Supporting Singapore in reading, learning and being well-informed

Introduction

1          Minister Iswaran and SMS Janil Puthucheary have shared the exciting opportunities in a digital future, and what we are doing to help every Singaporean reap the digital dividend.

2          Digital transformation is also the key theme of enhancements to our libraries, media and government communications, where our focus is in supporting Singaporeans in reading and learning, and being well-informed.

Our libraries are inspiring spaces

3          Let me start with our libraries. As Members would know, the transformation of our libraries is among the most thorough and dramatic ever experienced by our public sector agencies, in their drive to serve Singaporeans better.

4          We remain committed to this transformation journey. Beyond better collections, more comfortable surroundings and more efficient customer service, we continue to site, design and refresh libraries in a manner that keeps pace with Singaporeans’ urban lifestyles. Our goal is to stay ahead of changing preferences, and to continually delight library users. We site where footfall is high, and we put extra effort into space and programme design. Let me illustrate this with library@harbourfront, which opened in January this year. During my visit, I was heartened by the scene of students, children, working adults and grandparents reading and learning under the same roof. Parents were guiding their children through hands-on activities based on STEAM concepts at the childrens’ makerspace. Just a few steps away, the programme zone was bustling with seniors chatting and enjoying each other’s company while picking up tips on cybersecurity. Offerings like these, combined with the library’s innovative design and panoramic view of Sentosa and our port, make for a delightful visit and all-round experience for every user.

5          Our libraries of the future have been well-received by Singaporeans. They have generated 50% higher loans and an increase of around 65% in visitorship compared with their non-revamped counterparts. This is in spite of the downward trend in visitorship and loans observed in the libraries of many other countries.

… provide a vast array of learning resources

6          Over the years, we have also transformed our library collections – going beyond providing purely ‘books’ to a vast array of learning resources. A major push on this front has been going digital, which has redefined convenience and the reading experience for all library users.

7          Members of the public have written in to express their appreciation of the NLB Mobile App, launched in 2016. Mr Jeffery Sung discovered that within minutes of downloading the app, he was able to read newspapers from around the world and browse the bestselling books in town. Essentially, the App has placed the library within our pockets. Our eBook loans have more than doubled since 2017. To meet the rising demand for eBooks, NLB had raised the eBook loan quota from eight to 16. Singaporeans who have yet to try eBooks or audiobooks can sample them outside the library at our eReads kiosks. NLB will roll out eight to 10 more of these kiosks across the island this year.

8          For many years, NLB has doubled the loan quota of physical items to coincide with the school holidays. Each time we run this, we consistently get great feedback from our users, who take advantage of the promotion to read and borrow more. I am pleased to announce that users need no longer wait for the school holidays; from 1st April, we will be doubling the physical loan quota from eight to 16 items permanently. In effect, library users will be able to borrow 32 physical and electronic items at any one time.

9          Another branch in the evolution of the libraries’ collections has been expanding our local content. Reading is a great way to deepen our love for our mother tongues and ethnic cultures. NLB will grow its collection of localised children’s books in Chinese, Malay and Tamil. It is currently shortlisting titles that Singaporean children up to the age of 12 years can enjoy and relate to, for translation into vernacular languages.

…and equip Singaporeans for the future

10          As Members are aware, we face a fast-changing future. In this fluctuating environment, our libraries can serve as every Singaporean’s personal learning retreat, where you can re-tool and enhance your personal and work life.

11          I recently met Ms Noorjahan Bte Kamaruddin, an avid learner and volunteer who inspired me in more ways than one. To achieve her lifelong dream of publishing a recipe book, Ms Noorjahan set out to acquire skills on electronic publishing, copyright, privacy and cybersecurity matters at the ‘Silver Digital Creators’ Workshop organised by NLB and IMDA. She continued working on the project after the course, and is now the proud author of the eBook “Noor’s Just Right Recipes”. But Ms Noorjahan did not stop there; with the knowledge she gained, she has begun training others! Noor’s story demonstrates how collaborative learning has enriched her life and the lives of others. It also shows how technology can be harnessed by Singaporeans to achieve great things.

12          Dr Teo Ho Pin asked how our libraries can play a more proactive role in supporting SkillsFuture and lifelong learning. The answer is that NLB champions continuous, self-directed learning in many ways. We are making it easy for adults to take advantage of the library’s learning resources. For example, NLB’s Digital Business Library offers more than 4,000 e-book titles condensed into 10-minute, bite-sized reads for busy adults. I would also like to thank Dr Teo for his suggestion on how NLB could work more closely with SkillsFuture Singapore. NLB is actively partnering industries, SkillsFuture Singapore, Workforce Singapore and the Council for Third Age to deliver a comprehensive slate of job and skills-related programmes for Singaporeans. For instance, “SkillsFuture Advice” helps Singaporeans understand the importance of career planning and skills upgrading. Learning today is no longer confined to information gathering, but also actively practising in a guided environment, under the tutelage of mentors. Singaporeans who are keen to tap the brains and insights of industry game-changers, such as the founders of Carousell and ShopBack, can do so through the “Breakthrough: Conversations with Entrepreneurs and Innovators” series. NLB will do even more. Over the next five years, we target to run 1,500 workshops benefitting more than 50,000 participants.

Our libraries cultivate inclusive communities 

13          Mr Darryl David asked how libraries can continue to serve as inclusive social spaces for Singaporeans of all ages. I am pleased to say that for all the transformation our libraries have undergone, certain principles remain constant. Libraries bring people of diverse backgrounds together. In the words of 29 year-old Karimah Samsudin: ‘The library allows you to be exposed to different ideas, so you don’t just stay in your own box or cocoon, and get to know different kinds of people’. Another regular patron, Ms Leo Yih Nah, shared that book clubs were good social events that would help to lower the risk of dementia for seniors like her in the long run.

14          NLB goes one step further in its aim to cultivate inclusive social spaces. It is committed to extending the multitude of opportunities I have elaborated on to all, especially learners amongst us who could use an added boost. One of our hallmark nationwide programmes is KidsREAD, which promotes early reading for less privileged children, and celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. To bring the library even closer to them, WondeRead was launched in 2018. Similar to a subscription box delivery service, WondeRead delivers pre-loved library books quarterly to children who are not able to visit libraries on their own. WondeRead is accomplished with partner organisations, who either sponsored items in the box, or whose staff personally selected and packed books for each child. Many of the WondeRead beneficiaries look forward eagerly to their next box delivery.

15          To enable job creation for persons with special needs, NLB will be extending its employment partnership with the Autism Resource Centre (ARC) in 2019. ARC clients were trained on collection arrangement work in late 2018 and since January 2019, they have been employed by NLB to support the operations of the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library.

16          Mr Chairman, in Mandarin please. 主席先生, 我国多个图书馆是深受国人喜爱的去处。闲暇之时,到图书馆去,在舒适、凉快、宁静的环境里借阅书报、汲取丰富的精神粮食,在我们节奏紧凑的都市生活中未尝不是一件赏心乐事。步入数码时代的图书馆管理局致力于不断有所进步,以服务回馈爱护图书馆的广大阅读者。

17          在数码时代,“书”的定义已有所改变,图书馆馆藏从实体书、纸质书延伸至电子书报,让人们在小小的手机或平板电脑上也能读书破万卷。2018年,图书馆将每次可借阅的电子书数量从8本提高至16本,公众反应良好。今年四月份,图书馆也会将实体书的借阅顶限调高至16本,让爱好阅读的朋友们不怕借不了,只怕看不完。

18          第二,国家图书馆管理局与负责推广终身学习、普及数码科技的政府部门联手,将图书馆打造成国人学习新技能、参与未来经济的入门教室,其中不乏适合年长者、用母语讲解的课程。勿洛图书馆、大巴窑图书馆、以及在怡丰城新开张的港湾图书馆等地方都有这类培训活动,希望公众前往体验。

19     第三,为了鼓励儿童学习母语、丰富母语读物,图书馆管理局也将筛选具备本地特色的优良英文儿童文学作品,翻译成华文、马来文、淡米尔文。

[English translation: Mr Chairman, our libraries are a favourite haunt of Singaporeans. In our fast-paced urban life, it is certainly an enjoyable experience to visit a library during one’s free time to read and enrich one’s mind in a comfortable, cool and quiet environment. As it enters the digital age, the National Library Board strives to keep improving, providing quality service in return for the love that our readers have for our libraries.

The definition of “books” has changed in this digital age. Library collections now comprise not just physical books and hardcopies but also e-books, allowing people to access tens of thousands of books on their handphones and tablets. In 2018, our libraries increased the loan quota for e-books from eight to 16 and response has been good. From April this year, users will also be allowed to borrow more physical books, up to 16 items per visit.

Second, the NLB is working with government agencies responsible for promoting lifelong learning and digital technology to transform libraries into a gateway classroom for Singaporeans to learn new skills and participate in future economy. Some of these courses are conducted in the mother tongue and suitable for seniors. We hope the public would go experience such training activities, which are held at Bedok Library, Toa Payoh Library and the newly opened library@harbourfront at Vivo City.   

Third, to encourage our kids to learn their mother tongue and to enrich mother-tongue reading materials, NLB will also select good children English books with local characteristics and translate them into Chinese, Malay and Tamil.]

Public Service Broadcasting is connecting to audiences better      

20          Our media have an important role in helping Singaporeans stay well-informed; and, through shared discourse, fostering a sense of togetherness and identity. Most Singaporeans would be able to recall growing up with their favourite local drama series, or tuning into news and current affairs programmes to follow the unfolding of national events.

21          Mr Darryl David asked how Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) is evolving in response to increasing competition for eyeballs from online and foreign platforms. Indeed, PSB must keep pace with changing consumption habits so that it is integral to the lives of viewers. Our national broadcaster is engaging Singaporeans across a wide range of platforms so viewers can easily discover and enjoy local content. Let me illustrate with the example of Channel 8’s “SPOP Sing!” – a nationwide competition which discovered and celebrated our young singing talents. Instead of the traditional approach of airing the show exclusively on TV, Mediacorp released content on an array of platforms. Its efforts had borne fruit. On top of the 1.7 million viewers who tuned in on Free-to-Air TV, more than 850,000 watched it on Toggle. Performance tracks were streamed more than 150,000 times on major digital music platforms such as Spotify, and social media and on-ground outreach events extended engagement further still.

22          Another important priority of ours is to strengthen the reach of local vernacular content. In Mandarin, please.  为了协助公众掌握更多华语信息、扩大数码时代的观众群,新传媒结合电视、电台资源,创建了集新闻、娱乐、生活信息为一体的门户网站,并计划在今年中旬正式推出。[English translation -- To help the public access more Mandarin information and expand our reach to people of the digital age, Mediacorp has tapped on its TV and radio resources to bring together news, entertainment and lifestyle in a one-stop portal, 8world, which it plans to officially launch in the middle of the year.] To deepen community engagement with Malay-speaking audiences, Suria will continue to partner with community organisations in large-scale events, such as the opening of Wisma Geylang Serai. In the same vein, Vasantham is partnering the Tamil Language Council and the Tamil Language Learning & Promotion Committee for community events like the annual Tamil Language Festival. Through ground events and engagement, Suria and Vasantham are able to connect with their communities and celebrate culture and values, while increasing social media outreach and the visibility of their content and artistes. 

Our government communications foster an engaged nation

23          From listening to citizens’ views and concerns, to explaining government policies and schemes, the Ministry builds clear channels for communication that foster a well-informed and engaged nation.

24          Ms Tin Pei Ling asked how we can improve communications of government policies across age groups and communities. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, we customise the content, platforms and languages for different groups of Singaporeans. For our millennials, we produced a web series Ah Boys – Hidden Warfare, that covered topics of concern to them, like jobs and economy, and marriage and parenthood. For older audiences, there was the Getai Challenge, where we adapted the skits and music performances of a familiar local tradition to share useful information with our seniors, such as housing, social support measures and diabetes awareness.

25          Age is not the only diversity we cater for; our communications are also tailored for various communities. For example, we rode on the festive cheer of the Deepavali and Chinese New Year seasons to share timely and informative content with our Indian and Chinese communities. Topics included financial planning and healthy eating. Similarly, we customised programmes such as Abang Teksi, which highlighted different forms of Government assistance to help Singaporeans tide through disruptions, including Adapt & Grow initiatives. Our post-campaign research showed about 8 in 10 respondents were more keen to sign up for Adapt & Grow initiatives after watching the programme, suggesting its effectiveness.

26          Mr Leon Perera asked about public opinion surveys conducted by the Government. Government agencies use a variety of means to better understand ground issues and concerns. These include outreach activities conducted by REACH, house visits and surveys which help our agencies assess public sentiment on issues, and public awareness of, and response to, government policies and programmes.

27          For example: After the Pioneer Generation Package was introduced in 2014, we conducted surveys to ascertain how well understood the package was by the target audience – the pioneers themselves. As a result of the survey findings, we decided to use Chinese dialects to communicate the package to our pioneers who were less comfortable with English or Mandarin. We will undertake a similar effort in planning our communications on the Merdeka Generation Package.

28          Most surveys that MCI and other agencies conduct are for internal reference like the ones I have described. The Government does not make policy decisions or decide communication strategies solely on the basis of surveys, but they help ensure that service delivery and policy implementation are satisfactory.

29          The Government releases surveys that may be of interest to the public. For example, REACH has released surveys of public perceptions on the annual Budget and the National Day Rally speech, fake news, and public transport. Another example would be the Study on Social Capital commissioned by the Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth. Other surveys released include studies of youth, national security awareness, as well as attitudes towards water conservation. As for coordination, agencies need the operational flexibility to conduct their own surveys on issues of concern within their purview. Some questions may be common across different surveys because they are cross-cutting in nature. Our agencies coordinate such efforts when it is operationally feasible to do so.

30          Mr Darryl David asked how we can improve civic discussion in schools and beyond to encourage the plurality of views among Singaporeans. Through public consultations, Singaporeans have a say in shaping public policies. More than 36,000 Singaporeans have provided feedback on issues like cost of living, jobs, transport and fake news, at more than 250 REACH Listening Points and dialogues between 2017 and 2018. REACH regularly engages students on national issues at dedicated Listening Points and dialogues held at Institutes of Higher Learning as well. Among them was University student Mr Alif Mohammad Hafidz, who gave his suggestions to this year’s Budget and shared that the session motivated him to find out more about the Budget process. We will continue to consult the public on issues of importance to our nation’s future, and invite Singaporeans to lend their voices to the ongoing dialogue.

Conclusion

31          Mr Speaker, I have described how my Ministry plans to help Singaporeans stay connected and engaged, through reading, learning and being well-informed, as well as how digital transformation will play a key role in these plans.

 

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