Three years, four months and one long pandemic later, the National University of Singapore (NUS) Libraries Central Library revamp is finally complete! The university’s flagship library began progressively closing its floors in June 2018 to facilitate construction works, and had just completed Phases 1 and 2 of its revamp in Q1 2020 when COVID-19 and Safe Management Measures hit in full force. Despite minor delays in the revamp, the team soldiered through and stuck to their three main objectives: creating an activity hub with innovative services to enable and grow discovery, scholarly engagement and research; upgrading the building’s façade while being conscious of its surroundings and history; and designing for sustainability and energy efficiency.
“We’re basically transforming the library to be ever-ready. Technological changes have affected how library users, particularly students who are always connected, use the facilities, collections and services; and how library staff work. Although the facilities and interior were upgraded more than 15 years ago, it needs to be renewed and re-designed to create synergy with the surrounding spaces.”Lee Cheng Ean, University Librarian, NUS Libraries
Plans for the revamp started as early as 2014, and NUS Libraries spoke to users via focus group discussions, interviews and surveys – users were even observed! – to mine ideas and feedback for new facilities and services. Library staff also went on a study trip overseas to leading academic libraries. Popular requests ranged from the usual suspects like a 24-hour study space and discussion/presentation rooms, to more unusual demands like exhibition space for both department exhibitions and student work, to stretch goals like the Inspiration corner and a games room – and NUS Libraries delivered on all these and more.
Here’s a quick overview of what’s available on each floor.
Level 1: Space for endless discovery
From plant room and storage to collaborative space, Level 1 of the Central Library now offers flexible spaces catering to student meetings, exhibitions and digital learning. The space now houses exhibitions, the Reserve Books and Readings Collection (RBR) collection, and flexible learning spaces. Students and staff in need of refreshment can also visit the refreshed Co-op and MAXX Coffee.
Left & Right: Flexible furniture and multi-functional learning spaces promise a lively learning space
Level 2: Space for building legacies
Level 2 houses the BookBridge, which carefully stores the library’s rare books in a controlled environment, and was designed by NUS’ own Associate Professor Shinya Okuda from the Department of Architecture in the School of Design and Environment. In line with the objective of sustainability, the shelves are made of tropical Mass Engineered Timber (MET), which is renewable and acts as a carbon sink. You can read more about the BookBridge project here.
Left: The BookBridge, as seen from outside the Central Library;
Right: Inside the BookBridge
Level 3: Space for experiences
As part of the library’s move to differentiate user spaces, Level 3 has been transferred into a bright, spacious discussion space. Users can also find training rooms and discussion rooms on this floor.
Left: Collaborative spaces, and the training room in the back; Right: Choose from open-plan tables, or a quiet discussion room for small groups.
Level 4: Space for possibilities
Where to begin on this floor? The Seminar Room for large group seminars? One of the ten private project rooms for presentations and discussions? The revamped TEL Imaginarium for VR and AR? The Digital Scholarship Lab’s high-performance workstations for data processing and visualisation? The 360imx offering shared immersive experiences? From physical to digital, Level 4 offers a kaleidoscope of spaces for every activity you can think of.
In 2019, LAS members were invited to visit the TEL Imaginarium and the Digital Scholarship Lab – check out their report here.
Do note that onsite services at the TEL Imaginarium have been suspended due to COVID-19 measures.
Left: TEL Imaginarium’s Green Room; Right: The 360imx
Level 5: Space for inspiration
Since no library has EVER received complaints about having too much seating, the revamped Level 5 has increased its seating capacity, while managing to relocate its Open Shelves from Level 3. The Singapore-Malaysia Collection can also be found here, in the Peggy Wai Chee Leong-Hochstadt Room.
Left: Pre-Covid times, when empty seats are a rare sight; Right: The Chinese-SEA collection is housed in a cosy corner with a quiet study area.
Level 6: Space for quiet reflection & reading
For pilgrims seeking quiet study, meditative spaces, or just somewhere no one will interrupt their revision plans, Level 6 is the place to be. Furniture has been selected to provide privacy and shut out the world (and noise!), and users are already happy with the cosy, quiet space.
Left: Nothing says “Go away” better than a stand-alone study carrel; Right: Library users can also find quiet study spaces in the Chinese Library
While only university staff and students can visit the Central Library during regular operating hours from 9am to 9pm on weekdays and 10am to 5pm on Saturdays, curious librarians can digitally explore the new library via videos and photos at Central Library Revitalisation | NUS Libraries Post.
All images courtesy of NUS Libraries.
LAS Publications Committee Member