Opening Remarks by Minister S Iswaran at Read!Fest 2019
Mrs Elaine Ng,
Chief Executive Officer, National Library Board (NLB)
Friends of the Library,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A very good evening to all of you. I am delighted that so many of you could join us today to celebrate reading and especially home grown Singapore literature.
This is my second Read!Fest. It continues to have a certain verve and a certain impetus which I think all of us identify with and share. Fundamentally, the long term mission is about promoting reading, and the quest for knowledge. That is an evergreen aspiration, and one that underpins all our work. Whether it is in the library, in the community, in the economy, and in society as a whole.
Read! Fest – a celebration of SingLit and Singapore Authors
The theme for this year’s festival is appropriately named “Voyage” alluding to the long journey we have undertaken as a nation since our founding. Of course, as our Bicentennial reminds usour history goes back hundreds of years and that we were once a thriving seaport called Temasek. And we have a rich history, it is, filled with myths and legends and fables and stories that continue to fascinate and inspire generations of Singaporeans.
But if the stories that are not shared, they would be lost forever. We have read and heard these stories because of the tireless efforts of our writers and storytellers in Singapore, and also because of the excellent work of our librarians and archivists. NLB and its partners have played a key role in providing opportunities to support our writers and their important work, and the contributions they make to our heritage.
NLB’s work is paying off as more Singaporeans have been discovering Singapore literature, or SingLit as we like to call it. It may be thrilling as it may be to discover fantasy worlds from other cultures and societies, but I think when the stories make reference Joo Chiat, roti prata or sepak takraw, it has a particular resonance for all of us because it is referring to places and things that we identify with in our everyday lives. So it has an important role in the pantheon of literature that we have in Singapore.
Today, our options for SingLit are not limited to physical books either. NLB’s eBook collection offers you the opportunity to discover new stories and skills through the NLB Mobile App. Results from the second National Reading Habits Survey done by NLB show that more readers are converting to eBooks, and the whose loans of these have more than doubled to about 3 million in 2018 from about 1.5 million in 2017. So Singaporeans are adapting to eBooks, and NLB’s app, and we want to encourage more of them to participate and to take full advantage of this.
a) One of our 50-plus library regulars, Mdm Chua Bee Hang enjoys reading via the mobile app. With the app, she skips the queues to borrow books and can peruse eMagazines and eBooks at a leisurely pace without having to worry about due dates. We hope like Mdm Chua, more Singaporeans will use the app to find joy in reading. The app will also now include a new function that will encourage and incentivise users to read more.
The National Reading Habits Survey also showed that adults and teenagers especially are reading for leisure more than once a week. That is a welcome development, because reading is a source of joy. It is not being done just for work, it is also done for pleasure. To promote reading to even more Singaporeans, this year, I am happy to announce the launch of the National Reading Challenge. This ten-week challenge will culminate in a grand lucky draw, with attractive prizes. More importantly I hope it will raise public awareness of NLB’s resources, and get more people involved in the reading habit, and in sharing the reading habit. As J. K. Rowling said, “If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” I think all of us can get hooked, when we find the right book.
If English language books are not quite your cup of tea, NLB has an extensive Mother Tongue Language collection. The library is working with Singapore authors and publishers to provide interesting Mother Tongue Language content. We are heartened because bilingual readership is on the rise with a 10% increase for reading in the Mother Tongue Languages. We know this is important because bilingualism helps us connect with our own heritage. This is something we have emphasised in all aspects of Singapore society.
a) NLB’s Mother Tongue language programming includes something for everyone. Poly student Prashanth Kumar uncovered a new world of Tamil authors and literature after attending an author’s sharing at Read!Fest last year. He found the author’s writing style and life experiences relatable. He then started reading and borrowing more Tamil books from different authors and inspires his peers to do the same.
In line with NLB’s commitment to encourage more Singaporeans to discover works in the vernacular languages, we have increased our offering of Mother Tongue language programmes this year. Singapore author Djohan A Rahman will be holding a creative writing workshop including shock elements to the story to provide excitement to the readers as the story progresses. Mr Djohan’s “Tika Aksara Menari” was shortlisted as one of the best works for the Singapore Literature Prize last year. Of course, it goes without saying that this book is available in our libraries.
We want to spark the love for reading and a passion for lifelong learning amongst all Singaporeans. But this is not something we are embarking on our own, and neither is it something we can achieve on our own. Our partners have joined our cause and contributed to programming to develop capabilities through various library programmes. Our Singapore authors inspire our readers to discover new books. Our readers become volunteers who go the extra mile to further our cause, and I have met many of these volunteers during my visits to the library branches. These partnerships enable us to make a difference. In fact, they are the critical ingredient I would say, in the success of NLB’s work. When you put together the passion and dedication of our librarians, with the commitment and enthusiasm of our volunteers – we have an unbeatable combination. Through deeper engagements, we hope to create a more caring and inclusive Singapore where we each play an active role in shaping the society we live in, starting with our libraries.
Thank you all for your presence here today. It is greatly encouraging for me, and for my colleagues at NLB. Let us work together to promote the reading habit, the quest for knowledge, and the reading as a community habit, which will bring us together as a society.