Reading for our Future
DR YAACOB IBRAHIM, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS & INFORMATION, AT THE COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY DEBATE ON 11 APR 2016
Madam Chair, several Members have asked about the work of our libraries. I would now like to talk about our efforts to further inculcate the habit of reading and its impact on how we will continue developing and growing as a nation.
Reading to navigate the future
Reading as a way of life
2 Madam, one of the most indispensable tools for learning in a knowledge economy is reading. We can read to learn, to broaden our minds and perspectives of the world around us, or simply for leisure and enjoyment. It can also be a means to open new doors and opportunities. Last month, I attended an NLB SGfuture engagement session at the library@orchard, and spoke with many participants there about reading. They shared very passionately about why they thought reading is important, and how we can encourage more to read. One of the young adults at the session in particular had this to say, and I quote: “I grew up very poor and books were my only escape. When I was a child, my mother and father split and they both remarried, and somehow the first ‘set’ of children got lost in that whole mess… But in books you find an escape without going very far. Reading really saved me.”
3 A recent survey conducted by the NLB revealed that the library has reached 1 in 2 Singapore residents through its programmes and services. This is a good number, but the people I met at SGfuture make me believe that NLB can do even more, by making reading convenient, enjoyable and interesting for everyone.
4 This is why we will begin the next lap of our journey as a society by redoubling our awareness and emphasis on reading. NLB will launch a National Reading Movement this year to galvanise Singaporeans into Reading More, Reading Widely, and Reading Together, so as to create a vibrant reading culture in Singapore.
5 To meet these objectives, NLB will focus on three priorities for the Reading Movement as a start: we will:
(i) reach out to new audience segments,
(ii) secondly, put more focus on reading in Mother Tongue languages, and
(iii) thirdly, expand our network of partners to work together on this initiative.
Reading More: Bringing the Library to Adults and Seniors
6 Mr Darryl David asked about how we could promote reading not just among the young but to all members of society. Indeed, we have done very well in helping children read, through our kidsRead and Read@School programmes. We will now turn our attention to services for adults. While many adults visit our libraries, we often see them borrowing books for their children, more so than for themselves! We want to help adults rediscover the joy of reading for themselves so as to be a role model for their children.
7 Madam, we understand the challenges of work often makes it difficult for our working adult population to read consistently. Hence, to make it easy and convenient for us to find interesting reads, NLB will bring books to people, instead of merely encouraging people to come to the books. We will bring good content and services to working adults in the office and when they are on the move. Even in the Parliament!
8 We will do this by curating and pushing out short reads and articles to commuters, which they can read on their mobile devices during a train ride or while waiting at the bus-stop. Later this year, NLB and LTA will also launch a special library-themed MRT train – a train which will not only take you to the libraries, but also functions as a library. Anyone with a mobile device can scan a QR code to download recommended ebooks via the NLB mobile app or access other content like short essays during their train journey. NLB will also run a Spot-A-Reader campaign on social media to recognise and encourage readers on board this train.
9 In addition, NLB will partner organisations in a new Read@Work initiative, a programme that will be tailored to the businesses of the companies involved. For example, NLB will curate reads on common management topics, industry trends that are useful for work, or even a good piece of short fiction for leisure reading. Some partners which NLB has already started working with are DBS and NTUC U Associate.
10 Next, we target our seniors. Through reading, they will be able to keep their minds healthy and alert, as they stay abreast of current affairs and learn new things. Therefore, NLB will expand the range of reading programmes that cater to the many interests and needs of our seniors. These programmes include do-it-yourself craft groups, and also writing workshops where seniors can discuss autobiographies and perhaps pen down their own memoirs.
11 We will also bring books to the elderly, if they are unable to visit the library. NLB has plans to start book clubs and set up more reading corners in community-owned centres, doubling outreach to Senior Activity Centres by 2020. Earlier this month, I visited the Thye Hwa Kwan Senior Services Centre at Taman Jurong. The Centre has over a thousand members and was the first Senior Activity Centre to partner with NLB in 2012. Today it runs programmes to promote reading and learning among the elderly, through hands-on activities like origami workshops. It also has a reading corner set up by NLB with fiction and nonfiction books that are refreshed on a quarterly basis.
12 I would like to respond to Ms Sun Xueling’s comment about making libraries more accessible, especially in newer estates. If there is interest among residents to set up and lead in running an ‘interim’ library in a new estate without an existing library, NLB will facilitate residents’ efforts in doing so. We can provide a seed collection and equip volunteers with sufficient know-how to run this interim library independently. As Ms Sun has pointed out, this is already being done in Sengkang, where volunteers have set up a community library in a container with books from NLB because Sengkang Public Library is temporarily closed due to renovations at Compass Point.
13 By being innovative about how we approach the reading endeavour, and by focusing our attention on adults and seniors, we hope to make reading a convenient, relevant and accessible part of everyone’s lives. We hope to help people Read More.
Reading Widely: Mother Tongue Languages A Priority
14 The second priority of the National Reading Movement is to place greater emphasis on reading in our Mother Tongue languages. Reading is a gateway to culture and reading in one’s Mother Tongue cultivates an understanding of languages, culture and history. Reading Widely in more than one language also helps build a strong foundation for bilingual literacy in children, as stories are a fun way to ignite children’s love for the language.
15 NLB has encouraged reading in Chinese, Malay and Tamil in many ways – through exhibitions, publications, book displays, reading clubs for adults and children, and week-long Mother Tongue Language Festivals. These have been very well-received by the public.
16 To further advance this effort, NLB will double the number of Mother Tongue language reading clubs in all languages, from the current five to a total of 10 by this year. These reading clubs have ignited interest in reading, and helped to improve participants’ language skills.
17 One such participant is 8 year old Dhiya Durrani Ashraf Adri, a Primary 2 student from Junyuan Primary who is a regular at the Kelab Wira Pintar (the Smart Heroes Reading Club) at the Tampines Regional Library. His mother noticed that since his participation in this club, Dhiya’s Malay vocabulary has improved.
18 We also want to encourage adults to read in their Mother Tongue languages. Here, I am pleased to announce that NLB has partnered with Lianhe Zaobao and Lianhe Wanbao in a collaboration to encourage more adults to read in Mandarin. The first project is a news and current affairs interest group led by Zaobao and Wanbao journalists at the Toa Payoh Public Library. This group, which just started in March, will meet regularly at the library to discuss news articles and issues of the day. NLB is also working with other media organisations to promote reading in other mother tongue languages.
19 Apart from newspapers and books at our public libraries, our National Library also puts on exhibitions of very intriguing multi-lingual books from their collections. Among the items displayed in the ongoing exhibition “From the Stacks” are early dictionaries, like the Hokkien-Malay dictionary which was published in the 1880s and used by the Hokkien-speaking Chinese population to help them in their conversations with their Malay neighbours. This dictionary transposes the phonetic sounds of Malay words into Chinese characters. For example, the Chinese character for ‘9’, 九 (‘jeeu’), is presented with three other accompanying Chinese characters below it. These characters, when read in Hokkien, sound like sem-bi-lan, the Malay word for ‘9’.
20 Books like this not only give us a glimpse of the context and culture of their time, but also show us how important such bilingual books are in bridging the natural language divides of the various races in Singapore. This then leads to a deeper understanding of one another’s culture, resulting in stronger community ties.
21 To complement these activities and exhibitions, and to meet the changing needs and interests of the various communities, NLB will also further enhance the libraries’ Mother Tongue language collections. We will do so by setting up groups of Reading Advisors this year, to provide expert recommendations on the libraries’ Chinese, Malay and Tamil collections and reading programmes.
Reading Together: A Community Initiative
22 A National Reading Movement naturally encompasses the entire community. To create a vibrant reading culture NLB will work with partners from all sectors – individuals, businesses, government agencies, Members of Parliament and others. In fact, the NTUC, Zaobao, Wanbao, and LTA partnerships I mentioned earlier are but the start of many more collaborations NLB is embarking on to encourage reading.
23 To kickstart the entire Reading Movement, NLB will launch a 2-month campaign in June and July this year, to get as many people as possible to Pledge to Read – that is, to Read More, to Read Widely, and to Read Together. Organisations and educational institutions will also be invited to take part in the pledging to get their staff and students to read. I am happy to announce that DBS, Temasek Polytechnic, UniSIM and the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) are four organisations which have already given us their support to be part of this campaign. I hope the Singapore Parliament will join soon.
24 The pledging campaign will end with an inaugural National Reading Day on 30 July. On that day, we hope to see everyone reading, be it in groups or otherwise. We hope to focus the nation’s attention on reading, and to encourage busy Singaporeans to set aside time to read by creating opportunities for people to Read Together. The National Reading Day will of course be organised with the help of the community, public and private sectors.
25 By reaching out to new audience segments, putting a renewed focus on reading in Mother Tongue, and expanding our partnerships and networks, we hope to galvanise all Singaporeans into adopting reading as a lifestyle.
Reading is for Life
26 Madam Chair, our libraries must be a key resource and partner in the lives of Singaporeans.
27 To ascertain how they can best play this role, NLB will be conducting a nationwide survey on Singaporeans’ reading habits this year. The insights gathered will help us to fine-tune our long-term plans for how the library can help promote reading and learning, be it through the National Reading Movement, physical libraries or other library resources.
28 While we put all these initiatives in place, we must also remember that reading goes far beyond what the libraries can do – it extends to each and every one of us. The SGfuture sessions that NLB has organised so far – one in English and the other in Mandarin – have given us many good ideas on how to encourage more to read, such as books-on-the-go, ‘gamifying’ reading, and having reading ambassadors for Mother Tongue languages. Some of these ideas are already being taken up by NLB. We will have another two SGfuture sessions coming up soon, in Malay and Tamil, and I look forward to hearing even more ideas from the public so that we can co-create solutions together. It is only with the community’s help that the Reading Movement can be a truly National one.
29 Mr Ong Teng Koon has spoken about how NLB’s initiatives and resources can play a part in community-building and nation-building. I agree with him that there is great potential for the community to play an active part. Since 2011, the “Singapore Memory Project” has been a good platform for Singaporeans to share their memories and stories of Singapore. This has helped in understanding who we are and where we came from, which will strengthen our national identity. Our National Archives of Singapore’s Citizen Archivist Project which was launched last year also lets people go online to transcribe handwritten documents or tag old photos. To date, more than 280 contributors have described more than 1,600 photographs and transcribed about 9,000 pages of documents. Our historical records are enriched by these contributors offering both their time and knowledge.
30 In the ensuing years, we will continue to enhance outreach efforts, introduce more programmes, provide greater access to archival records, and encourage more Singaporeans to partner with us in uncovering our history. We will also improve physical access through revamps of our gallery spaces so that our heritage and past can resonate even better with Singaporeans.
Connecting People with Community, Government and Opportunity
31 Madam Chair, in conclusion, around the world today, countries are grappling with the need to be future-ready, in a landscape of ever-changing demands, values and technologies which are set to disrupt the paradigm in which we have been used to operating. The push to become Smart – that is, connected, knowledgeable and engaged – is a global endeavour that our country is very much a part of.
32 Everything that my ministry has set out to do is about connecting Singaporeans with community, government and opportunity, with the help of trustworthy infrastructure and cutting-edge technology.
33 This is why we have seized the opportunities afforded by the convergence of info-communications and media, as mentioned by Mr Ganesh Rajaram. We will work closely with industry to build a strong Singaporean core in these sectors by developing future skills. To be ready for the future also means being innovative and enterprising – and so we will invest in research and launch programmes which will apply emerging technologies to improve productivity.
34 Our digital economy will only be as good as our infrastructure is resilient, and so we will also invest in strengthening the resilience of all our critical info infrastructure and enhance Singapore’s connectivity.
35 At the same time, we will build up the government’s design and engineering capabilities so as to provide better digital government services for Singaporeans.
36 Ultimately, our singular aim is to improve the quality of life for all Singaporeans. I hope the initiatives that we have shared today will lay the groundwork for Singapore to thrive in our next lap of development and maturity.
37 Thank you.