Connecting people, engaging communities

Sir, thus far we have heard how technology offers many possibilities. They also herald change – uncomfortable in many ways, but necessary. This is why learning to adapt, to keep on picking up new knowledge and competencies, has become so important for our people’s future. The place to do so informally is at our libraries. 

2 No matter what stage we are in life, our public libraries are places for learning at your own comfort level and pace, where you can pick up a book or attend a talk, for your hobby or for your career.

3 Technology also enables our people to read and learn more conveniently, wherever they are, whenever they want to. I’m pleased to say that NLB has offered free access to e-books online for over 10 years now. Every month on average, over 100,000 digital books are borrowed from NLB’s online collections. Compared to last year, we have seen an increase of 38%. Take Samiksha, whom you saw in the video played earlier. She is a busy student who downloads NLB’s digital books and journals to read on the go. Book summaries are also available via NLB’s mobile app.

4 There’s also Mr Foong Chow Weng, who uses the Pasir Ris Public Library often. He is 63 years old, and has also made the switch to digital. He began reading the newspapers online from digital devices at the library, after seeing a queue of people waiting to read the physical copies. He enjoys reading the digital version, as he says he can “view all the newspapers at one place, and zoom in to make the words bigger”. 

5 Mr Foong is indeed an example of a lifelong learner, adapting to new technologies to serve his learning needs.

6 However, Sir, I also recognise that nothing can replace the feel of a book. Some people like myself are more comfortable with them, so our libraries will continue to cater to all modes of reading and learning. The key is to encourage everyone to use our libraries to read and learn.

Report card on recent achievements

7 Sir, let me now report on what we have achieved recently in helping our people read and learn new knowledge.

Reading initiatives

8 Last year, we embarked on the National Reading Movement, a 5-year campaign to encourage adults and seniors to read, and for citizens to read in their mother tongues. The first National Reading Day on 30th July was a rallying call for the public to pledge to read more, read widely and read together. Over 430,000 people so far have made this pledge.

9 More than 380 organisations have also supported the reading campaign in various ways, by encouraging their staff to Read@Work. For example, DP Architects spread regular reading recommendations to their staff and participated in library programmes. PropNex, KPMG and PhillipCapital Group respectively organised mass reading sessions, book exchanges and book review competitions.

10 NLB also launched a Curated Reads programme, which provides organisations a starter kit series of curated book excerpts, video clips and other smaller, bite-sized materials. The topics ranged from values for life to skills for work. Companies such as Singtel have disseminated them to their staff.  Meanwhile, NLB also increased the number of mother tongue programme offerings last year. To encourage the young to read in their mother tongues, it set up 11 mother-tongue language reading clubs for children as well.   

11 Besides the mother tongue language reading clubs, NLB has run the national KidsREAD programme for over 10 years now. It aims to promote the love of reading and cultivate good reading habits among children from low-income families. 

12 Last year, NLB refreshed the programme by introducing drama to KidsREAD. The librarians and volunteers partnered with expert storytellers and theatre companies to provide more varied styles of storytelling and dramatic, interactive performances of the storybooks. They certainly enthralled beneficiaries like four-year-old Kai Yyi, who watched a dramatic retelling of a ninja story. It was so exciting, the usually shy boy started raising his hand eagerly to answer questions and to interact with the actors. 

Plans for 2017

13 Sir, I will now highlight more of our plans for 2017. 

14 I’ve said earlier that our libraries are places for learning no matter what stage we are in life. But libraries are also community places for our people to learn from each other, to come together and share their knowledge and experiences. For example: Matthew is an avid user of the PixelLab makers’ space at Jurong Regional Library. He uses the 3D printers there to create, modify and improve the parts for his self-made drones. He has since founded a start-up company making drones, and happily shares his growing knowledge with other library users, and the budding creative makers’ community at Jurong library.

15 People like Matthew who want to share their knowledge with others are an inspiration for NLB. That is why we want to evolve our libraries to foster more face-to-face connections, while still employing technology to meet the learning needs of Singaporeans, and their digital lifestyles. 

16 We want our libraries to inspire people from all walks of life to come together as a community - to learn together, learn from one another, and embrace technology. 

17 To do so, we will re-design our library spaces and introduce programming that encourages collaborative learning, and explore even more partnerships with the private and people sectors to promote reading.

New libraries for collaborative learning

18 Firstly, we are opening four new libraries this year in Sengkang, Bukit Panjang, Tampines and Bedok. They are designed to encourage collaboration, and promote reading and learning as an attractive lifestyle. There’s flexible seating and fixtures to enable discussion and creative expression, for example at Sengkang library’s new Tween space. There’s also interactive digital displays where you can browse recommended digital books and download them via NLB’s mobile app.  

19 At a much larger Bukit Panjang library, NLB will pilot a new immersive storytelling service for children aged 4 to 12. Kids can soon experience the stories they hear with sound effects, lights and interactive, visual projections. It will certainly be a new environment, which will complement the story-telling experience where librarians read aloud from picture books. 

20 NLB will also partner more with communities and volunteers to encourage space co-ownership & community bonding. For example, seniors can soon gather & plan their own programmes in the new Bedok public library, and with training, even service their own corner of the new library in Tampines. 

21 There will also be a second makers’ space and collaborative work spaces at the new Tampines Regional Library, for budding entrepreneurs and creative makers to come learn and experiment together. We had one in the West at Jurong, and now we will have another one in the East.

22 Ultimately, we want these new library spaces and programmes to spur our people toward a shared, community journey of lifelong learning.

More partnerships to sustain a vibrant reading culture

23 Secondly, this year we will explore more partnerships and collaborations to sustain a vibrant reading and learning culture in Singapore. 

24 To gain insights on our current reading culture and habits, NLB recently completed an inaugural, nation-wide study. 69% of residents surveyed said they read at least one book in the past year.  80% said they read more than once a week, be it books, magazines, news online or social media. Only 19% read books more than once a week, and most did not find reading as stimulating as audio-visual content. Nonetheless, our libraries are one of the top sources for books. 56% of those who read books borrow them from libraries. 

25 The study shows that we can do more. While more must be done, NLB cannot do it alone. We should work with the community to help different groups come together to learn together.

26 Therefore, this year for the National Reading Movement, NLB will seek more partnerships to encourage adults to read more and read widely. 

27 For example, NLB will work with an informal group of SME owners called the Bosses Network, to run a business acumen series conducted in Chinese. Established business owners will share their knowledge and favourite reads.

28 We will also continue to build a love of reading in our young. KidsRead children can look forward to a new reading curriculum with more customized activities for different reading levels, and home activity packs that parents and guardians can use to read together with their children. This will not only help in building bonds, but also sustain their interest in reading.

29 Whether young or old, we must never stop learning. As the late MM Lee once said, “One sign of an educated society is the number of books read by the people… one test of an educated man is his ability to continue reading and learning throughout his life.” This was from Mr Lee’s speech at the opening of the Queenstown library on 30th April 1970. 

30 Mr Lee was a living example of a lifelong learner, who read widely throughout his life. Here he is at the opening of the Nanyang University library in 1966, and at a commemoration dinner in 2004 – always reading, indeed. 

31 I hope that through our efforts in 2017, more Singaporeans will remember never to stop reading and learning. Our NLB libraries will continue to play key roles in helping us do that. 


32 Madam, my colleagues and I have outlined the tasks ahead for MCI and our agencies. The Committee on the Future Economy has highlighted the need for Singapore to build strong digital capabilities, so that we can participate fully in tomorrow’s digital economy.

33 Like it or not, the digital economy is here to stay. Companies, citizens, and even the Government will have to make this transition.
34 For businesses, the way markets are organised, the rise of the sharing and gig economy, and the global nature of competition on the Internet means that companies must stay agile in order to adapt to the changing business environment. At the same time, companies have to accumulate and develop the expertise needed to manage and secure inter-connected business systems, and to extract insights from the massive amounts of data that they are gathering. 

35 Individuals also need new skills to thrive in the digital economy. Whether you are a professional harnessing technology to transform your business, a hobbyist learning coding in your free time, a content creator figuring out how to engage your audiences online, or a casual user navigating the rich universe of online media, we all need to know more about what going digital really means. 
36 My Ministry recognises this, and we have outlined our plans for IMDA to help Singaporeans gain new skills in infocomm and media technologies through the TechSkills Accelerator programme, to support media freelancers, and to help businesses transform their operations and processes through digitalisation. At the same time, we have also highlighted our efforts to help companies protect and secure their valuable data, and the steps we are taking to grow the cybersecurity profession in the process. Change is never easy, but we can minimise the dislocation we experience by understanding and preparing for it as early as we can. By “doing, learning and adapting”, as the Finance Minister said last week.

37 We can best do this through partnership between the Government and businesses. Businesses must be proactive in maximising the potential of ICM technologies to deliver new services and products, and even in exploring new emerging markets. 

38 We have a highly connected, cutting-edge economy. But we also need highly connected, cutting-edge companies, prepared to grapple with “the innovator’s dilemma” head on, in order to thrive in a digital economy.

39 The Government also needs to be highly connected, and at the cutting edge of technology adoption in how it delivers public services. Citizens’ expectations have increased, and this makes it incumbent on the Government to reach out to all Singaporeans and to build trust in new ways, by leveraging technology. 

40 GovTech will lead the way by creating more government digital services that help make life easier for citizens on the go, and that keep the citizen – young, old, technology-savvy or not – at the centre of the user experience. This means not only having the hardware and software in place, but also the heartware: officers at our Citizen Connect Centres and our libraries who can serve as ambassadors and guides to help less tech-savvy users discover and maximise the benefits of transacting with the government digitally, on the go, and at their own convenience. 

41 Within the Government, we will also be placing more emphasis on driving government digital transformation and technology adoption in a more integrated manner, with GovTech at the centre of these efforts, and working in concert with 10,000 digital-ready officers across the public sector.

42 Sir, in conclusion, whether in our economy, in our society, or in the government, MCI and its agencies – IMDA and GovTech in particular – are at the centre of the changes that the digital transformation will usher in. We cannot turn back the digital tide; but we can ride it to a better destination. I am confident in our ability to do this, just as we have ridden previous waves of change, along our journey from Third World to First. 

43 And, in all our efforts, the Government will always be guided by the need to ensure that we help workers, businesses and citizens transition smoothly, and benefit from technology. We will always be aware of the need to complement the hardware and software with heartware, so that technology helps bring us together rather than drive us apart, and so that technology serves us – not enslaves us. 

44 Let us therefore come together – the Government, businesses, citizens, workers, and civil society – to shape the digital Singapore we want. Whether it is robotics, artificial intelligence, or other new assistive technologies – which do we want to deploy, and how? Only when we come together, will we realise our Smart Nation vision and ensure that we harness technology to improve as many lives as possible. Only when we come together, can we realise the benefits of a truly digital economy, a truly digital society, and a truly digital Government, without leaving anyone behind.

45 Thank you.

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