An Annotated Bibliography Redux: A Story of Bibliographies, Singapore Literature and Digitization.


Singapore Literature in English: an Annotated Bibliography was originally published in book form in 2008, and featured distinctive, even unique features, such as historical “Notes”, abstracts of contents, and information about the availability of each title. The editor-compiler, NTU Professor Koh Tai Ann, collaborated with NTU Libraries to digitize the bibliography on NTU Libraries’ digital projects platform and make it available online in 2013.

Prof Koh Tai Ann speaking at the launch of the online bibliography, October 2013

This digitization and renewal of the Bibliography now enables a systematic approach to updates and edits whenever necessary; the interactivity introduced also enables detailed and insightful searches by laypersons and academic researchers alike. For example, it is now possible to understand and visualize how Singapore Literature in English has developed, by looking at the statistical data and indications of the most popular genres published, to tracking granular details about the kind of content being written about.

Since the Bibliography’s launch in 2013, news media reports that Singapore’s literary scene has captured the increasing attention of international readers [1, 2]. Google Analytics data of online visitors to the online Bibliography also evidences this. Some notable user statistics captured are listed below (data from Aug 2014 to May 2017):

  • There have been more than 25,546 visits to the Singapore Literature in English: an Annotated Bibliography Digital Project site since its launch in October 2013.
  • The average number of visits per month to the digital project is 750, or 25 visitors per day.
  • About 58.51% of user sessions are from Singapore and a significant percentage, 49%, are from countries outside of Singapore.
  • The top ten countries outside Singapore where user sessions originated are – United States, Philippines, Malaysia, India, United Kingdom, Russia, China, Australia, Japan and Germany.

One impact of the Bibliography, as explained by Professor Koh, is that it has facilitated and inspired the creation of other more specialised digital resources and anthologies by local institutions and other compilers. Examples include the newly launched Poetry.sg portal, which lists the top 50 poets and their works; the updated Literary Arts Resource Guides by the National Library; the National Arts Council’s Directory of Writers and their works – as well as anthologies such as Written Country: The History of Singapore Through Literature (2016), and Unfree Verse: Singapore Poetry in Form (2017).

The feedback received from Professor Koh listed below demonstrates how she uses the Annotated Bibliography; as well as the way other stakeholders in Singapore’s literature community have benefitted from the project, including users outside of Singapore.

“I also used the Anno. Bib. to generate and break down statistics during my keynote speech [at the Poetry Festival 2016], illustrating how informative and helpful to users it can be. …”

“I will be using the Annotated Bibliography at the Literature SG conference in July 2017 as an instant resource for an “overview of Singapore fiction” I’ve been invited to give, to convey the wide range published  by Singapore’s writers from ghost stories, to mysteries, detective stories, science fiction to “high order” novels, and so on.”

“ … I received an email from a stranger overseas expressing appreciation for the bibliography, …”

“… Digitization enables the bibliography to suggest new areas of research and provide up to date information … not only literary historians, but even publishers will find this resource useful! eg. NUS Press planned to start a “Singapore Classics” series, Goh Poh Seng’s If We Dream Too Long, being the first title. However, their search through my Annotated Bibliography, discovered that Times Publishing and its successor, Marshall Cavendish hold the copyright to all the “classics” it wanted to re-issue! Dream escaped only because it was the first Singapore novel in English, and self-published.”

“The NAC which is publishing a new Directory of Singapore Writers has found it very useful. Meanwhile Arun Mahiznan was so inspired by it, he consulted me and started a digitized library of Tamil Literature with bibliography …”

“At a recent book launch of Unfree Verse, the editors gratefully acknowledged that the enterprise was rendered possible by the Anno Bib…”

[She received feedback below from Koh Jee Leong, an award-winning Singapore poet/ lecturer based in the US]

“The annotated on-line bibliography is truly a magnificent accomplishment. It covers the major literary genres, as well as anthologies, periodicals and electronic journals. The search function is usefully refined according to date and subject, besides author and genre. … “

Such feedback encourage libraries’ efforts to co-create and build digital resources that provide universal online access to promote Singapore Literature to a global audience.  Through these initiatives, libraries can go beyond their physical boundaries to develop online resources and new platforms for users in future, to discover and share their interest in Singapore Literature.

NTU HSS Library Singapore Literature events generate a lot of interest and are well-attended

Vincent Wong, NTU Libraries subject librarian for English Literature, has worked with Prof Koh on the Annotated Bibliography to maintain and update content for the digital project ever since he joined NTU in 2015, taking over from the previous Librarian, Emma Wilcox, who was part of the start-up team. He shares some of the challenges he faced when working on the bibliography as a digital project.

 

Q: What are some challenges you have faced while working on the Annotated Bibliography digital project?

A: Aside from the traditional challenges faced when working on a bibliography, the Annotated Bibliography in digital format also presents some unique challenges that may be specific to only such digital projects.

One such example would be in attempts to customise the platform for the Annotated Bibliography. The platform used is a great fit to display and highlight the annotations and details curated by the Professor for the Annotated Bibliography, but tailoring its multitude of functionalities to a Bibliography is sometimes not possible. Platforms designed to be modular and easily customised to fit a variety of different objectives would help a lot for such digitization efforts.

As someone from a humanities background, I find that balancing the needs of what works best with the content against the available technology and systems can be a struggle. This challenge, however, is part of what makes working on the Annotated Bibliography so exciting – finding creative ways of solving these problems is a constant and ongoing learning process.

 

Vincent Wong, NTU’s Literature subject librarian maintains and updates the bibliography

Contributed by Vincent Wong and Lena Sam, NTU Libraries.

Special thanks to Professor Koh Tai Ann for her comments and feedback.

 

 

References

  1. Fabbri, D. (2016). The evolution and renewal of Singapore’s literary scene. Channel NewAsia, 4 March 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/the-evolution-and-renewal-of-singapore-s-literary-scene-8131050
  2. Li, D. (2017). Why Singapore’s literary scene is flourishing lately. The Peak, 25 January 2017. Retrieved from: http://thepeakmagazine.com.sg/lifestyle/singapores-literary-scene-flourishing-lately/
  3. Literary Arts – Resource Guides. (2017). National Library of Singapore. Retrieved from: http://www.nlb.gov.sg/resourceguides/category/literary-arts/
  4. Nanyang Technological University. (2014). Singapore Literature in English : An Annotated Bibliography. (2014). Retrieved from: https://eps.ntu.edu.sg/client/SingaporeLiterature/
  5. National Arts Council. (2015). NAC (National Arts Council) Resources and Directories. Retrieved from: https://www.nac.gov.sg/singaporeartsscene/literaryarts/Resources-and-Directories.html
  6. Poetry | Home. (2015). sg. Retrieved from: https://www.poetry.sg/