In Memory of Olive Lee

Mrs Olive Lee (Wong Yet Choo) passed away on 18 June 2006 at the age of 68.

I remember meeting Olive Lee in the first weeks on joining the National Library (NL) in 1977. She was the Head of the Cataloguing Division at the time. The first impression she gave me was that she was very professional and took great pride in what she did at the library. She saw cataloguing as a critical component of the information discovery process, which was then true, and is of course still very true today.

Olive played important roles in the various divisions of the NL system, as she was not only a dedicated professional librarian, she was also very nurturing. I recall her personal commitment to cultivate staff and their professional skills.

She was also very active in grassroots organisations, and sat in various organising committees, including National Day celebrations committees. With her involvement in the grassroots organisations, she was able to get the support of these organisations to promote the library and its services.

Even after her retirement, she continued to look for opportunities to contribute professionally. She initiated work on a database of Southeast Asia artists. She shared her vision with us at NL and that she would like to contribute to the database to fill what she saw as an information resource gap.

I respect and admire her for her lifelong commitment and contribution to librarianship in Singapore.

Contributed by Ngian Lek Choh, National Library Board

Mrs Olive Lee was my great mentor and my best friend. She was a person who was full of energy, enthusiastic and very committed to her work. During her first 5 years as head of the Bukit Merah Branch Library from 1982 to 1987, the library was very outstanding in reaching out to community. She was also particularly strong in the community involvement, especially in providing useful community information service. She was actively involved in the grassroots community work and participated in many different activities. The Bukit Merah Branch Library had since become the Centre of Community Information Service for the constituency.

Olive was full of creative and innovative ideas. New concepts with a fresh design were showcased at Bukit Merah Branch when the library was first open to the public. Bean bags and car tyres as seats were a welcome spot for children and teenagers who frequented the library. The design of the library impressed by many community leaders, including the head of a Police Station in Queenstown area. He invited Olive to be his designer consultant for the renovation work at his Police Station (of course Olive had provided many other valuable free services to the staff at the Police Station). In return, the library had received strong support from the community.

Olive always thought of new ideas to improve the aesthetics in the library. She used to dream of new arrangements of library furniture and shelving after work at night. The very next morning, she would gather all the staff to rearrange the furniture and shelving for a better design. Most of the readers were happy with the pleasant, comfortable and homely library at Bukit Merah.

Olive was a good trainer and model to her staff. During her time at Bukit Merah Branch Library, the librarians, library technicians and library attendants under her charge benefited from her strict training. Her motto was to strive for excellence at work. A piece of work which was not done up to her standard, had to be re-done. During her walk around the library, if she found posters which were not up to her standard, she would take it down immediately and staff had to re-do it. Not only did the library had to be in tip-top condition, staff work areas also had to be kept clean and tidy. I remembered one incident where she had reminded staff to keep their slippers and shoes on the shoe racks only. However footwear were still being scattered around the workroom. One morning she went round with a box and collected all the slippers and shoes not placed on the racks. She asked staff to claim their belongings from her. No one dared to do so and since then, we had a very tidy workroom.

Olive was a workaholic, sincere and very helpful person. She could spend days and nights on projects to ensure its success. These projects could be for the library, the Library Association, the Lioness Club, the community or just for a friend. She would go all the way to help you at her own expense and time. Her heartwarming attitude towards friends would be a great loss to us.

Olive, you have done so much for us, for your family, for the library and for the community. You have achieved your dreams and fulfilled your mission in life. You have fought and won the best battle in your life. In the paths that you have traveled, you have touched many lives and souls.

Olive, you would always live in our hearts and minds!

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” from 2 Timothy 4: 7

Contributed by Kiang-Koh Lai Lin, National Library Board
I was saddened to receive the news of the passing of Mrs Olive Lee. I will always remember the good times and the challenging times that we shared together with Mrs Olive Lee when I was a young, impressionable, new librarian taking up my very first library posting at the National Library Bukit Merah Branch Library in 1985. Although, the young team of librarians at BMBL from 1985 to 1989 could have been described as “too energetic and creative” and caused Mrs Lee and Mrs Kiang-Koh Lai Lin some grief. Looking back, they were enjoyable times and a great period of learning for those who were privileged enough to be part of the team. Most importantly, it laid a very strong foundation for my own successful career in librarianship. I will always be grateful to Mrs Olive Lee for her mentorship, guidance and support. I learnt from Mrs Olive Lee that: “To be a leader, you need to have passion, be guided by your vision and be unreasonable!”.

Contributed by Johna Low (Melbourne, Australia) email: