Learning together today, growing together tomorrow

1.          Many Members have shared positive examples of Singaporeans and companies successfully transforming themselves through digitalisation. Let me share one more example - our libraries. 

Libraries as exemplars of digital transformation

2.          Our libraries are national treasures. Our earliest libraries were modest facilities, to promote reading among Singaporeans. But they have always explored new ways to promote library usage, such as our mobile libraries. Today, they have reinvented themselves by using technology to champion lifelong learning, build stronger communities, and improve Singaporeans’ lives.

3.          Three years ago, in this House, I introduced the latest iteration of the libraries’ transformation – our Libraries of the Future Masterplan. Our vision was for the libraries to harness digital technology and become social touch-points for bonding, collaboration and co-creation.

4.          The Masterplan has delivered encouraging results. Five libraries have been revamped and re-opened under the Masterplan - Bedok Public Library, Bukit Panjang Public Library, Sengkang Public Library, Tampines Regional Library and Yishun Public Library. Visitorship has doubled on average, and loans by over 40% at the Bukit Panjang and Sengkang libraries, compared to before the revamp. More people visit our public libraries last year compared to the year before, especially seniors and children.

5.          One reason why our revamped libraries are so popular is because of their specialised spaces, especially those with digital capabilities.

6.          For example, the Bukit Panjang Public Library has an Immersive Storytelling Room which brings stories to life through immersive media.

7.          The new Yishun Public Library has a dedicated Digital Learning Zone where users can read e-books and e-magazines to their hearts’ content. These specialised spaces are a boon to visitors seeking something different, such as Ms Audrey Leong, who visits the Bukit Panjang Public Library four times a week with her three children. Her children have fun in immersive storytelling sessions while she attends parenting workshops at the library.

8.          Dr Teo Ho Pin asked about the new initiatives that promote reading through digital technology. Today, there are myriad digital resources on NLB’s website which provide for learning anytime, anywhere.

9.          In fact, as of 2017, e-book loans have increased by 69%; NLB’s digital reach has grown more than threefold, to 34%; and the NLB Mobile App has been accessed 3 million times since its launch in October 2016. So for those of you who have not yet downloaded the NLB app, I strongly encourage you to do so!

Libraries as community spaces for lifelong learning…

10.          Our libraries can do much more. Mr Darryl David and Dr Teo Ho Pin asked what more our libraries can do to prepare Singaporeans for the future economy where digital skills will be in higher demand. The answer is “plenty”.  

11.          Our libraries have forged several partnerships, including with SkillsFuture Singapore, to build our abilities in three areas: Skills and Employability; Business Acumen and Market Knowledge; and Innovation. To promote learning for skills and employability, NLB and SSG jointly set up the LLiBrary in the Lifelong Learning Institute, which lets users use digital resources for their professional development. To help develop business acumen and market knowledge, the NLB recently opened the Eye on Asia Resource Centre to give users a better understanding of regional markets through online resources, workshops, and mentorship programmes. To inspire innovation, we will build another Pixel Lab at Woodlands Regional Library, so that we can translate more ideas into reality.

12.          This will help innovators like Mr Jeremy Tan, who wanted to create an inexpensive soft-serve ice-cream machine to replace the expensive ones on the market. Through the Pixel Lab at Jurong Regional Library, Jeremy could print a working sample of his design to show potential investors, and convince NUS Enterprise to fund his creation.

13.          The NLB will also collaborate with tech companies to nurture the next generation of digitally-ready Singaporeans. This will be an exciting year. We can look forward to the first NLB-Microsoft Artificial Intelligence Hackathon that will bring students together to co-create innovative solutions using Microsoft’s artificial intelligence products and data from NLB. In partnership with Microsoft, NLB will also be co-organising a National Digital Storytelling Competition this year. Open to all secondary school students, this competition will let students tell their own stories using the immersive media technologies at the Bukit Panjang Public Library and Microsoft tools.

… And digital readiness

14.          Our libraries will also play an expanded role in realising our vision of digital readiness, as explained by SMS Janil. To start, NLB will bring in more than 1,000 digital-readiness programmes for all ages every year. Dr Teo Ho Pin asked about the libraries’ efforts in supporting and preparing Singaporeans for active ageing. I am pleased to share that NLB will partner IMDA to develop and deliver a suite of digital readiness services and extend the reach of digital readiness training to more than 300,000 Singaporeans over five years, 85% of whom are expected to be adults and seniors. This year, seniors can look forward to TechShare, a tech showcase platform for seniors to try current and upcoming technology in a “tech playground” setting, exploring gadgets such as robots and smart home technologies.

The results are evident, especially among the young

15.          The upshot of these investments has been an increase in customer satisfaction. A recent survey showed that many more Singaporeans are visiting the libraries, reading books, and having a good time doing so.

16.          Children and young Singaporeans have benefitted from the Libraries’ transformation. NLB has long supported efforts to promote early reading, especially for less privileged children, because this improves one’s ability to learn throughout life. Hence, we have programmes like KidsREAD and Early READ.

17.          These efforts have produced encouraging results. Based on our survey of KidsREAD, 4 out of 5 children enjoy reading more. They also developed a positive self-esteem and positive attitude towards reading through attending kidsREAD sessions. Through Early READ, 99% of educators and 92% of parents observed that their children have gained an interest in reading.

Libraries as anchors of our heritage

18.          Our libraries show us that it is possible to embrace digitalisation and reinvent ourselves to thrive in the future. But technology is not the only determinant of success. We must also have a deep sense of identity to root us as we navigate an uncertain and fast-changing future. This is where our libraries have also done well, thanks to their excellent work in preserving our national patrimony.

19.          Ms Sun Xueling asked about the efforts undertaken by the National Library and Archives to preserve our heritage, and if access to archive resources is available at all our libraries. I am pleased to share that they are forerunners in using digital technology to strengthen digitisation efforts that are critical to the preservation of our memories. The digitised content is accessible through the various digital portals, such as Archives Online and NewspaperSG. In fact, many of Mediacorp’s Broadcast Archives are also viewable at the public libraries free of charge via the multimedia stations.

20.          I had the opportunity to explore NLB’s Spatial Discovery website at my visit to the National Library last week. This website allows users to find and interact with maps and maps-related information across NLB and NAS collections.

21.          Each map is a rich archive of information, as you can see from the 1982 map of Changi area overlying Changi Airport’s present-day satellite image.  Today, many of us rely on Google Maps to tell us how to get somewhere. These historical maps, however, tell a different story: they show us how far we have come, from a barren site of sand to four airport terminals, and possibly where we will go. The good news is anyone can access this trove of knowledge on their Internet-enabled devices at any time, and not just at the libraries. 

22.          We will continue to do more. Later this year, we will amend the NLB Act to require publishers to deposit electronic publications free of technological protection measures so that NLB can provide access to and preserve the documents.

23.          In preserving our national patrimony, NLB works closely with the community to preserve the rich heritage and culture that is embodied in our people. We particularly would like to thank our Citizen Archivists for helping us transcribe, describe and make sense of some 27,000 images or pages in the past year. We will continue to provide Singaporeans and friends more avenues to contribute their own captures of Singapore’s landscape and significant moments in time.

24.          Similarly, the NAS has convened the Community Oral History Committees (COHCs) to ensure a comprehensive, representative and multi-faceted oral history collection.

25.          The COHCs have collated wonderful stories from fellow Singaporeans from all walks of life, such as Mrs Eleanor who saved her friend from being beaten up by rioters in the 1950s, Mr Noor Mohamed Marican, a lawyer involved in the Muslim Syariah Courts, and Mr Rama Kannabiran, a celebrated Tamil-language writer.

26.          The NAS will continue to preserve and make accessible our nation’s at-risk collections and treasures, including microfilms and AV records. 

27.          This year marks the NAS’s Golden Jubilee. We are therefore revamping the NAS building at Canning Rise to enhance its archival facilities and create more public spaces so Singaporeans can enjoy our rich repository of treasures.

28.          You can soon browse historical documents in the comforts of a new Archives Reading Room or watch restored movies at the upgraded Oldham Theatre. But beyond hardware, the NAS will launch programmes for the public to enjoy its vast collection later this year.


29.          Over the last few years, through numerous dialogues and outreach and engagement efforts, such as Singapore 21, Our Singapore Conversation (OSC), SG50, and most recently SGfuture, we have heard from Singaporeans from all walks of life on their hopes and visions, and how we can shape our collective future together. In the OSC survey of 4,000 respondents, it was found that Singaporeans are generally optimistic that the next five years would be better than today, and that today was better than five years ago, despite the challenges ahead.

30.          It is with the same spirit of optimism and zest that my Ministry has envisioned what it means to be a truly digital Singapore. We see Singaporeans finding their niche in the digital economy, be it someone learning a new skill like 3D printing, an SME using an app to bring convenience to its clients, or communities collaborating to develop future-forward digital solutions to better the lives of fellow Singaporeans. We will provide opportunities for inventive entrepreneurs to translate their ideas into reality, for content-creators to move from storyboards to bigger screens; for established and emerging companies to become the Googles of the world. We see a future where, we can browse more digital resources from wherever we are; where communities come together to learn and grow together.

31.          Today, the future beckons to us from the Reception Hall at Parliament House. I would like to invite the House to IMDA’s Immersive Media Exhibit hosted there, where you can visualise and digitally experience large 3D building models in the construction of new urban sites, amongst other AR and VR activities.

32.          As we can see, my Ministry and its agencies are one step closer to realising our vision. We will continue working tirelessly with all our citizens and businesses, so that we can reap the benefits on our path to a truly digital Singapore and a Smart Nation, by growing our economy, supporting our SMEs in different sectors, and creating good jobs and a better quality of life for all Singaporeans.  Like the people in the video I showed at the beginning of today’s speech, our ultimate goal is to deploy technology that will continue to improve the lives of Singaporeans and empower them to do more good for their families, communities and our nation.

33.          Thank you. 


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