`From the Stacks’ Part II


`From the Stacks’ showcases significant materials from the National Library’s Rare Collection. From now until 25th September 2016, over one hundred artefacts comprising books, periodicals, manuscripts, maps, photographs and documents from 1701 to 1960 will be exhibited at the National Library Building.

The three curators of the exhibition spent over a year uncovering the stories and significance behind each item, and have put together a three-part series on their picks from the exhibition.

Report of the Singapore Library

Singapore: The Mission Press, 1844-1852, 1860

Picked up Chung Sang Hong, Assistant Director (Exhibitions & Curation)

The First Report of the Singapore Library, Singapore’s first public library (1844)

The First Report of the Singapore Library, Singapore’s first public library (1844)

Assistant Director Chung Sang Hong discovered much about the first local public library, through the earliest Reports of the Singapore Library, to which the National Library can trace its roots. These annual reports of the Singapore Library are invaluable resources on the early history of the library and its operations during its infancy.

The reports offer us vivid glimpses of the physical environment of the library: it was housed in an ‘airy and spacious’ room in the North Wing of the Singapore Institution at Bras Basah Road (now the site of the Raffles City Shopping Centre), ‘commanding a delightful view of the harbour’. Busts of Sir Stamford Raffles, English monarchs and literary masters such as Shakespeare and Byron adorned the reading room.

When it first opened in January 1845, the library opened daily (except Sunday) from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.! This proved impractical, and its hours were later revised to 10.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.. The duration of the loan period varied from two to fourteen days, depending on the format of book and whether it was new. Overdue fines were charged at 5 cents a day and increased to 10 cents after ‘intimation by the Librarian’. The first librarian and secretary was John Colson Smith, headmaster of the Singapore Institution (1843-1852).

The library was supported by shareholders and subscribers. Shareholders paid an entrance fee (for membership) of 40 Spanish dollars and a monthly subscription of 2 dollars. Subscribers of different classes paid a monthly subscription ranging from 1 to 2.5 dollars, which entitled them to borrow from the library’s collection.

Books, periodicals and newspapers were ordered from England and India on a monthly basis. The library also benefited from book donations from prominent residents such as W. H. Read, A. L. Johnston, and William Napier. Some titles from the Singapore Library can still be found in the collection of the National Library.

Apart from the curators’ favourites, there are many other ‘treasures’ waiting to be discovered, each one able to reveal fascinating stories about Singapore’s history, culture and society. Catch this not-to-be-missed exhibition soon!

View of the exhibition section featuring the early history of the library in Singapore

View of the exhibition section featuring the early history of the library in Singapore

From the Stacks is ongoing until 25 September 2016 at the National Library Gallery, Level 10, National Library Building, from Monday to Sunday, 10am – 9pm. Closed on public holidays. Free admission.