurated on 16 January 1960 and the Library Association of Singapore which was inaugurated at the extraordinary general meeting held in Singapore on 27 February 1960.
The merger of Malaya and Singapore into Malaysia brought the two separate library associations together again. In January 1964, both the Persatuan Perpustakaan Tanah Melayu and the Library Association of Singapore agreed that there should be one library association for Malaysia with the Library Association of Singapore becoming a branch. On 16 January 1965, the Library Association of Singapore was reconstituted as the Persatuan Perpustakaan Malaysia, Chawagan Singapura (Library Association of Malaysia, Singapore Branch). However, the political marriage between Malaysia and Singapore was short-lived as Singapore separated from Malaysia and became an independent Republic on 9 August 1965. Caught in this turn of political events, the Library Association of Malaysia, Singapore Branch once again reverted to an independent library association and it was reconstituted at the annual general meeting held on 29 January 1966 as the Persatuan Perpustakaan Singapura (Library Association of Singapore). The official Malay name was adopted in line with the Government’s emphasis on using Malay as the national language.
Library Association of Singapore
On 25 March 1972, the day the Malayan Library Group was founded 17 years ago, the association formally adopted the Library Association of Singapore (LAS) as its official registered name. This name has since been known locally and abroad.