Remembering Lim Kek Hwa: Mentor and Friend

“I remember Kek Hwa as a very caring and helpful mentor at the National Library’s then Reference Services Division.

As Head of the Division, her desk used to face the entrance to the Division. She always had 5 to 8 reference titles sitting on her desk as she used them to help staff with the more challenging reference enquiries.

She would not give up on an enquiry, until she had found adequate information to satisfy the enquirer, and she made it a point to check if the enquirer was happy with what was found for the question posed. This impressed me deeply as a good example of great customer service.”

Ngian Lek Choh, Director, NLB

Lim Kek Hwa at Reference Services NLB
Lim Kek Hwa at Reference Services NLB

“Lim Kek Hwa was both a friend and a colleague whom I had the pleasure to work with for more than 25 years. As a friend she was kind, helpful and nurturing. As a librarian she was the best – the best reference librarian in the National Library. She was meticulous, diligent and resourceful. She built up the National Library’s reference services and the reference skills of many of its librarians. I am sad that we have lost a good friend and a dedicated reference librarian.”

R. Ramachandran, former Deputy Chief Executive, NLB

“I worked with Miss Lim Kek Hwa in the National Library at Stamford Road from 1983 until 1987 in the Reference Services Division. Kek Hwa taught me much about the National Library’s Southeast Asia collection, particularly about Singapore and Malaysia. The knowledge and experience I gained working with her allowed me to take up the post of Librarian for Southeast Asia here at SOAS. She was a friend and mentor and her enthusiasm and sense of humour were a great help to me – I was both new to Singapore and new to librarianship when I joined the National Library. I offer my condolences to her family and former colleagues. Kek Hwa was both a good friend and great teacher to me and many others.”

Nicholas Martland, SOAS, London

“Miss Lim Kek Hwa was my mentor when I was with the Reference Services Division (RSD) from 1989 until she retired in 1997 on medical grounds. She was then the Head of the Southeast Asia Collection of the National Library. After she retired, a few of the ex-RSD staff, including myself, still kept in touch with her by visiting her in JB, where she lived after she retired. She always cherished these reunions. Our last reunion with her was when we visited her at Singapore General Hospital in September this year and then proceeded to her house in JB. Miss Lim was a dedicated and resourceful librarian. She was very knowledgeable in Singapore information, especially Singapore history. She believed in sharing of information, a quality that I admire and try to emulate. I learnt my research skills and the passion for acquiring knowledge from her, as she was a great teacher. After she retired, there was a “void” in this area of expertise. Now that she is gone, there is a void in my heart…I will never forget her…”

Azizah Sidek, NLB

Lim Kek Hwa at right with colleagues from NLB
Lim Kek Hwa at right with colleagues from NLB

“More than any other librarian, Kek Hwa was proud of her profession and it has every right to be proud of her. Librarianship was her vocation and her avocation.

I have the privilege of working with Kek Hwa for over 20 memorable years. Even though I was working in the government department libraries over the greater part of that period, Kek Hwa was the one person whom I would turn for help in the course of my work. Being a consummate reference librarian, she was able to provide the answer to any research enquiries that I could not resolve. On every occasion that I had to use the Reference Services Division at Stamford Road, I would see her browsing through a trolley of new arrivals or the library collection to index information on people, places and events related to Singapore. She also started a collection of Singapore related postcards and would show me her latest acquisition after each overseas holiday. What a great advocate of the Library as the future of culture and history of our country!!

Over the course of her career, Kek Hwa inspired and mentored many librarians and library officers to be equally committed to library information services and to maintain high professional standards. Even after her retirement in 1997, she maintained a keen interest in the National Library and I continued to seek her advice.

I have lost a great friend and mentor.

Lily Chow, NLB

“I first knew Kek Hwa some 30 years ago. She was then in the Attorney General’s Chambers Library while I was in public library service. We spoke over the phone regarding an inter-library loan request from the library.

It was only in 1980 that we got to know one another better. I was transferred to the then Reference Services Division of the National Library and working with her in the same division, but different sections – she was in the Southeast Asia (SEA) Section and I was in the Science and Technical Section. When she later became Head of the Division, I was in charge of the Science and Technology Section.

I worked more closely with her during the late eighties when she was in charge of the SEA Section, while I was in charge of the Science and Technology Section. As heads of two different sections within the same division, there was some sort of ‘rivalry’ between the two of us for scarce resources. However, we still somehow managed to work closely for the common good of the Division. I remember the last big project that we worked together. After this project, I was away and when I returned, she was already on medical leave and then later retired on medical grounds. However, even though she had retired, she still kept in touch with us – a few of the colleagues that had worked closely with her.

At the Library, Kek Hwa was dedicated to her work in the Reference Services Division as a whole and the SEA Section in particular. She was a responsible and meticulous person, fully committed to her work. Although holding a higher position than mine, she would sometimes seek my opinion on matters relating to statistics and numbers. She was an excellent example of a passionate librarian. She was always eager to share any new information she had learnt through working on a research enquiry. She was also very strict in ensuring that staff answered enquiries to the fullest extent. She would personally go through enquiries that had not been answered fully and coached staff on this. I can say for sure that I have learnt a lot from here especially regarding information and resources relating to SEA and Singapore. She had been an inspiration to many staff.

After her retirement, she still had a profound influence on me. In spite of her illness, she would still find time to have “catching up” lunch and dinners with some of us. As her illness took a greater toil, she would continue to catch up through email or phone. Although staying in Johor Bahru, she continued to keep abreast of what’s happening in Singapore through reading The Straits Times. Occasionally, she would send emails to share her thoughts about reference services and the development of libraries in Singapore. She would also ask about how the colleagues whom she used to work with were getting on. All these showed that she had a positive, faith-filled outlook on life and toward other people. I recall there were occasions where she had a great sense of humour. For instance, after reading one of the issues of BiblioAsia, she told us that she dreamt about handling an enquiry but fumbled at counter because the information was not complete in the OPAC. Although her passing away filled me with sadness, I was at the same time happy that she had lived according to: 2 Timothy 4:7:

“I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”

Chan Fook Weng, retired NLB staff